Charleston Women's Club
The Woman's Club as it appears today. Photo by Kyle Warmack.
Jane Cunningham Croley, founder of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC). Courtesy of the GFWC.
An early GFWC magazine circulated to its members. Courtesy of the General Federation of Women's Clubs.
Women's clubs contributed to national efforts during both World Wars in a huge variety of ways, including a drive to donate wedding dresses to newly-married British servicewomen. Here, actress Mary Pickford donates her dress. Courtesy of the GFWC.
An American B-24 bomber is used to illustrate the "Buy A Bomber" campaign in a GFWC publication advertising war bonds. Courtesy of the GFWC.
Backstory and Context
During World War I, West Virginia women of GFWC clubs performed about 75 percent of war-related work done by women in the state. "They chaired committees on "War Savings, Home Service, Liberty Loan, Conservation, [and] Council of Defense," gave club programs on the nations at war and the war's progress, sent "care packages" to soldiers and knitted for them, and learned to conserve food by gardening and canning."1
By 1920, the Charleston Women's Club had grown to 329 members and was too numerous for its meetings at the Kanawha Hotel. In 1921, the Club purchased the present plot of land upon which the iconic structure would be built for $16,000 (nearly $200,000 in modern currency).
The land had been Wehrle Park until 1917, home field of the Charleston Statesmen, the city's first professional baseball team. The team moved to a new field at Kanawha Park across the river (later Watt Powell Park, which was demolished in 2005). The Charleston Women's Club acquired the vacant lot and commissioned Walter Martens to design their new home. Martens had completed the new Governor's Mansion only three years before, a huge commission for the young architect who had only just moved to the state in 1921. Martens would go on to have a significant impact on the architecture of the state, designing many of its iconic homes and structures, the Charleston Civic Center notwithstanding.
Ground was broken in 1928, and the Charleston Women's Club was completed in 1929. It is an excellent example of the French Chateau Style, and indeed architect Martens later came to be considered a master of various Revival styles.
Though membership in women's clubs across the country declined during the 1930s as the Great Depression took a toll on the economic welfare of their constituents, the Charleston Woman's Club has remained active since its 1909 inception. To this day, the club continues its proud tradition of service to West Virginia communities as part of the General Federation of Women's Clubs.
2. Woman's Club of Charleston. Charleston Area Alliance. Accessed September 28, 2017. http://charlestonareaalliance.org/list/member/woman-s-club-of-charleston-charleston-3437.
3. History of Professional Baseball in Charleston. West Virginia Power. Accessed September 28, 2017. http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20090211&content_id=40999236&sid=t525&vkey=team4.
4. Agsten Jr., Carl. Walter Martens. West Virginia Encyclopedia. Accessed September 28, 2017. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/print/Article/1541.