When the Women’s Club of Racine celebrated 100 years of service in 1996 several club members compiled and published a detailed club history. The following is excerpted from that history:

In 1894, a group of women were invited to a tea to meet a New York woman, a guest of the wife of the proprietor of the new Hotel Racine. The intent of the hostess was to begin a club for women’s suffrage in Racine. Some of the guests were outraged at the boldness of this newfangled notion, so the group decided to form two clubs. The conservative group with its seventeen organizers increased in number to seventy-five charter members when the club was formally organized on March 13, 1896, as the Woman’s Club of Racine. Their objective was to bring together those women who were interested in intellectual culture and practical improvement of women, to stimulate united effort toward higher civilization, to aid all movements towards promotion of a free public library and to promote agreeable and useful relations among their members.

Some of the progressive thinking women joined both groups. One member of the suffrage group was Olympia Brown Willis, the retired minister of the Universalist Church of the Good Shepherd, owner of the Racine Times Call and the President of the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association.

The club joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs on April 16, 1896 and the Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Clubs on October 21, 1896. Their main objective was to open the first free public reading rooms and library for children in the city of Racine. They began to work to raise the needed money. On February 9, 1897, the reading rooms were opened in the Nelson Hotel at Third and Main Street.

The club organized a Department of Town Improvement. Their goal was to make Racine more clean and beautiful. As a primary step, petitions were presented to the City Council for the inauguration of a garbage disposal system. They donated six woven wire baskets with chains and locks that were placed in the parks and on the street corners.

  • On August 6, 1917 Congress declared war against Germany. Supporting the war effort, the Woman’s Club began a Red Cross Department. Two Woman’s Club members served as Red Cross aides in France.
  • After the 19th Amendment was passed, the Civics Department conducted two classes in citizenship to prepare women for their new responsibilities as voters.
  • In 1925 the Club became incorporated. A lot, 80 x 120 feet, on the northwest corner of 8th Street and Lake Avenue, was purchased in February 1926 as the proposed site of a new clubhouse. In May 1929 immediate steps to erect a building were announced. The building was dedicated in 1930.
  • Between June 1943 and April 1944, the Woman’s Club made 47,816 surgical dressings and 901 garments were finished and returned to Red Cross headquarters. The club cooperated with local community agencies in a study of the rehabilitation program for the returning men from the armed forces and took the lead in the purchase of property as a memorial to the men and women in the war. It became the M.B. Erskine Memorial.
  • In the 1947-48 season, the Woman’s Club sponsored a university course, “The History of Wisconsin” as a centennial project for the State of Wisconsin.
  • 1961-62 saw two new clubs formed with the help of the Woman’s Club– Junior Woman’s Club and the Caledonia Woman’s League.
  • The 1965-67 theme was “Community Awareness” and activities included: assisting on the Quick Check Health Mobile Unit and establishing the Woman’s Club of Racine Nurse’s Scholarship.
  • During 1974-76 the Racine Woman’s Club adopted the theme “Our Heritage – Service to our Community” in recognition of our Nation’s Bicentennial program.

The celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Woman’s Club was the highlight of the 1986-87 season. Mayor Stephen Olsen learned the Woman’s Club had been instrumental in starting Racine’s first libraries and invited them to become involved in a possible future city-wide fund drive to purchase West Racine property to expand our city library facilities. At the dedication for the Racine Library Expansion project, held on August 24, 1991, the Woman’s Club was thanked for their part in helping to raise the $591,400.

A year of celebration and recognition of “100 Years of Community Service” included a formal celebration, held on March 13, 1996. On April 16, the club hosted the First District Convention as part of the year of celebration.

© 2010 Racine Heritage Museum – The Outlook Newsletter

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.