Editor’s Note: The Chipley Woman’s Club will mark its 100th year this month. This is one in a series of features submitted by its members about the club’s rich history that will run leading up to the milestone celebration.
On March 24, 1921, an announcement appeared in the Chipley Banner. Mrs. Zelma Farris Alford, the wife of Earnest Leslie Alford and President of the School Improvement Association, invited the women of Chipley who were interested in forming a Woman’s Club to attend a meeting held for that purpose on the following Thursday. At that meeting, Mrs. Edna Milliken Findley-Read explained how a departmental woman’s club could be formed, with the School Improvement Association going into it as the Education Department. A unanimous vote was taken to this effect, and the new club was named the Chipley Woman’s Club.
60 names were put on the first roll, and Mrs. Louisa Ann Hutchison-Lockley was elected club president. The ladies learned how a departmental woman’s club could be formed with the School Improvement Association going into it as the Educational Committee. A unanimous vote was taken to this effect, and the new club was named The Chipley Woman’s Club. Fifty-five dedicated women were the founders.
In April 1921, the yellow Killarney Rose was chosen as the club flower. White and Green were chosen as the club colors. The motto chosen was: “From each according to her ability; To each according to her need.” Also, during this meeting, the obligations of the School Improvement Association were assumed by the Woman’s Club, and annual dues were set at one dollar. The club was compromised of six departments: Education, Civics, Public Health, Good Roads, Philanthropy, and the Arts.
The first meetings were held in member’s homes or the school auditorium, later moving into the clubrooms provided by the Chamber of Commerce in the Hutchinson Building on South Fifth Street. After the completion of the clubhouse in 1931, meetings were held there. For many years, monthly meetings were held in the afternoon, but beginning in 1968, noon luncheons were held with each member serving on the luncheon committees.
In 1929, the departments of the club were re-organized in order to conform to the departmental plan of the Florida Federation of Woman’s Clubs. The new departments were Arts, Conservation, Education, Home Life, International Affairs, and Public Issues. In that same year, the decision was made to incorporate the club. A charter was drawn up by Susie Belle Rollins-Wells and signed by eighty members of the Chipley Woman’s Club on October 18, 1929.
On December 12, 1929, the property on North Fifth Street was given to the club by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Dunn for the construction of a clubhouse. Fundraising projects were begun with proceeds going into the building fund and donations of building materials and furnishings were made by members and friends of the club, Plans were drawn, and the clubhouse was constructed in 1931 by Mr. Tom Langston. Tom was the builder of many early Chipley homes and the father of two charter members of the club, Myrtis Watts and Frances McGeachy. The adjacent lot of the north side of the clubhouse was purchased from Bonnie Farrior in 1964.
An ongoing project of the Chipley’s Woman’s Club from the early 1930s to the present time has been the establishment and support of the public library. In February 1934, club minutes record the formal opening of the library under the sponsorship of the Chipley Woman’s Club in the former office of the newspaper, The Verdict. That office was located at the corner of Church Avenue and Sixth Street, in a building which began life as a potato shed used for loading rail shipments of potatoes.
In later years, the library was housed 1) in the Woman’s Club, 2) in the high-school library, 3) on the second floor of the former city hall on the corner of Church Avenue and Sixth Street and 4) in the building owned by the city near the southwest corner of Jackson Avenue and Sixth Street.
There was no assurance of a regular appropriation from any source for books, so the Woman’s Club’s Library Department approved providing a librarian for six months. They decided to re-examine the situation after six months. The Woman’s Club was often the sole sponsor of the library effort, and at other times the club was supported by the city, county, school board, or the federal government until 1964 when the library affiliated with Northwest Florida Regional Library system
In the 1930s, the Woman’s Club ladies were quite busy. The year started with a wire that they sent to the State Road Department in Tallahassee, Florida, requesting help from the State on their beautification work, which was the approval of setting out Holly Trees from Chipley to Cottondale on both sides of Hwy 90. A letter was then sent by the Road Department in Tallahassee to the Woman's Club stating that since they realized we were not financially able to put very much into this beautification, they planned to work with the club to get the job done.
The Woman's Clubs Public Welfare Department took clothes and baskets of food to several families in need and helped to place two local crippled children into the Home for Crippled Children in Jacksonville, Florida so that they could receive treatment. After receiving several letters from citizens in rural Washington County regarding the need for a Teeth and Toenail clinic, it was their privilege to help the community by putting in a County nurse to look after the rural folks. This department also helped organize for May Day a TB clinic which was held at the courthouse and at least 38 cases were examined. Members of the Woman's Club and the P.T.A. assisted in this clinic.
About 30 calls were made to the known sick and needy in the community, both white and black, some in desperate need of help. 45 families were helped by the Community Chest. The women were also called on several times by the State Welfare Department to assist them in this community by helping the Fieldworker for the Children’s Home Society in placing children in the home and in private homes.
The Conservation Department took over the care of the club grounds by securing and planting shrubs and grass. They co-operated with the George Washington Bicentennial Committee by distributing posters in and out of the city, urging the planting of memorial trees, also registering these plantings, and assisting the committee whenever possible. The department kept up the downtown park, including the rose garden there, and worked with the city council and railroad to keep the city clean. They worked with the school in beautifying their grounds, sponsored and supervised the planting of the palm trees that now line the railroad tracks through town, and arranged for and supervised the lighting of the Club’s living Christmas tree downtown.
Some of the other early service projects of the Chipley Woman’s Club through the years have included:
Planting the palm trees on the railroad cut in downtown Chipley.
Securing a city ordinance against chickens roaming the streets.
Sponsoring a street carnival celebrating the opening of Chipley’s paved streets in 1922.
Adoption of a resolution urging the construction of a paved road through the southern part of the county to the Bay County line.
The Chipley Woman’s Club, through cooperation with the School Board, the City Council, Chamber of Commerce, Health Department, and other public agencies, played an important part in the development of Chipley. Next month we will continue the History from 1940-1970.
This article originally appeared on Washington County News: The early history of the Chipley Woman's Club