America has a long history of volunteerism – from volunteer militias during the Revolutionary War, to 19th century philanthropic societies, to those white-coated volunteers (many from San Marino) lining the Rose Parade route. The history of women in volunteerism is just as long.
The centuries-old tradition of volunteering in America began with old wave immigrants hailing from northern and western Europe. As each new wave of immigrants arrived they carved their own niches in America’s volunteer tradition. The first priority was to ensure stability of their community in a new land and eventually reaching out to others. A local example is the Chinese Club of San Marino, established in 1979.
The role of women in volunteer associations was fundamental and how their opportunities emerged is interesting. Our founding fathers believed an educated populace was needed to ensure the success of the new republic; America needed virtuous, educated men to take the reins of government and society. The philosophy of Republican Motherhood rose in response: an educated mother in the home teaching her sons. Mother needed to be literate and thus earlier notions of woman’s inferior capacity to learn faded.
Women faced limited legal and cultural prospects but as more women became literate their involvement outside the domestic sphere increased. Between 1820-1840 women and men created voluntary associations. Elite women joined benevolent associations, charities, and moral reform societies, while working-class women formed labor organizations. Some notable organizations were abolitionist societies, the temperance movement and woman’s suffrage associations.
Nineteenth century educational reform included state supported schools and schools for women. Most white women were literate in 1850. Following the Civil War, the first women’s colleges were established. By 1890, the number of women with college degrees was noteworthy but their lack of opportunity was immense. What was a college-educated woman to do?
Educated women joined clubs to engage in intellectual pursuits, such as book clubs, attending lectures or promoting community issues. In 1890 the General Federation of Women’s Clubs was founded to support the various clubs throughout America. The most prominent women’s club in Los Angeles in 1900 was The Friday Morning Club.
The San Marino Woman’s Club is one of the oldest organizations in town. By 1930, over 200 San Marino women participated in various community interest groups. They met in private homes. Interest was growing; it was time to create a local woman’s club. On June 8, 1936, 52 ladies met in a room at the San Marino Police Department to organize the San Marino Woman’s Club. The founding charter included 420 names.
The club held nine regular meetings per year and four special evening meetings with husbands. They had a dress code; “members were required to wear stylish black dresses, hats and white gloves.” Originally the club was divided into 16 guilds – art, music, drama, literature, writers, home craft, philanthropy, foreign language, current events, travel, bible, home interiors, language, sports, public affairs, flower and garden. As times changed so did the Women’s Club.
Dues were $10. Club meetings were held in the Huntington School auditorium and guild meetings in private homes. As membership grew plans were made to build a clubhouse. The Club purchased a lot on Huntington Drive in March 1939 for $6000 and began fundraising efforts.
The outbreak of World War II halted building efforts but club activities continued. Before the Pearl Harbor attack San Marino women prepared aid packages for British families suffering from Nazi bombings and later sent packages to U. S. military personnel. The Club sold war bonds and defense stamps for the government and in 1940 purchased a used ambulance for the city.
Renewed efforts to build a clubhouse followed the war and in 1951 the building project was approved. Club funds of $57,000 were supplemented by a loan of $35,000 and work started in June. The San Marino Woman’s Club held its first meeting in the new clubhouse in April 1952.
Many projects kept San Marino women busy over the years, projects to support the arts, advance education, promote healthy lifestyles and encourage civic involvement. Local projects included free use of their clubhouse to PTA, Red Cross blood drives and for community educational and political events. For many years Huntington Middle School students celebrated special events and dances at the women’s club. San Marino PTA Founder’s Day celebration was a regular event every February at the clubhouse.
In 2005, the clubhouse was sold to the city of San Marino and renamed the City Center. The building continues to be used for community meetings and events. Although they no longer own the clubhouse the San Marino Woman’s Club remains strongly committed to its philanthropic work of benefit to women and children.
The volunteer tradition is long and strong in San Marino. It is rewarding and a way for newcomers to quickly feel at home. Many residents over the years have developed life-long friends and interests through their volunteer activities. In the process these volunteers have enriched the life of San Marino.
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