Women's Clubs and Organizations
Leavenworth was home to a number of womenâs clubs â and organizations run by women â during the second half of the nineteenth century. The clubsâ popularity mirrored a nationwide movement.
Between the 1870s and 1920s, women throughout the United States established organizations in their communities to undertake serious study of intellectual topics and current events and to organize for social reforms at the local, state, and national levels. Womenâs clubs became the major vehicle by which American women could develop and use their intellect, training, creativity, and organizational skills to shape the world beyond their homes. Early on, club members tended to be white Protestant women of comfortable means with locally prominent husbands. Gradually, religious, racial, and ethnic minorities and wage-earning women created their own organizations. Club membership totaled 800,000 women by 1910; numbers rose until 1926. Womenâs club work continues in the 21st century.
Whittier Club scrapbook, 1890-1901
Twenty-four Leavenworth women started the Whittier Club in 1887. The literary club was named for Quaker abolitionist and poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), who wrote a series of poems supporting the Free-State cause in Territorial Kansas.
Originally founded to provide educational opportunities for unmarried women, the club eventually allowed married members. In keeping with its educational purposes, the club joined other womenâs groups, including the Art League, to sponsor the organization, planning, and funding of the Leavenworth Free Public Library Association in 1895. The club celebrated its centennial in 1986-1987 and continues to meet.
The Kansas Home Cook-Book: Consisting of Recipes Contributed by Ladies of Leavenworth and Other Cities and Towns, 1874
This volume was published âby the Board of Managers for the benefit of the Home for the Friendlessâ in Leavenworth.
The effort to establish the Home was led by Harriet Cushing, a prominent Leavenworth philanthropist who also founded several womenâs clubs in town. A reporter for the Leavenworth Daily Commercial visited the Homeâs new building â constructed with $10,000 of state appropriations â and recounted his observations in an article on September 3, 1871.
âThe society of ladies who have this in charge has been in existence nearly four years, and during this time have extended aid to 130 friendless women. During the last year 56 were admitted to their present âHome,â and thirteen children were born under its roof. These poor and friendless women are fed, sheltered and befriended. Finding their present facilities inadequate, this commodious new building has been erectedâŚBeing a State institution, its inmates are gathered from all parts of Kansas. Forsaken wives who perhaps find themselves on the eve of maternity without friends or shelter; young girls from the country seeking employment who have no place of refuge, and others who leave their homes to hide their shame in a great city, are the class to whom this Home extends its hospitable aid.â
The Home met an essential need as women â particularly those who were poor or unmarried â had limited childbirth options.
Top: Constitution and by-laws of the Leavenworth Art League, December 1889, in the Secretaryâs Records, Book No. 2
Bottom: The Art League Chronicle, October and November 1891
The Leavenworth Art League was established in 1884. An article in the Leavenworth Standard on March 10th of that year reported on the event.
âIt has been given out that Leavenworth ladies will form an art league. The object is made sufficiently plain by the name, and no one will dispute that it is creditable to the originators or that the league may be useful in cultivating purer and higher public tastes. But an important preliminary question is, can the league carry their work to successful results? How nearly can the real be made to approach the ideal art league? We believe the intelligence, the good taste and the energy exist among the ladies of Leavenworth to win in this effort, but they will have to go at it systematically and with determination enough to overcome the many difficulties that will beset their path.â