Woman’s Club celebrates clubhouse centennial

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The Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club is having a house party – not for the club itself, but for the building that has housed them the past 100 years.

On Sept. 21, 1901, 11 Sonoma ladies met at a home to discuss starting a “women’s club,” with the goal of helping the community.

According to club historians Jean and Jo Miller, those turn-of-the-century Sonoma women accomplished much in the community in the club’s inaugural decade. First and foremost was their instrumental work in beautifying the Plaza. The women helped install and clean walkways, trim and plant trees, stop cows from roaming the square and, eventually, installed a fountain, which stood until 1932.

The Woman’s Club also played a large role in launching Sonoma’s first library. In its early days, the library location bounced from place to place, with Women’s Club members taking turns as librarians. The group eventually secured funds through Andrew Carnegie, putting that grant money toward the library’s original building in 1911.

Yvonne Bowers, eight-year member and former president of SVWC, says the club’s early history is filled with such community initiatives.

“The club was responsible for buying back the Mission San Francisco Solano and having it become the museum it is today rather than something else - or nothing,” says Bowers, of the Woman’s Club work in the 1910s and ‘20s. “They housed a school, they were part of the Red Cross, etc.”

The club also helped with the restoration of the Mission and keeping the El Camino bell in front.

“I love that the founding women were such big helpers in the community. They were movers and shakers,” says SVWC President Dorothy Lund. “It’s hard to live up to their examples.”

Amid all the work the club did for the community, club members decided they needed to do something for themselves – find a permanent club house. After bouncing around between members’ homes, various rooms in buildings, even the library, the club purchased a lot in December of 1912. To raise funds for a building, the club held card parties, balls, garden parties, lunches, rented out rooms in their houses and even gave tours of the town. By the end of 1914, they had raised $800.

In 1916, the clubhouse was finally built, says Bowers.

“People think it’s a house that we converted into a clubhouse but it’s not,” says Bowers. “It was designed by a Petaluma architect Brainard Jones – pretty well known in his day for designing the Petaluma Woman’s Club. The women helped designed it and had it built to their specifications.”

On Sept. 15, 1916, the first meeting was held in the clubhouse and the club gave a grand reception for the public on Sept. 22, 1916.

Today, the club has about 75 members who meet once a month on Friday afternoons, except for summer, and invite a different speaker to present to the group each meeting. The women are still involved in the community, doing many large and small projects, while constantly raising money and donating to different causes.

“Primarily we raise money to donate to literary interests,” says Bowers. “Every year we donate to all nine of the libraries in the local elementary and middle schools. We give out scholarships every year to two to three high school students.”

Bowers says the SVWC is primarily a fundraising group these days.

“All the money we take in during the year, except for the expenses of running the club, goes back out to the schools and charities,” say Bowers.

This year the club established the SVWC Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the upkeep and preservation of the building itself. “The building is 100 years old now and it’s going to need things to keep it going another 100 years,” says Bowers.

In 2015, at the ripe age of 99, the club was put on the National Register of Historic Places and is now considered a historical landmark.

To commemorate the clubhouse’s birthday, SVWC is having a celebration from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the clubhouse, 574 First St. E.

“We’re going to have exhibits, people in period clothing, tours, food - because what would it be without food? - and storyboards,” Bowers says. “It’s going to be an open house. We’re inviting the public and anyone in the world who wants to come take a look at the clubhouse. A lot of people go by and say ‘I’ve seen this. I’ve walked by, but I’ve never been inside!’ so we want to open it up to the public and let them see what it looks like.”

The club also hopes to bring the club into the 21st century by taking all the handwritten records in the building and properly archiving, scanning and generally making them more accessible to the public to generate interest.

And, of course, the club is always on the lookout for its next generation of members.

“We welcome the women of Sonoma to join,” says Lund. “We need them to survive.”

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