Clubwomen played an important role in shaping North Carolina life during the twentieth century. With the rise in interest in women’s history, that role increasingly has been recognized. Their influence extended to the ballot box, the workplace, public health, library development, the arts, conservation, and literacy. In 2002 the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs (since 1998 known as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of North Carolina, a name adopted to bring it into line with the national group name) marked its centennial. By Sallie Southall Cotten’s estimation, the group was first derided, then tolerated, and later acknowledged and respected.
Original Date Cast:
The organization bills itself at the “oldest, largest, charitable, non-denominational, nonpartisan service organization of volunteer women in North Carolina.” The original charter called for the “promotion of education and activities in civic, cultural, educational, and social welfare for the betterment of the commonwealth.” On May 26, 1902, the organizational meeting was held on the campus of Salem Academy (the name was changed to Salem Academy and College in 1907). Seven clubs were enrolled at the outset: Sorosis, Round Table, and Embroidery of Winston-Salem; Sorosis of Wilmington; Circulating Book Club of Salisbury; Goldsboro Women’s Club; and Alpha Club of Statesville. The original departments of work were education, library extension, village improvement, and state charities. The first president was Lucy Patterson of Winston-Salem.
Gertrude Weil recalled of the organizational meeting: “It was a small group of women that met at Mrs. Patterson’s call. Women were not so accustomed in those days to leave their homes to attend meetings, and still less to leave their home-towns. Having no husband nor children to neglect by my absence, I was free to go . . . We arrived in Winston—by rail of course—at night . . .Our respective hostesses met us and whisked us off—in surries. . . That was the first annual meeting of what has become the biggest, strongest organization of women in the State.”
Sallie Southall Cotten, History of the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1901-1925 (1925)
Gertrude Carraway, Carolina Crusaders: History of the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs, Volume II (1941)
Albert Coates, By Her Own Bootstraps: A Saga of Women in North Carolina (1975)
Anastasia Sims, “Sallie Southall Cotten and the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs” (M.A. thesis, UNC-CH, 1976)
Sarah Wilkerson-Freeman, “The Emerging Political Consciousness of Gertrude Weil: Education and Women’s Clubs, 1879-1914” (M.A. thesis, UNC-CH, 1985)
Gertrude Weil, 1901. Courtesy of NC Office of Archives & History.