The Alachua Woman’s Club has celebrated over 100 years and continues to commemorat the legacy of our founding members. Sharing this history helps the community understand the important contributions made by our foremothers.
The following history was authored by Mrs. Mary Elizabeth (Bill) Irby, a long-standing and hardworking member of the Alachua Woman’s Club who helps us remember the history of many determined women.
During the summer of 1912 three new classrooms were built onto the wooden school house that stood where the telephone company stands today. The County School Board had no money available to buy the furnishings for the new classrooms. They needed everything – desks, chairs, blackboards, books, even chalk.
A primary teacher by the name of Mrs. Hilton, who had taught in other schools brought an idea that she had seen work in other places before a gathering of parents and teachers. Her suggestion was for parents and teachers to join together and form a club. The club would have as their sole purpose the task of solving the problems of the school needs.
On November 12, 1912 the patrons gathered and elected Mrs. C.F. Stephens as their president. They decided to name their club The School Improvement Club of Alachua. They had many fund raising projects throughout the year and were able to raise enough money to furnish the new schoolrooms, pay a $125.00 down on a piano, and hire a janitor. Through the years the club continued to support the school by raising money from their many projects.
In 1921 the club members decided that not only did the school need their continued help, but also there were many things that they could do to help the town so they voted to change the club’s name to The Improvement Club of Alachua.
The club under its new name continued with money raising projects using the monies to help the school, the town and to begin a savings account. In 1949 the club’s name changed again and became The Alachua Woman’s Club. Mrs. Ralph Cellon, Sr. was the president.
The first mention of acquiring a clubhouse was in 1924. The work begins to establish the clubhouse that has become a landmark on Historic Main Street in the heart of downtown Alachua. With the help of many fund-raising projects, the Club raised monies to help the local school and the town.
By 1932 property had been purchased to build the landmark Clubhouse located on Historic Main Street. The Club elected Mrs. Sealy as Building Chairman. In investigating their options, Mrs. Sealy found out that help to build community buildings could be had from the federal government (F.E.R.A.) later called the P.W.A. (Public Works Projects).
Application was made and at the January 1935 meeting a director (Mr. Bruno) for the P.W.A. came to the club and outlined the procedure for receiving aid. He reviewed the club house plans the ladies had commissioned. The club’s committee pulled together all of the requirements and pressed Mr. Bruno to help present the application to the authorities.
A year later, having finally received help from the P.W.A., the land was cleared and the clubhouse’s construction began in January 1936. Work continued and the clubhouse was dedicated in July 1938. The first club meeting was held in it for the 1938-39 club year.
Since that time, the building has housed many events. Meetings, weddings, receptions, church services, dinners, dances and yes even a funeral. Beloved member, Belle Jeffords, had instructed that her funeral was to be held in the clubhouse and it was.
Through all of the years of the club, through good times and bad times of World War I, the years of the great depression, World War II and many lesser of our country’s trying times, the club never failed, never disbanded, never missed a meeting and always has accomplished its goals.
The legacy of the Alachua Woman’s Club continues today and we honor those women whose determination made the historic Clubhouse a reality. From the days of a primary teacher named Mrs. Hilton, who in 1912, wanted to help the local school, until today, the members continue the projects that make Alachua a better place to live.
Alachua Woman’s Club still lives by its Mission Statement set forth by past members: “Transcending trends and time, the Woman’s Club has for nearly a century, been constant in its commitment to the fellowship of women, the nourishment of education and culture, and goodwill to the heart of Alachua.”
Some of the early Presidents include Mrs. J. A. Goode (1932-33), Miss Bernice Dew (1933-35), Mrs. W. N. Williams (1936-37), Mrs. W. E. Enneis (1937-39), Mrs. W. E. Grutman (1939-41) and Mrs. George Duke (1941-44). During those years, the Club undertook many projects, including the fundraising and construction of the Clubhouse.
In 1942 the Club devoted many hours to knitting, sewing and rolling bandages for the Red Cross. They furnished a Day Room at Camp Blanding and made 50 kit bags for the Navy. War Bond drives were held and the women raised over $18,000. 600 Christmas cards were sent to hospitalized soldiers at Camp Blanding.
Through the years, the Club continued the community projects helping needy children, the schools and the community at large. The Clubhouse was used for crippled children’s clinic and the Baptist Vacation Bible School. In 1954-56, Mrs. W. E. Cellon served as President and her motto was “Ye shall know them by their fruits”. The members helped with city park and beautification projects. The Club helped get heaters for the health clinic and joined in the “March on Polio” campaign. In 1963-65, with Mrs. J. D. Thigpen as President, they helped with the drive to immunize the area’s children with the Oral Sabin vaccine. The traditions and community projects continue today.
After standing proudly for many years, the Clubhouse started showing signs of age and it was time for the Club members to now devote energy to bringing her back to her original glory of 1938. In 2006, under President Ava Hagan, a fundraising campaign commenced and monies were borrowed to restore, refurbish and update the grand lady. In 2007 a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to showcase the new “old” Clubhouse.
On Sunday, July 20, 2008 we commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the Clubhouse and the women who have left a standing legacy of what is good and right with our society with Master of Ceremonies, the Honorable J. K. “Buddy” Irby, leading us thru the Program “If These Walls Could Talk”.
If you would like to join the club and be apart of this amazing history, we would love to have you JOIN TODAY!