In November 1910, women in Washington state won the right to vote – fully a decade before the 19th Amendment gave that right to women nationwide.
That same month and year, the Woman’s Club of Spokane held a grand opening of its new clubhouse, a cottage at the corner of Ninth Avenue and South Walnut Street on Spokane’s lower South Hill.
Women in Spokane were part of a larger movement that would revolutionize the social fabric of America, and many of those women were club members.
In 1928, the original building at 1428 W. 9th Ave. was renovated by renowned Spokane architect Gustav Perhrson, whose design encompassed the original cottage, added a brick façade and increased the space to 8,000 square feet. It included an elegant ballroom, a concert hall, a kitchen, restrooms and meeting rooms.
On the building’s exterior above the entrance, a terra-cotta piece bears the club’s logo – a swirling pattern of red and green rosettes. It reads “The Club that Bids You Welcome,” atop the club’s name.
Back in the day, the building was an elegant space for women to gather, form reading circles and become involved in “women’s issues” including child labor laws, temperance and public safety.
Today, the vintage building is receiving a much-needed overhaul.
A $300,000 grant from the Washington Legislature and a $15,000 matching grant from the City of Spokane is being used to refurbish and upgrade the building, said Rosemary Small, the club’s president.
The funding is paying for upgrades to the existing restroom and entrances, making them accessible for the disabled, and also will foot the bill for a second restroom on the main floor, Small added.
Air conditioning is another critical item on the list of must-haves, as well as the addition of a commercial kitchen and a separate space for the club’s huge vintage fashion collection, according to Small.
Club members narrowly declined to sell building
Small attended her first meeting at the Woman’s Club in January 2007 only because she had moved to a home around the corner from the behemoth building on West Ninth, and was curious what the club was all about.
On the meeting’s agenda that day was a vote on whether or not to sell the club’s building.
With 33 yea votes and 35 nay votes, Small and one other member tipped the scales that day.
At her second meeting, Small was elected house superintendent and spent the next few years, together with other club members, bringing the building up to snuff – doing the basics to maintain the property.
Looking back at the club’s impact, Small said local club members have led reforms for education, civil rights and civic responsibility.
“We all take for granted now things like labor laws and juvenile courts for kids … all those exist because of clubs like this made up of women who wanted to change things,” she added.
Women’s Clubs began popping up in the 1890s and continued through the turn of the century across the country, as well as in Washington state, she added.
“Initially so women could get together and start book clubs and discuss literature,” she said. “When women get together they start talking about doing other things. Once they started, news traveled pretty quickly that women could get together and make things a lot better in the home and in the community.”
Today the clubhouse is sparkling clean and with renovations around the corner, members new and old are looking forward to adding even more events to the club’s busy schedule, Small added.
Membership had declined by 2014
Since the club’s inception, membership has consistently run from200 to more than 450 members – at times even topping that. From the 1930s through the 1950s, membership numbers waxed and waned but rarely fell below 250.
By August 2014 however, membership had fallen dramatically, to below 30 people, Small said. Club members decided to focus on attracting new members, which they have successfully done.
Membership these days stands at about 100 and marketing efforts are underway to further raise that number.
Last year the club got a “kick in the pants,” Small added, when it rented space in the building to accommodate local business owner and jazz singer Heather Villa. Villa owns Bella Cova, a mother and child-focused retail business, and the space also houses Artemisia, an eclectic art gallery. Locally-curated retail items also fill the space on the building’s lower level and add to the mix.
The business is open and thriving five days a week and Villa has become the face of the Woman’s Club, Small said.
“The collaboration has benefitted both parties,” she added. “Heather has been a godsend.”
The club offers rental space in its vintage ballroom for meetings, events, weddings and receptions. During December every year, the club also utilizes its own vintage fashion collection for an annual fashion show and tea, Villa said.
The club also hosts artisan and craft shows as well as weekly and monthly classes on everything from dancing to yoga, to gardening, music and nutrition.
“We often have some of the fashion collection on display for special occasions,” Villa added.
The Woman’s Club officially formed in 1905 and in 1907 organized itself under the General Federation of Women’s Clubs to which it still subscribes today. The GFWC’s six focus areas are: art, education, conservation, healthy living, public issues, international concerns, with a special project targeting domestic violence awareness and prevention, Small said.
The club achieved 501(c)3 tax status in 2013 as a nonprofit organization. It also has been placed on local and national registers of historic places for architectural significance.
Spokane-based Walker Construction has already started some renovations to the building, which will continue through the spring.