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Women's Club Movement

Major activities and events are listed chronologically. Each item is designated as either primarily national or North Carolina (US or NC).

Senator Clyde Hoey quote

North Carolina Collection

"...There is nothing under the shining sun the Federated Clubwomen of North Carolina cannot achieve if given the task."  Senator Clyde R. Hoey

Before they had the right to vote, North Carolina women found other means of effecting change for the betterment of themselves and their communities. Women’s clubs afforded women the opportunity to organize and be heard. Many of these groups supported causes traditionally seen as being a part of the “woman’s sphere,” and within the bounds of what  was socially acceptable for women to be involved in. Through groups such as parent-teacher associations, garden clubs, and women’s federations, women tackled causes including education, women’s and children’s health, mental health, environmentalism, and so much more. They built hospitals and schoolhouses, led health campaigns, created botanical gardens for research, and influenced legislation through lobbying and other efforts. Women were traditionally homemakers, but they extended their work far past the home, becoming involved in issues concerning their communities and governments.

The North Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs, 1902-1952: Fifty years of Dedicated Volunteer Service to the Promotion of the Civic, Cultural, Educational and Social Betterment of North Carolina. North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs. 1952.

How to Organize a Club of “United Farm Women”

North Carolina Collection

Mrs. W. N. Hutt. How to Organize a Club of “United Farm Women” with 1915 Programs. Progressive Farmer Company, 1915.

Like many women’s organizations, United Farm Women chapters sought to empower and educate rural women. During WWI, chapters spread throughout the agrarian South. Meetings included programs on selling homemade goods, farm and garden best practices and tools, family health, household innovations, and more, all with the goal of "working for more efficient homes and more united communities." As an April 5, 1913 Progressive Farmer article stated: "The farm woman must be educated to the fuller appreciation of her own value, and the economic waste attending the doing of work in inconvenient surroundings."

Woman’s Club of Durham, North Carolina. Annual Program. 1924/1925.

North Carolina Collection

The Woman’s Club of Durham, North Carolina. Annual Program. 1924/1925.

Women’s organizations engaged in local and statewide public health initiatives. Departments of Health provided programing, fundraised for mental health and women’s health facilities, and lobbied political leaders to pass public health legislation. One popular Department of Health event included Baby Shows and Contests. These traveling events were held at community gatherings where babies’ health was quantified and rewarded. The State Board of Health and spectators viewed the contests as invaluable tools for educating communities on maternal, prenatal, and children’s healthcare.

Woman's Association for the Betterment of Public School Houses in North Carolina

North Carolina Collection

Sallie Southall Cotten scrapbook page

Southern Historical Collection

R. D. W. Connor. The Woman's Association for the Betterment of Public School Houses in North Carolina. Office of the State Supt. of Public Instruction. 1906.

Sallie Southall Cotten Papers #2613, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One of the interests adopted by women’s clubs included public education and the improvement of public schoolhouses. The Woman’s Association for the Betterment of Public Schoolhouses in North Carolina rebuilt and repaired dilapidated public school buildings across the state. Shown here are before and after photos of their work in Rockingham county.

Women’s clubs also addressed adult education. To combat adult illiteracy, women’s clubs opened "Moonlight Schools" which operated in the evenings to accommodate adult instruction.

Women's Clubs and Forest Conservation address

Southern Historical Collection 

Mrs. William J. Cooke. Women's Clubs and Forest Conservation, 1914, #02642-z. Southern Historical Collection, Wilson  Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Women’s clubs also tackled environmental and conservation projects. Garden clubs planted botanical gardens to protect native plants for display and research. Others ran anti-litter campaigns, community clean up days, and pushed to establish college forestry programs. In this document, Mrs. W. J. Cooke, chairman of the NC Federation of Women’s Clubs Conservation Department, discusses the importance of conservation work and how women’s organizations addressed the issue.


North Carolina Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers Membership Certificate<br /><br />
<br /><br />

North Carolina Collection

North Carolina Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. Certificate of Membership. 1942.

While some predominately white women’s organizations recognized Black women as members, Black women traditionally did not hold the same status and club rights as their white counterparts. Such unequal treatment led to Black women forming their own chapters and organizations to better focus on the concerns of their local communities. By the end of World War I, collaboration among segregated women’s clubs vastly increased but it took several more decades for these groups to officially merge.