Contributed photo of the Spokane Women's Club

Getting to know the Spokane Women’s Club


Contributed photo of the Spokane Women's Club
Contributed photo of the Spokane Women’s Club

Spokane Woman’s Club hosted an Open House Sunday, Aug. 24. The event was co-organized by community leaders of the millennial generation, including SWC member, philosopher and singer Madeline McNeill and Ashlee Laitenen, chair of the Enrichment Committee, alongside experienced club members, President Susan Bresnahan and Vice President and Building Manager Rosemary Small.

The Spokane Woman’s Club at 9th and Cedar has been a community hub of busy activity for nearly 100 years. Recently, the membership was not as large in numbers as the club members would like to see. The club is looking for interactive community outreach with the younger generations of women, so recruited McNeill and Laitenen in July.

The Woman’s Club building was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1994. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a very welcoming, charming building, with a red brick exterior and an invitation to all with the words, “The Club That Bids You Welcome” ornately decorating the entry way. The building looks like it was plucked from Douglas Spalding’s Green Town, in Ray Bradbury’s coming of age story and homage to golden age America, “Dandelion Wine.” The Spokane Woman’s Club is a non-profit and a member of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, (GFWC) which is a national organization.

This (GFWC) is the organization that civilized the West,” said Small.

According to Small, GFCW is in no small part responsible for things we take for granted every day — like that yellow line you see down the middle of the road driving everyday. GFCW women helped think of that and it lowered the rate of car accidents. Small runs a soil environmental consultant business with her husband.

Small won over her neighbor, Peecheng Chen, to the club a few years ago. They helped each other with maintaining their homes through the years. This built a special bond of trust and friendship between them, so Chen finally agreed to become a member of the club. As part of her appeal to those at the open house as to why they should also become members, Chen explained ,“Today, there is a huge ‘virtual’ community. But, how do you meet people face to face? Bar-hopping is not that much fun. You spend $50 bucks and still haven’t found true love. Here you can be with other people who want to connect with other people. This is how we build common ground with younger generations.” 

The point Chen was making is that for the same price of the bar-hopping — $50 — a person can be a member at the Woman’s Club and find some like-minded friends. Later, Small humorously added that men can be members of the Woman’s Club, but they just have to do things the way women do them in the club space.

During the open house, tours were given of the national historic building, showing off the club’s rich history of leading the way in legislating reforms for education, civil rights and road safety, as well as showcasing their plans for the future renovations of the building. They hope to renovate the kitchen and teach culinary art classes as well as rent out the kitchen to enterprising business owners, or to make the kitchen available to food preparations for community health enterprises such as Food not Bombs. According to Small, the kitchen renovations they will need to fundraise for will cost $50,000-$70,000 and the ramp that is needed will cost about $17,000. The total renovations and fundraising the club will have to do —new bathrooms, and air conditioning, and more — is about $400,000. The club has been frequently used as a springboard for many churches in Spokane who started here, grew their fellowship and then bought their own buildings, according to former president Shirley Pipps, as well as  Bresnahan and V Small.

Downstairs is a room that was once a private kindergarten. There the walls display photos that are have been preserved remarkably over the 100 years of club history of presidents. It is not just the history of the Woman’s Club here, but history itself is revealed as the fashion and dress of the women as well as the photographic technology changes over the course of time. The black and white photos seem to make time itself as translucent as they are. As well as photographs of previous members, there is a list of the women who’s lifetime memberships helped make possible the building of the ballroom upstairs.

There are billboards entrusted to the care and keeping of the Women’s Club from the MAC’s 2010 exhibit, Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes in Spokane. They chronicle legends in Spokane like the achievements of local feminist icon Marion Moos. Her trademark hat is smartly displayed. A handmade and hand-lettered poster for her feminist bookstore Pas Time from a time before people used computer printers speaks volumes. On the MAC billboard is a picture of Pierian Society that met in 1923, an arts and culture group for black women, the sign reads. These pictures testifying to the impact and importance of women and specifically the Spokane Women’s Club on Spokane, are on display for all to see. I personally had the feeling that this is what I’d been searching for everywhere in Spokane, this history of women, here, to connect to the larger story. As a writer, history and roots are an integral part of the foundation of community building and my place in it, for me.

After the tour, we were led back upstairs to listen to the speakers explain further plans for the club and how they hoped to motivate new community growth with a new mission statement for the club.  Small gave a further brief history of the club’s involvement in social justice in the community.  The GFCW according to the American Library Association in their brochure, is responsible for founding well over 75 percent of the nation’s libraries.

While the club wants to host a number of classes and collaborative projects, such as yoga, coding, website building, philosophy, cooking, and nutrition, they also want to host support groups for survivors of PTSD and domestic violence as well as seminars on how to be a community leader. While membership at the Club is $50, it will be possible to exchange volunteer time for a membership. They are open to suggestions. If a member teaches a class, the club is looking to get 10-25 percent of the receipts from the class.

McNeill and Laitenen have helped implement new membership policies to make it easy to become a member. McNeill made it clear that the club is leaving its future open to “Your dreams and ideas.”

After the membership drive, I asked some of those who attended the Open House what they wanted from the club, or what their plans and dreams for it were. Andrea Crofoot said she would be helping re-design the website. Amity Holt, a 22 year-old artist who works as a manager at Gonzaga’s Pita Pit and is getting into college said, “I am really excited about the social aspect of the club. I want to paint, organize some hiking groups, go exploring parts of town, hopefully see about picking up trash and cleaning up areas that could use it. I was home-schooled, so I learn through people. That’s what motivates me, finding common interests. Studio art is my biggest passion in the world.”

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