Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 


THE WOMAN'S CLUB OF GEORGETOWN
Historical Marker
Georgetown, Texas in Williamson County


1001 East University Avenue, Georgetown, Williamson Co TX.
Southwestern University campus on southwest lawn of Foundren Jones
Science Building between Science Building and Cullen Building.
 
 

GPS Coordinates
Latitude: 30.633689 - Longitude:  -97.667145

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  Marker text - 1995 by the Texas Historical Commission.
In 1893 Lula Holland Leavell (1854-1895) and her daughters, Blanche and Kate, hosted a literary reading for a group of Georgetown women. That year the group formed a women’s literary club. In 1897 the club was named the “Initial History Club” and its scope was expanded to include literature, history, music, and participation in Georgetown’s cultural affairs. They merged with two other local women’s clubs in 1917 to form the Woman’s Club of Georgetown. The club continues a rich tradition of civic enrichment with various outreach programs and the promotion of the arts.

 
 

 

THE WOMAN'S CLUB OF GEORGETOWN
Narrative Written by: Den K. Utley, Historian

Georgetown Heritage Society November 1993

Research compiled by:

Katherine G. Sellers, Nell Benold, Clara Stearns Scarbrough, and Ellagene Lott, members of The Woman's Club of Georgetown

 

"What is a Woman's Club? A meeting ground

For the of purpose, great and broad and strong,

Whose aim is toward the stars. . . ."

From 1917 program of Georgetown Woman's Club

 

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Georgetown was experiencing steady growth as a center of commerce, government, and education. The 1890s were a period of promise and prosperity for the Williamson County seat, then just over forty years old. Economic development, spurred by the railroad and by agricultural production, provided a sense of stability that made Georgetown attractive to new businesses and residents. Success influenced the town's architecture, resulting in the construction of many fine new homes and businesses that reflected the hope of the Victorian era.

 

Georgetown also developed as a cultural center, and a quality of life befitting its stature soon emerged. The community's progressive atmosphere encouraged a degree of intellectual appreciation uncommon among small Texas towns of the period. At the heart of the local enlightenment was Southwestern University, then gaining prominence as an important institution for the study of literature, philosophy, and the arts. As the school grew, it generously shared its facilities, programs, and ideals with the town, and its faculty and graduates served prominently as leaders of civic activities. Georgetown also boasted a Chautauqua assembly, chartered in 1888, which provided a forum for educational, religious, and social discourse for several years. [1]

 

Cultural refinement in Georgetown during the 1890s mirrored similar trends in other parts of the nation. An important symbol of this new era of intellectual appreciation was the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. An international showcase of industry and technology, the world's fair likewise celebrated classicism in art, literature, education, and music. It also marked an important advancement for women, who designed, funded, constructed, and managed three major buildings in the "White City," so called because of the striking, stuccoed architecture that dominated the fairgrounds. The women's buildings housed exhibits related to traditional roles in the family and the community, honored other achievements by women around the world, and provided space for both day-care and lodging. [2]

 

Within these broader contexts of intellectualism, community development, quality of life, and women's history, three Georgetown women began what would eventually become the Woman's Club. In 1893, Lula Holland Leavell (1854-1895) and her two daughters, Blanche and Kate, invited a few friends to their home at 803 College. The purpose of the gathering was to share a reading of Rudyard Kipling's 1890 novel, The Light That Failed, a book noteworthy for having been published with two separate endings: one happy and the other tragic. [3] The young women so enjoyed their time together that they proposed the establishment of a literary club to plan similar gatherings.

 

An untitled article in the November 23, 1893, edition of The Williamson County Sun, noted:

The 'F.A.D.' is the name of a club that has been recently organized in Georgetown. Its membership consists of ladies only and no gentlemen need apply for admission. Its object is, 'the study of nineteenth century literature,' which will doubtless prove very interesting and helpful to the ladies. The President of this club, Miss Blanch(e) Leavell, is one of our most popular young ladies. [4]

 

This brief announcement provides the first public acknowledgement of the new literary club. The meaning of the initials "F.A.D" has been lost over time, but they may have stood for Fine Arts Department, reflecting terminology common to women's clubs in the 1890s. Time has also led to a discrepancy in the club's early leadership; a 1917 program of the Woman's Club lists Miss Nellie Palm as the first president. [5]

 

It is known, however, that Lula Holland was a native of Alabama who moved with her family to Leon County, Texas. There, she married John H. Leavell in November 1870. To the union were born seven children, one of whom evidently died at an early age. When Mrs. Leave]] passed away in 1895 (two years after the founding of the F.A.D.) at the age of forty-one, survivors include her husband, four daughters and two sons. Blanche, then Mrs. C. M. Campbell of Temple, and Kate, then Mrs. A. I. Sharpe of Georgetown, were the only children shown as married. [6] Efforts to locate additional information about them through cemetery records and state

death records proved inconclusive. [7]

 

In the first years of its existence, the F.A.D. met weekly to read the writings of such authors as Nelson Page, James Lane Allen, and others. There was no central meeting place; the gatherings were held at the university, in homes, and in churches. The club broadened its scope of study by 1897, when it became known as the Initial History Club, and in 1909, when it formed a music department known as the Club of Clefs.

 

1897 was the year eighteen women's literary groups met in Waco to establish the Texas Federation of Women's Literary Clubs ("Literary" was later dropped from the organizational title). The following year, at the first annual conference in Tyler (April 1898), members included the Georgetown organization in the first group of clubs elected to the Federation. [8]

 

In its early years, the Initial History Club developed an interest in community involvement that added a dimension of service to the previous goals of the organization. The 1917 program provided the following review of their first civic contributions:

Always the main purpose of the club was purely a literary one, but they constantly tried to help their community, both financially and otherwise. Striking examples of this are their contributions to the upkeep of the University campus, their annual one to the interscholastic meet and a generous donation to the Confederate monument. It was through the efforts of this club also that the Sunday delivery of ice was abolished. [9]

 

In 1895, two years after formation of the F.A.D., five young Georgetown women met to organize a new literary club. According to a later account, the town's second club was a result of the "wave for club work and organization [that] passed over these our United States following the impetus given by the club women at the World's Fair in 1893." Organizers of the second club were "Mesdames Hyer, Makemson, Steele, H. Harrell and M. Harrel," who invited their friends to a formal organizational meeting on October 16. At that time, they formed the Review Club, which soon embarked on an intensive seven year study of Shakespeare and English history. Later on, the club studied "Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, George Eliot and Sir Walter Scott." [10] The 1917 program further recorded:

 

The last eight years, the club was very much interested in the modern socialistic writers of Europe. Ibsen, Tolstoi, Maeterlinck, Hauptman, Turgeniev, Dostoievsky and Shaw are striking examples. As far as possible they applied the teachings of these modern writers to similar conditions in the United States. [11]

 

Members of the Review Club organized the Standard Club in 1902, to study American literature, and the Art Club in 1909, to focus on the works of American, and especially Texan, artists.

 

Like the Initial History Club, the Review Club took an active role in community activities. Members contributed time and money for the support of educational programs and showed a particular interest in kindergarten, then considered a progressive reform within the educational system. Through their efforts, "The public school received books, fire extinguishers and two sanitary fountains." [12]

 

In April 1908, Georgetown hosted the annual convention for the Fifth District of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs. On the first evening of the convention, attendees listened to a speech by Dr. R. S. Hyer of Southwestern University on "the selfish side of club life" and were entertained by the college glee club and a local violinist. The following day, they heard an address by the state commissioner of pure food and then attended a luncheon on the Southwestern campus, where, "The stage paid tribute to the Federation flower, the blue bonnet, in such profusion that imagination might have felt a bit of the beautiful Georgetown prairie caught within doors." [13]

 

The conventioneers heard reports on successful local programs in education, parks, city beautification, and libraries. They also participated in discussions on "Civic Improvement, the Club and the Press, the Value of the General Federation and Laws in Texas Affecting Women and Children." [14] In the eloquent, florid prose of the day, the newspaper account provided the final assessment of the Georgetown convention:

Three impressions are lasting from the Fifth District meeting at Georgetown last Wednesday, and these are, whole-­souled hospitality from the Georgetown women, an earnestness of purpose in the deliberations and the prevalence of good will among the guests.15

 

The district meeting of the Federation bolstered the local women, publicly recognizing their accomplishments and inspiring them to new goals in club work.

 

A third women's club, organized separately from the Review Club and the Initial History Club, began in 1914 for the purpose of enhancing the "serious" study of music among Georgetown women. Known as the Music Study Club, it began under the leadership of Mrs. N. M. Wilcox, who served as the group's only president. [16]

 

By the time of World War I, it was evident to the three women's clubs that a stronger and more comprehensive cultural program might be developed through the consolidation of efforts. By working together they could more adequately share available talent, membership, funding, and program resources. Additionally, as the need for war preparedness increased, members devoted more time to matters of the home front. Because of these and other factors, the three women's clubs agreed in 1917 to merge into one organization known as the Woman's Club.

 

Initially, the Woman's Club offered a program organized around four departments: Art, Music, Literature, and Domestic Science and Civics. Interest in the latter during the war years included "Hoover-how" programs on food preparation and conservation, with recipes for such delicacies as the butterless, eggless, and milkless cakes necessitated by wartime shortages. The club's departmental arrangement lasted until 1925, when it was replaced by a yearly program covering a variety of topics. [17]

 

The diversity of the club's early interests and program offerings is evident in the list of topics covered in 1917. They included literary studies of such authors as Robert Louis Stevenson, Bret Harte, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and 0. Henry. Among the artistic offerings were landscape gardening, china and pottery, interior design, and "Painters of Western Life." The Music Department planned studies on American operatic artists and on music programs in the public school, the church, and the community. Program titles for the Department of Domestic Science and Civics included: "Housekeeping in a Medieval Castle," "What Grocery Merchants Expect and Appreciate in Their Customers," "Desirability of a Pure Textile Law," "Home-made Bread vs. Bakers' Bread," and "The Part Taken by Mineral Matter in Building Tissue and in Regulating the Process of the Body." [18]

 

In the 1940s, when the United States once again faced the threat of global war, club programs emphasized world affairs. Topics entitled, "What Are We Fighting For?" "Educating for Responsibility," and "Mother Russia," addressed local concerns. Guest speakers for these and other programs were frequently recruited from the faculty of Southwestern University. The club, and thus the community, benefitted greatly from the expertise and insights of the school's renowned lecturers and scholars.

In the 1970s, members of the Woman's Club ended their formal association with the Federation, preferring instead to concentrate resources on local interests. Prior to a formal vote on the decision, however, they agreed to sponsor the new San Gabriel Woman's Club in an effort to provide more club activities and programs to the growing population of the city. [19]

 

Over the years, the Woman's Club of Georgetown has included in its membership many of the prominent leaders of the community. The noted suffragette and anti-lynching advocate, Jessie Daniel Ames, was active in the club, serving as president during the consolidation of 1917. Martha R. Cody (d. 1953), wife of Claude Carr Cody (d. 1923), a distinguished member of the Southwestern University faculty, served in a number of offices at the state and district levels. Mrs. Cody's participation represented an important bond between the school and the community that has continued. Over the years, the wives of seven Southwestern University presidents have been members of the Woman's Club, as have many of the faculty and staff. Other prominent early family names associated with the club include Belford, Price, Burcham, Sansom, Cooper, Makemson, Stone, and Steele. [20]

 

The Woman's Club of Georgetown has a rich tradition of service to the community. Civic contributions and donations have supported the library, the United Way, schools, parks, city beautification, and historical commemorations. In addition, the club has provided scholarships for both Southwestern University and the Georgetown Independent School District. [21]

 

1993 marks the centenary of the club's history. What began as a group of young women gathering to read Kipling has grown into an organization that has provided countless benefits to the community, its institutions, and its quality of life. Because of the integral role it has played, and continues to play, in the history of Georgetown, the Woman's Club is worthy of commemoration by the State of Texas. An Official Texas Historical Marker would, like the 1908 district meeting, honor the members for their contributions and inspire them to new goals. In a fitting tribute to the Woman's Club, and in honor of their shared association throughout the years, Southwestern University officials have approved the placement of the marker on their campus.

 

Written by:

Den K. Utley, Historian

Georgetown Heritage Society November 1993

Research compiled by:

Katherine G. Sellers, Nell Benold, Clara Stearns Scarbrough, and Ellagene Lott, members of The Woman's Club of Georgetown

 

Womans_club_end-notes.pdf

 

 


 

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