Woman’s Club of Dayton is reinventing itself once againJim Bucher
Some will find it difficult to believe but not too long ago women couldn’t vote, found it difficult to have their own credit cards, did not always have access to higher education and in some cases could not serve on juries. Remember the old adage, surely attributed to a man, “barefoot and pregnant”? Boy, is that politically incorrect in 2019.
Well, things have changed and a big thank you goes to women right here in Dayton and the Miami Valley.
As the story goes, John H. Patterson, a member of several men’s organizations in Dayton, realized they had their own spaces to meet and socialize. Men only, I presume. As a result, he encouraged his sister, Mrs. Joseph H. Crane, to form a committee to buy a property for a women’s clubhouse.
In 1907, Marie J. Kumler organized eight literary clubs under the umbrella of the Dayton Federation of Women’s Clubs.
According to member and resident historian Mollie Hauser, “Under Mr. Patterson’s guidance, Mrs. Kumler, president of the federation, formed a site committee and raised a $5,000 down payment for the Robert Steele home built in 1850 and later sold to Napoleon Bonaparte Darst in 1861. The Steele/Darst house was $25,000 with a mortgage, the deed of transfer was made from the owner, Mary Darst Bimm, to The Woman’s Club House Co. Selling stocks, $10 per share, obtained these funds to members of the federation, the future members of the club. This body of stockholders was called, ‘The Dayton Woman’s Club.’”
And the rest they say is HER-story.
Some now familiar names became members and were a large part of the early beginnings, including:
• Julia Shaw Patterson Carnell, successful businesswoman and benefactor of the Dayton Art Institute
• Edith Deeds, who, with her husband, Col. Edward Deeds, gave Dayton the Carillion located at Carillon Historical Park
• Annae Barney Gorman, founder of what is today Dayton Children’s Hospital
• Katharine Kennedy (Brown), the founding president of the Junior League of Dayton. The league held its inaugural meeting at the Dayton Woman’s Club. Her restored home still exists at the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, Salvation Army campus.
• Katharine Wright, the sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, was the first of three generations of Wright family members
Members met, socialized, strategized, discussed philanthropic endeavors, organized causes and basically solved problems their male counterparts didn’t give a passing thought.
Of course, one huge undertaking was women’s right to contribute to the democratic process. Yes, to vote. The suffrage movement was afoot and many of our foremothers played a big role in that cause.
Hauser says those women include:
• Jesse Leech Davisson, chairman of Woman’s Suffrage Association of Montgomery County, member of the Executive Committee of the state organization, who later became a member of the National Executive Committee. She continued to serve the women in these roles until the vote was won.
• Minnie Stanley, first president of the League of Women Voters, first president of Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Association, a member of the Executive Committee Woman’s Suffrage Association of Montgomery County. “With assistance from John H. Patterson, Stanley helped teach the women how to place their vote,” Hauser says.
But alas, times changed.
“In May 2006, sadly we closed our doors due to financial woes,” she says. “In October of that year we reopened with the promise of our members to contribute over $100,000 to pay our debts and become our beloved Club again.”
Another huge milestone was attributed to longtime Dayton Daily News columnist Dale Huffman who became the first male member of the club. His unwavering support brought much-needed attention and the club is forever indebted to him for his many articles and public support.
Today, after 103 years, the club is reinventing itself and a capital campaign is in the works for much-needed deferred maintenance. Memberships are available.
And did you know they offer lunch Monday through Friday. There’s an old favorite on the menu, for those old enough to remember like this author—Rike’s Department Store’s world-famous Sloppy Joes. Carryout is also available.
Of course, it’s a work in progress, but just recently a group of Girl Scouts participated in a Miss Manners class on proper table manners and how to correctly use eating utensils. Gosh, I need to take that course!
High teas, tours and after-hours networking events with live music are in the works. Plus, if I may add, a great location for meetings, wedding rehearsal dinners and other gatherings and events. All in a wonderful, historic, beautiful turn-of-the-century home.
Recently the club was awarded historical status with an Ohio Historical Marker. It is one of the few remaining homes downtown, in the same location, where once hundreds dotted the landscape.
The Woman’s Club of Dayton Foundation empowered women then and continue that mission today.
As Hauser says, “We have been a viable philanthropic and educational organization since 1916. What better way to have a voice in our city than to speak through the Woman’s Club of Dayton Foundation—The Dayton Woman’s Club.”
Long live this Dayton treasure and as my young daughters would say, “You go girl!”