General Federation of Women's Clubs
The General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), founded in 1890 during the Progressive Movement, is a federation of over 3,000 women's clubs in the United States which promote civic improvements through volunteer service. Many of its activities and service projects are done independently by local clubs through their communities or GFWC's national partnerships. GFWC maintains nearly 100,000 members throughout the United States and internationally. GFWC remains one of the world's largest and oldest nonpartisan, nondenominational, women's volunteer service organizations.
In 1889 Mrs. Croly organized a conference in New York that brought together delegates from 61 women's clubs. The women formed a permanent organization in 1890 with Charlotte Emerson Brown as its first president. In 1901 it was granted a charter by Congress. Dietz proclaimed, "We look for unity, but unity in diversity" and that became the GFWC motto. Southern white women played a central role in the early years.
Local women's clubs initially joined the General Federation directly but later came into membership through state federations that began forming in 1892. The GFWC also counts international clubs among its members.
In 1900, the GFWC met in Milwaukee, and Josephine Ruffin, a black journalist, tried to attend as a representative of three Boston organizations – the New Era Club, the New England Woman's Club and the New England Woman's Press Club. Southern women led by president Rebecca Douglas Lowe, a Georgia native, told Ruffin that she could be seated as a representative of the two white clubs but not the black one. She refused on principle and was excluded from the proceedings. These events became known as "The Ruffin Incident" and were widely covered in newspapers around the country, most of whom supported Ruffin. At the same time, Lowe and the Georgia Education League provided kindergartens for black children in Georgia.
In a time when women's rights were limited the State Federation chapters held grassroots efforts to make sure the woman's voice was heard. Through monthly group meetings, to annual charter meetings, women of influential status within their communities could have their feelings heard. They were able to meet with state officials in order to have a say in community events. Until the right to vote was granted, these women's clubs were the best outlet for women to be heard and taken seriously.
Women's clubs spread very rapidly after 1890, taking up some of the slack left by the decline of the WCTU and the temperance movement. Local clubs at first were mostly reading groups focused on literature, but increasingly became civic improvement organizations of middle-class women meeting in each other's homes weekly. To The clubs avoided controversial issues that would divide the membership, especially religion and the prohibition issue. In the South and East, suffrage was also highly divisive, while there was little resistance to it among clubwomen in the West. In the Midwest, clubwomen had first avoided the suffrage issue out of caution, but after 1900 increasingly came to support it.
Historian Paige Meltzer puts the GFWC in the context of the Progressive Movement, arguing that its policies:
- built on Progressive-era strategies of municipal housekeeping. During the Progressive era, female activists used traditional constructions of womanhood, which imagined all women as mothers and homemakers, to justify their entrance into community affairs: as "municipal housekeepers," they would clean up politics, cities, and see after the health and wellbeing of their neighbors. Donning the mantle of motherhood, female activists methodically investigated their community's needs and used their "maternal" expertise to lobby, create, and secure a place for themselves in an emerging state welfare bureaucracy, best illustrated perhaps by clubwoman Julia Lathrop's leadership in the US Children's Bureau. As part of this tradition of maternal activism, the Progressive-era General Federation supported a range of causes from the pure food and drug administration to public health care for mothers and children to a ban on child labor, each of which looked to the state to help implement their vision of social justice.
Kansas was a representative state, as the women's clubs joined with local chapters of the WCTU and other organizations to deal with social issues. The clubs continued to feature discussions of current literature, culture, and civic events, but they also broadened to include public schools, local parks, sanitation, prostitution, and protection of children.
Paula Watson has shown that across the country the clubs supported the local Carnegie public library, as well as traveling libraries for rural areas. They promoted state legislation to fund and support libraries, especially to form library extension programs. GFWC affiliates worked with the American Library Association, state library associations, and state library commissions and gave critical support to library education programs at the universities.
Many clubs were especially concerned with uplifting the neglected status of American Indians. They brought John Collier into the forefront of the debate when they appointed him the research agent for the Indian Welfare Committee in 1922. The GFWC took a leadership role in opposing assimilation policies, supporting the return of Indian lands, and promoting more religious and economic independence. For example, Southwestern clubs help support the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) and became advocates and consumers for authentic Native American arts and crafts. Even more important, in Western states GFWC affiliates cooperated with Collier when he served (1933–45) as the New Deal's Commissioner for Indian affairs, in his campaign to reverse federal policies designed to assimilate Indians into the national culture.
In May 1925 Edith Brake West conducted a survey of county organizations which was recognized by the National Federation of Women's Clubs. For the first time in the history of federated clubs the actual accomplishment and the organization of these bodies were set forth. 
The membership peaked at 850,000 in 16,000 clubs in 1955, and has declined to about 100,000 in the 21st century as middle class women have moved into the public mainstream. During the Cold War era the GFWC promoted the theme that American women had a unique ability to preserve world peace while strengthening the nation internally through local, national, and international community activism. The remaining 100,000 members are older now, and have less influence in national affairs. The affiliated clubs in every state and more than a dozen countries work locally:
- to support the arts, preserve natural resources, advance education, promote healthy lifestyles, encourage civic involvement, and work toward world peace and understanding.
In 2009, GFWC members raised over $39 million on behalf of more than 110,000 projects, and volunteered more than 4.1 million hours in the communities where they live and work.
- Annette Abbott Adams, chairman of Legislation, California Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Jane Addams (1860–1935)
- Effie Adelaide Payne Austin, State Trustee of the California Federation of Women's Clubs
- Helen Bagg, for several years served as chairman of Literature for Illinois Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Alice Barnett, Southern District chairman, California Fed. of Women's Clubs, for Motion Pictures; local chairman of Motion Pictures; president of San Bernardino Women's Club
- Annie Little Barry, Served for many years as State Parliamentarian of the California Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Mary Lathrop Benton, Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Mariana Bertola, General Federation Director and President of the California Federation of Women's Clubs
- Edythe Mitchell Bissell, President, San Luis Obispo County Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Fannie Jean Black, chairman of the Press Department of the California Federation of Women's clubs
- C. Louise Boehringer, Arizona Federation
- Harriet Bossnot, first vicepresident of the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs
- Leah Belle Kepner Boyce, Press Chairman of California Federation of Women's Clubs, Member Western Federation of Women's Clubs
- Esto Broughton, State chairman of California Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Clementine Cordelia Berry Buchwalter (1843-1912)
- Clara Bradley Burdette, First president of California Federation of Women's Clubs
- Nellie T. Bush, member of State Legislative Commission, Federation of Women's Clubs
- Mary Ryerson Butin, district chairman of Public Welfare, for California Federation of Women's Clubs
- Grace Richardson Butterfield, President, City and County Fed. of Women's Clubs of San Francisco, State and District chairman of Junior membership, California Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Vera McKenna Clayton, Santa Cruz Woman's Club
- R. Belle Colver, Woman's Club of Spokane
- Inez Mabel Crawford, First president of Ottawa Federation of Women's Clubs
- Jane Cunningham Croly (1829–1901)
- Katherine Davis Cumberson, member of State Executive Board, California Fed. Women's Clubs, for 6 years chairman of its Committee of International Relations, founder and honorary president Lake County Fed. Women's Clubs
- Ellen Curtis Demorest (1824–1898)
- Nina F. Diefenbach, Ventura County Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Saidie Orr Dunbar, Oregon State and National Organization of Women's Clubs, elected President of the (National) General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) in 1938
- Mary Elizabeth Downey (1872-1949)
- Freda Ehmann, Active in Women's Clubs affairs
- Augusta Louise Eraser, president, San Diego County Federation of Women's Clubs
- Oda Faulconer, State Chairman of American Citizenship of the California Federation of Women's Clubs
- Harrye R. P. Smith Forbes, For twelve years was State or District Chairman of California History and Landmarks Dept. for California Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Abigail Keasey Frankel, President of the State Federation of Women's Clubs. She was member of the Board of the Missouri Federation of Women's Clubs and President of the 8th District of the Missouri Federation. She was the President of the Portland Woman's Club and the chairman of the finance of the Woman's Building association
- Lizzie Crozier French (1851–1926)
- Laura E. Frenger, organized the State (New Mexico) Federation of Women's Clubs
- Thora B. Gardiner, President of the Oregon City Women's Club
- Anna Boley Garner, served 6 years on State Board of Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Mary E. Gartin, President of Stanislaus County Fed. of Women's Clubs; for 3 years president of Modesto Woman's Club
- Mabel Barnett Gates, in 1915 Gates represented Ebell Club at the 14th annual California Federation of Women's Club in San Francisco
- Dale Pickett Gay, President of Wyoming Federation of Women's Clubs and she was active in all club work
- Esther Rainbolt Goodrich, served in many offices in California Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Annie Sawyer Green, President, California Fed. of Women's Clubs, Has held several high offices in Federation of Women's Clubs
- Harriet A. Haas, On Speakers' Bureau of County Fed. of Women's Clubs and Community Chest
- Sharlot Mabridth Hall, Women's Clubs of Arizona
- Ceil Doyle Hamilton, president of City and County Fed. of Women's Clubs of San Francisco
- Susie Prentice Hartzell, secretary of San Joaquin Valley District Federation of Women's Clubs
- Fanny G. Hazlett, in 1932 was presented with a certificate by the General Federation of Women's Club for being the oldest American born mother in the state of Nevada
- Maude B. Helmond, For six years was Child Welfare Chairman for Federated Women's Clubs of Alameda District during which time she was instrumental in establishing Well Baby Clinics in the schools
- Una B. Herrick, Member
- Ada Waite Hildreth, San Diego County and Southern District Chairman, Indian welfare, California Fed. of Women's Clubs, Second Vice-President, San Diego County Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Etha Izora Dawley Holden, From 1925-27, auditor of California Federation of Women's Clubs
- Dorothy D. Houghton (1890-1972)
- Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910)
- Grace Youmans Hudson, Chairman of Community Service, Los Angeles District, California Fed. of Women's Clubs, Member Women's Club of South Pasadena
- Jane Denio Hutchison, president of Tri County Fed. of Women's Clubs, Auditor, Northern District Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Vernettie O. Ivy, president, Central Arizona District Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Christine A. Jacobsen, Council of International Relations, California Fed. of Women's Clubs
- Lotta Hetler James, chairman Child Welfare, San Joaquin Valley and State Fed. Women's Clubs, chairman, Resolution Committee, State Fed. Women's Clubs
- Kate Wetzel Jameson, member
- May Mann Jennings (1872–1963)
- Hope Pyburn Johnson, for 2 terms District chairman, Public Health, California Fed. Women's Clubs
- Edith O. Kitt, Tucson Woman's Club (president), Southern Arizona District Federation Women's Clubs (president), Arizona State Federation Women's Clubs (president)
- Nannie S. Brown Kramer, organizer, vice-president and chairman of the Oakland Women's City Club; this club had three thousand members and erected a new building which costed $600,000.00
- Bertha Ethel Knight Landes (1868–1943)
- Julia Lathrop (1858–1932)
- Nancy A. Leatherwood, president of Utah Federation of Women's Clubs and Director for Utah of the General Federation of Women's Clubs
- Mab Copland Lineman, State Chairman of Law for the Business and Insurance California Federation of Women's Clubs
- Georgina G. Marriott, Utah Federation
- Edith Bolte MacCracken, president of the District Federation of Women's Clubs
- Laura Adrienne MacDonald, president of Tonopah Woman's Club
- Olive Dickerson McHugh, President of the Federated Woman's Club of Mullen
- Jane Brunson Marks, served as Philanthropic Chairman of Woman's Club of Burbank and was the President of Woman's Club of Burbank from 1927 to 1928 and reelected from 1928 to 1929
- Eva Perry Moore (1852–1931)
- Evelyn Williams Moulton, president of the Wilshire Woman's Club and the Dean Club of Southern California
- Jacqueline Noel, served as chairperson to the Division of Literature at the Washington State Federation of Women's Clubs
- Virginia Keating Orton, vice-president of Washington State Federation of Women's Clubs
- Fannie Brown Patrick, president of the State Federation of Women's Clubs of Nevada
- Phebe Nebeker Peterson, vice-president of the State Federation of Women's Clubs
- Grace Giminni Potts, chairman of Literature and Drama for the California Federation of Women's Clubs
- Edith Dolan Riley, chair of the Motion Picture Committee of the Washington State Federation of Women's Clubs
- Lallah Rookh White Rockwell, member of the State Federation of Women's Clubs
- Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962)
- Margaret Wheeler Ross, president Arizona Fed. Women's Clubs
- Nellie Tayloe Ross (1876–1977)
- Fannie Forbis Russel, one of the pioneer women of the state of Montana, was active in organizing and building the local Woman's Club
- Mary Belle King Sherman (1862–1935)
- Margaret Chase Smith (1897–1995)
- Mary Jane Spurlin, president of the Portland Federation of Women's Clubs
- Emily Jean Crisman Thatcher, president of the U. A. C. Woman's Club
- Edith Brake West, From 1911 to 1914, president of the Nevada Federation of Women's Clubs, and from 1918 to 1920 she was director from Nevada of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. She was vice-chairman of the Junior Memberships of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. She was the life secretary of the Presidents of 1912 of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. She compiled a collection of Nevada Poems for the Nevada Federation of Women's Clubs
- Laura Lyon White (1839–1916)
- Gertrude B. Wilder, president of the San Bernardino County Federation of Women's Clubs
- Frances Willard (1839–1898)
- Jane Frances Winn, one of the founders of the Century Club in Chillicothe, Ohio
- Alice Ames Winter, national president of the GFWC
- Belle Wood-Comstock, chairman of Public Health at the Los Angeles District of California Federation of Womn's Clubs
- Orpha Woods Foster, president of the Ventura County Federation of Women's Clubs
- Ellen S. Woodward (1887–1971)
- Valeria Brinton Young, member of the Executive Board of the State Federation of Women's Clubs
- Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
- Ossoli Circle
- Women's club movement
- Women's Institute
- Women-only space
- "Who We Are". GFWC.org. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
- Blair 1998
- "Charlotte Emerson Brown - American clubwoman". Encyclopædia Britannica.
- General Federation of Women's Clubs (1910). Biennial of the General Federation of Women's Clubs: Official Proceedings. ... .no. p. 446.
- Mary Jane Smith, "The Fight to Protect Race and Regional Identity within the General Federation of Women's Clubs, 1895-1902." Georgia Historical Quarterly (2010): 479-513 in JSTOR
- "Race Discrimination", Congregationalist 85:24, 1900 June 14.
- "Color-Line in Women's Clubs", Congregationalist 86:6, 1901 February 9
- Stephen M. Buechler, The Transformation of the Woman Suffrage Movement: The Case of Illinois, 1850-1920 (1986) pp 154-57
- Paige Meltzer, "The Pulse and Conscience of America" The General Federation and Women's Citizenship, 1945-1960," Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (2009), Vol. 30 Issue 3, p52-76. online
- June O. Underwood, "Civilizing Kansas: Women's Organizations, 1880-1920," Kansas History (1984) 7#4 pp 291-306.
- Paula D. Watson, "Founding mothers: The contribution of women's organizations to public library development in the United States." Library Quarterly (1994) pp: 233-269 in JSTOR.
- Karin L. Huebner, "An Unexpected Alliance: Stella Atwood, the California Clubwomen, John Collier, and the Indians of the Southwest, 1917–1934," Pacific Historical Review (2009) 78#3 pp: 337-366 in JSTOR
- Jennifer McLerran, "Clubwomen, Curators and Traders," American Indian Art Magazine (2011) 36#4 pp 54-92
- "28 May 1925, Thu". Oakland Tribune: 47. 1925. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
- Meltzer, "The Pulse and Conscience of America" The General Federation and Women's Citizenship, 1945-1960,"
- Blair, 1998
- From the GFWC Website Archived index at the Wayback Machine.
- "GFWC 2009-2010 Annual Report" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-09.
- Binheim, Max; Elvin, Charles A (1928). Women of the West; a series of biographical sketches of living eminent women in the eleven western states of the United States of America. Retrieved 8 August 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Fletcher, Russell Holmes (1943). Who's who in California. Who's Who Pub. Co. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
- Detwiler, Justice Brown (1929). Who's who in California : a biographical directory, 1928-29. Who's Who Publishing Co. p. 74. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
- "Ebell Club Delegates - 02 May 1915, Sun • Page 21". The Los Angeles Times: 21. 1915. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- "Mrs. Hazlett's Funeral is Tomorrow - 05 Apr 1933, Wed • Page 2". Reno Gazette-Journal: 2. 1933. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
- "Edith Dolan Riley papers, 1876-1965". Retrieved 3 October 2017.
- Johnson, Anne (1914). Notable women of St. Louis, 1914. St. Louis, Woodward. p. 250. Retrieved 17 August 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- "GFWC International Past Presidents". GFWC. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- Blair, Karen J. "General Federation of Women's Clubs," in Wilma Mankiller et al. eds., The Readers Companion to U.S. Women's History (1998) p 242
- Croly, Jane Cunningham (1898). The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America. H. G. Allen & Company. p. 1184.
- Houde, Mary Jean. Reaching Out: A Story of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (Washington, DC: General Federation of Women's Clubs, 1989). ISBN 978-0-916371-08-1
- Meltzer, Paige. "The Pulse and Conscience of America" The General Federation and Women's Citizenship, 1945-1960," Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (2009), Vol. 30 Issue 3, p52-76. online
- White, Kristin Kate, “Training a Nation: The General Federation of Women’s Clubs’ Rhetorical Education and American Citizenship, 1890–1930” (PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 2010). DA3429649.
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