The Naperville Woman’s Club started with what you might call a novel idea. It sprang from a literary society for prominent Naperville women in the late 1800’s.
“It was a literary club, because when it was founded in 1897, the Greater Federation of Woman’s Clubs, which we are a member of, that was part of what their platform was: getting women to educate themselves to be more involved in literature and history,” said Naperville Woman’s Club historian Melody Coleman.
Hand in History
The first members got involved in the history of Naperville right away, helping support city founders in the creation of important focal points in the community.
“As a result of that, the Naperville Woman’s Club, as many woman’s clubs did, got really involved in the building of Nichols Library. In fact, one of our presidents, Mrs. Nichols’ husband, gave a $10,000 bequest to the Nichols Library, and the Woman’s Club was responsible for the cornerstone of the Nichols Library,” Coleman said.
The club also had an impact on the development of North Central College, Naperville Central High School and Edward Hospital. And it’s housed in a bit of history itself – what’s known as the Old Stone Church. Formerly the German Evangelical People’s Church, the 1899-built structure now has city landmark status.
Wreath Laying Ceremony
125 years after its founding, the club is still going strong. On its anniversary, March 1, the club held a wreath laying ceremony at Naperville Cemetery at the graves of two of the clubs early presidents: Emilie Miller, who led in 1922, and Jenny Collins-Freeman, who was the club’s first president.
“It was really meaningful and felt touching that so many people came to the wreath laying ceremony. We weren’t quite sure, because we had never done anything like that before, if there would just be Wendy and myself and Julie and Melody; and when we kept seeing the cars drive up and park and the people come, it was just overwhelming and so gratifying,” said club co-chair Esther Cook.
A tea followed, highlighted by performances and speeches sharing the history and impact of the club.
“And it was a wonderful feeling to say ‘Wow. Seven generations of women have felt this love for the community that pushed them to stay involved and look for ways to help the community. And they set us on a path. We’re still walking in that path it’s a wonderful feeling,” said Naperville Woman’s Club President Julie Cunningham.
The 125th year celebration will continue throughout the year, as will some of the club’s familiar events now seen as community staples. The Naperville Fine Art & Artisan Fair has been an annual event since 1959, and a Young Adult Art Contest has been going strong for nearly 40 years. The club’s Witches Night Out is newer to the scene, but has proven to be a popular fundraiser.
Expanding membership to help grow these events and other service projects is where the club sees its future.
“We are women who want to learn; we want to educate; we want to help, and we also want to have fun. We do all of those things by our events. We’re always striving to educate, to give back. We raise money so we can help other people in our community,” said Wendy Piepho, club co-chair.
Naperville News 17’s Ryan Sartori reports.
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