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Beginnings
Women’s clubs began forming in the mid-19th century and gave many women a socially acceptable place to socialize, learn, and improve themselves at a time when most women were unable to receive higher education. Although local clubs had been forming all across the country throughout the century, women's clubs gained national attention in 1868 when Jane Cunningham Croly, a New York City journalist, founded the Sorosis Club.  In 1890, Croly invited representatives from women's clubs throughout the United States to a convention in New York City, which led to the founding of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC).

Many of these early women’s clubs, especially those modeling themselves after Croly's Sorosis, separated themselves from the more political and radical feminism of female suffragists by focusing on traditional female interests, such as domestic skills, literature, music and the arts.  Some Americans, mostly male but females as well,  distrusted women’s clubs, fearing that women's club participants might ignore family obligations and force husbands into domestic ("feminine") duties.
"At the emancipated womens club"






This cartoon, entitled "At the emancipated women's club," shows a husband waiting with his three small children at the door to the women's club, while a page delivers a message to his wife that reads:

"Your husband wants to see you, Mum. He says the baby's tooth is through at last, and he had to come and show it to you, Mum!"  
Photo source is the Library of Congress Digital Image Collection.





Women who formed women's clubs typically had a common background.  This meant that most groups were not racially, socially, or economically diverse, and some clubs actively excluded women from different backgrounds. This article from the Cleveland Gazette (April 5, 1902) concerns the legality of the GFWC's discrimination based on race, color or previous condition of servitude. (To view the full article click here.)  Eventually the GFWC decided to leave the racial question up to individual state federations to decide.
 
The Missouri Federation of Women's Clubs (MFWC) was formed in 1896 when 55 clubs from across the state met in St. Louis.  The 9th District of the MFWC, which includes Cape Girardeau, was formed in October 1907.  At the time of formation, the 9th District had one club, the Wednesday Club of Cape Girardeau, which consisted of 45 members.  Below is the Wednesday Club's certificate of membership into the GFWC, awarded February 8th, 1908.

Source:  Wednesday Club Collection, 1902-1990. 6.0 linear feet. 2000.011.
 
The Wednesday Club of Cape Girardeau formed in 1902 as a literary study club, like many similar clubs at that time.  For the first few years, members of the Wednesday Club studied the works of Shakespeare, Longfellow, Emerson, Dickens, Hawthorne, and other great literary figures.  Among the club's members were some of the most prominent women in Cape Girardeau, including university faculty, local civic and business women, as well as the wives of many of the prominent men of Cape Girardeau.
Mrs. Josephine McGhee






Josephine McGhee, (pictured to the left), was first president of the Wednesday Club of Cape Girardeau and first president of the 9th District of the MFWC. McGhee was the widow of John Sephus McGhee, the former president of Missouri State Normal School, Third District (now Southeast Missouri State University). After her husband's death, McGhee opened and managed a successful real estate agency, in addition to her duties as a club woman. 




Source:  Wednesday Club Collection, 1902-1990. 6.0 linear feet. 2000.011.
 
Soon the members of the Wednesday Club began to work to improve Cape Girardeau.  Mary Giboney Houck and Mary A. Himmelberger, the wives of local railroad pioneer Louis Houck and local lumber businessman J. H. Himmelberger, campaigned for city beautification projects, including improved lighting on city streets and cleaner schools for the children.  Mrs. Himmelberger also worked with other women promoting a new public library.  Women's Clubs in the area all worked to bring art and music programs to Cape Girardeau and even established scholarships for women attending the local college.
 
Wednesday CLub
Source:  Wednesday Club Collection, 1902-1990. 6.0 linear feet. 2000.011.
Cape Girardeau Public Library



The Cape Girardeau Public Library (pictured to the left) was just one of many projects undertaken by the Wednesday Club.  The library was built in 1916 with $25,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, an American businessman and philanthropist.  In order to get the Carnegie grant, however, the local community had to provide funding for the continued operation of the library.  The clubwomen of the Wednesday Club raised the money necessary to provide the Cape Girardeau Library with a full-time librarian.  

Source:  Wednesday Club Collection, 1902-1990.
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