In the wake of the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, it seems only fitting to spend some time focusing on the role of women in society prior to earning the long sought-after vote. It is often assumed that because women could not vote, they played no active role in politics or the public sphere of society in general. That could not be farther from the truth, as is evidenced by the legacies of the work done by women in the heyday of what can collectively be termed, the Women’s Club Movement. North Adams was no exception to this growth and influence of Women’s Clubs, and one club in particular, the Monday Club, was closely aligned with the North Adams Public Library, which was the main beneficiary of the women’s efforts.
Women’s clubs became an avenue for women to pursue educational and social interests outside of their domestic lives. Largely comprising English-American women of means, the groups began to form as early as the American Revolution. They started out as small, local groups focused as literary, reading or social circles with up to an average of thirty women. Aimed at improving women’s minds, they provided an acceptable platform for them to engage in public life by reading, writing and engaging in discussion. By the end of the Civil War, women’s clubs were gaining in number and scope. They had become civic players in the local cities and towns, often funding improvements in schools, libraries and other human services. They also organized efforts to support American military campaigns and, afterwards, erected monuments and memorials. As they became more visible in public affairs, they were important voices in shaping public opinion surrounding issues like suffrage, temperance, racial equality, education and other topics concerning the welfare of women and children. As the 20th century dawned, the well-organized federations also became active agents in political and social activism.
The North Adams Monday Club began as the Ladies Reading Circle in 1876 with eight members; Mrs. Griswold, Mrs. Jennie Goodrich, Mrs. G.P. Lawrence, Mrs. A. E. Richmond, Mrs. H. Smith, Mrs. F. E. Swift, Mrs. S. Thayer, and Mrs. Mary H. Williams. The women, married and single, younger and elder, were mostly from prominent local families. They had a clear mission of literary pursuits as spelled out in the handwritten, original by-laws housed in the Library’s Local History collections. According to the record, “All our time shall be devoted to literary purposes, no refreshments served, or anything else that could detract from the original object of our meeting viz. our literary culture.” Meetings, held one Monday a month, were planned well in advance, with part of the program reviewing contemporary literature, and the rest of the meeting detailing topics covering i national and international politics, sociological perspectives, science, history, art, and philosophy.
As the group evolved, they sponsored educational lectures for the local communities, hosted talks on health and medical topics, as well as entertainment like plays and concerts. The Monday Club routinely engaged lecturers on various topics, educational, social service oriented and entertaining, and these often included teachers and professors from the Normal School, Williams College, and other respected speakers in various fields. Often their events took the form of fundraisers, and the purchase of books for the Library was a common purpose. Talks on Charities and Philanthropy, Natural Science, Literature and Poetry, Art and current social topics like Child Labor were just some of the variety they pursued, often inviting other Women’s Clubs and the general community to participate.
The ladies of the Monday Club were also active in politics at least as early as the 1890s. They started a collection at the North Adams Public Library with artifacts and documents relating to local history, many involving Fort Massachusetts. In 1895, they began fundraising efforts, including a Women’s Edition of the local paper. Sales of advertisements in the paper raised $1,200 and coupled with community donations, enabled the purchase of the site. Their efforts initiated the formation of the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society with the express intention of rebuilding the old fort and establishing a museum. In January of 1896, the newly formed society formally purchased the Fort Massachusetts historical site. In this and many ways, they worked tirelessly to preserve and expand the North Adams historical culture. The Monday Club was also active in organizing the 1898 petition to the Massachusetts State Legislature that would preserve Mount Greylock as a state park.
The women members of the North Adams Monday Club created a place for women to take part in public discourse and become active in the world around them. Having proven their ability to enter such realms in enterprising and creative ways, the Monday Club, active until 1995, was just one of many women’s organizations that played a crucial role in cementing a place for women in society that was powerful enough to span several generations.
Adapted from the original article in Hoosac Trails: The Journal of the North Adams Historical Society and Museum of History and Science, Volume XXVIII, Issue IV (June 2019).