Women’s clubs, also known as woman's clubs, first arose in the United States during the post-Civil War period of the late 1860s, in both the Northern and Southern United States. As a result of increased leisure time due to modern household advances, middle-class women had more time to engage in intellectual pursuits. They established numerous women’s clubs, many with a primary function of "study clubs and reading circles". They also frequently supported social welfare goals, such as building of schools, public libraries and hospitals.
Women's clubs founded 75-80 percent of the libraries in communities across the nation. These clubs were an integral part of a cultural building of institutions that occurred around the years 1870-1930 throughout the United States. It led to the formation of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC).
Contribution to library development
The focus on self-discovery in most women’s clubs resulted in their maintaining book collections for use by club members. As the clubs evolved, the members began to focus on civic duty within their communities. One of the first items on the club’s agendas was promoting literacy by increasing availability of books and establishing libraries. Women’s clubs wanted to share their libraries with the community, which led to the beginnings of traveling libraries.
Traveling libraries were collections which women’s clubs would share with other towns and communities that did not have libraries in their own towns. Women’s clubs circulated collections of materials through traveling libraries to promote literacy in communities without their own means and resources. After the establishment of traveling libraries, many women’s clubs turned to establishing public libraries within their own communities.
Women’s clubs helped establish many public libraries by contributing their book collections, raising money for building construction through a variety of activities for years, acting as librarians, cataloguing early collections, enlisting male leaders for public funding, and other management activities. After the public libraries were established, women’s clubs lobbied on behalf of the public libraries in state legislatures and also for funding from the Carnegie Library Endowment. According to the American Library Association and GFWC, women’s clubs are estimated to have started between 75 and 80 percent of the public libraries in the United States.
- Paula D. Watson, "Founding Mothers: The Contribution of Women’s Organizations to Public Library Development in the United States," Library Quarterly, vol. 64, no. 3 (1994), pg. 235.
- Watson, "Founding Mothers," pg. 236.
- Teva Scheer, "The 'Praxis' Side of the Equation: Club Women and American Public Administration," Administrative Theory & Praxis, vol. 24, no 3 (2002), pg. 525.
- Jayne Morris-Crowther, The Political Activities of Detroit Clubwomen in the 1920s: A Challenge and a Promise. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2013.
- General Federation of Women's Clubs
- For Our Mutual Benefit: The Athens Woman's Club and Social Reform, 1899-1920 in the Digital Library of Georgia
-  provides finding aid to article subject from the Special Collections, Washington State Historical Society (WSHS)
- Women's Clubs Collection, 1812-1995 Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College