The Woman’s Century Club: An Illustrated History

Carrie Chapman Catt

Carrie Chapman Catt

The Woman’s Century Club was founded in July 1891 in Seattle by ten women, including noted suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, who served as the club’s first president.

Born in Wisconsin in 1859, Catt graduated from Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University), the only woman in her class. She became a teacher and then superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa.[1]

She came to Seattle in 1890, while in the Northwest on a speaking tour for the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, and married engineer George Catt, a former college classmate, that year. As the Washington State manager of a San Francisco-based bridge-building company, George was involved in the reconstruction of Seattle that followed the devastating fire of 1889.[2]

The year after her marriage, at the age of 32, Catt helped organize the Woman’s Century Club and presided over its first meeting. According to a club history compiled by a member in the 1920s:

On July 31, 1891, at the home of Miss Julia E. Kennedy, Seattle’s first woman superintendent of schools, ten of the city’s most intellectual women, all of whom had made valuable contributions to the literature and thought of the time, met and organized a club which they named the Woman’s Century Club of Seattle.[3]

In addition to Carrie Chapman Catt, there were nine other charter members, each with an interesting story.[4]

  • Mrs. Alice Jordan Blake, the first woman to graduate in law from Yale[5]
  • Mrs. Annie M. Brown, who came to Washington State from New York on the SS Continental, which carried a group of Mercer Girls, in 1866[6]
  • Miss Mary Bell Cochrane
  • Mrs. Alsora Hayner Fry, who successfully campaigned to make the coast rhododendron Washington’s state flower[7]
  • Miss Sarah Kendall, M.D., one of Seattle’s first woman physicians[8]
  • Miss Julia E. Kennedy, who served as Seattle’s first woman superintendent of schools, from 1887 to 1890[9]
  • Mrs. Elizabeth Mackintosh, who served as an enrolling and engrossing clerk in the Washington Territorial Legislature beginning in 1868-69, the first woman in the country to hold such a position; and who came to Washington State with her sister, fellow charter member Annie M. Brown, on the SS Continental[10]
  • Mrs. Harriet E. Parkhurst, a schoolteacher and president of the WCTU in Seattle in 1888-89[11]
  • Mrs. Celeste Langley Slauson, an elocutionist and director of the Seattle Conservatory of Arts[12]

A history book created by members in 1893 explains why the club was created:

The present is indeed ‘Woman’s Century’ and out of the spirit which has made it such, has grown the organization of such helpful associations for women as the Woman’s Century Club of Seattle, Washington. It had its inception in the minds of a half dozen women who felt its need in the sordid atmosphere of a rapidly developing western city, and its formal organization occurred in July 1891. Its purpose is claimed to be for intellectual culture, original research and the solution of the altruistic problems of the day.[13]

Susan B Anthony ReceiptCatt “did not insist that members be committed to the suffrage movement; she wanted the club for tea, good company, and culture.”[14] The club maintained an interest in woman’s suffrage, however; in 1896, for instance, it sponsored a visit to Seattle by Susan B. Anthony, who gave a lecture at the downtown Seattle Theater.[15] While in town, Anthony stayed at the home of club vice president Kate Turner Holmes.[16] The receipt at right, signed by Anthony, acknowledges the club’s payment for her lecture engagement.[17]

Carrie Chapman Catt and her husband left Seattle less than a year after she founded the club, heading to the East Coast, where she would engage in many more years of suffrage organizing. In 1900 she succeeded Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) when the elder woman retired.[18] NAWSA went on to spearhead the campaign for passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which succeeded in 1920 and guaranteed women the right to vote.

At its start, the club was educational as well as social. Early members were required to research and give a paper at one of the club’s meetings; topics from the first year included co-education and divorce.[19] The club also had departments, which in time developed their own leaders, members, and programs, much like a small university. In the early 1930s, they included Art, Current Events, Drama, Household Administration, Literature and Travel, Music, Parliamentary Procedure, Philosophy and Science, Political Science, and Social Service.[20] Departments changed as members’ interests changed.

In its early years the club met at Henry Yesler’s mansion, near Third and James, which also served as the Seattle public library at the time. After a fire there, the club met elsewhere, including in members’ homes.[21] In 1925, when membership had grown to about 350 women,[22] it erected a three-story brick clubhouse at 807 East Roy Street, in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, which still stands today. Ground was broken on May 26, 1925, and the clubhouse opened less than five months later, on October 13. The total cost of the building, designed by architect Pierce A. Horrocks, was just under $60,000.[23] A club yearbook noted, “The clubhouse, with its spacious lounge, the setting for many social affairs, ballroom with stage, conference rooms, library, tearoom, commodious dressing rooms on second and third floors, and well-equipped kitchen[,] provides all the needs of the modern club woman.”[24]

Bertha LandesIn 1926, club member Bertha Knight Landes was elected mayor of Seattle. She was the first woman mayor of a major American city, and remains the only woman mayor in Seattle’s history. A member since 1906[25], Landes had served as the club’s president from 1918 to 1920, the year when women nationwide won the right to vote.

Landes was one of the first two women elected to the Seattle City Council, in 1922, and served as council president following her re-election in 1924. According to the Seattle Municipal Archives,

While on City Council, Landes supported city planning and zoning, improved public health and safety programs, and promoted social concerns such as hospitals and recreation programs. She continued this work as mayor. … Landes countered the dominant business perspective with one that included caring for the city’s moral, social and physical environment. The legacy Landes left is one of using city government for civic betterment. … Landes wanted to be treated equally with men and called for public service to be gender-neutral: “Let us, while never forgetting our womanhood, drop all emphasis on sex, and put it on being public servants.”[26]

The Clubhouse

Little Theatre entrance (on Harvard Avenue)

From 1925 through the 1960s the clubhouse hosted a wide range of club and community activities: meetings, talks by visiting luminaries, scholarly presentations by members, concerts, theatrical productions, and more. The auditorium on the first floor, also known as the Little Theatre, was used by many local theater groups.

In 1933 the clubhouse was the site of a reception honoring Amelia Earhart, who visited Seattle under the auspices of the club and gave two well-attended public lectures at the Civic Auditorium.[27] In 1941 the club held a gala celebration of its Jubilee (50th anniversary) and invited Carrie Chapman Catt, at the age of 82 the only charter member still living, to attend. She declined, travel having become difficult, but congratulated the group on having a club and a clubhouse. Of Seattle, she said, “I have always had a little regret that we were obliged to leave that beautiful spot.”[28]

From the 1920s till the 1960s the club had a separate group, called the Juniors, for daughters of club members. They had regular meetings and organized parties, dances, bazaars, Christmas entertainments, and spring fashion shows to raise money for community service projects such as service to the blind.[29]

In 1968 the club sold the clubhouse, and it was eventually reopened as the Harvard Exit movie theater. A clause in the contract of sale required maintenance of the parlor as a meeting place for the club, however, and the club’s name has been carefully preserved on the building’s exterior, above both doors. The beautiful furnishings, piano, and artwork adorning the parlor are all the property of the club, and to this day, members gather in the parlor regularly.

From the 1970s to the present, the club has been active in the community, offered luncheons and programs, contributed to local organizations assisting women in need, and raised thousands of dollars for its scholarship. It continues to maintain club traditions including the May Breakfast, first held in 1919 under club president Bertha Landes,[30] and the Fall Reception; at both events, new members are officially welcomed into the club with the club flower, a white rose. A summer celebration traditionally commemorates the club’s birthday.

Our club is growing, and we welcome new members!

–written by club member Sherri Schultz, 2012

Woman's Century Club

Sources

[1] Jacqueline Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life (New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1996), pp. 4, 7, 10.

[2] Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt, pp. 19–20.

[3] “Club History Is Read at Outing,” Seattle Daily Times, August 5, 1923, p. 25.

[4] Woman’s Century Club Year Book, 1895-96, Woman’s Century Club archives, Seattle, Washington; Ruth Dunbar, “Women’s Clubs,” Seattle Daily Times, September 7, 1913, p. 53.

[5] Blake profile, History of the Woman’s Century Club; William C. King, The World’s progress: as wrought by men and women, in art, literature, education, philanthropy, reform, inventions, business and professional life (Google eBook) (King-Richardson, 1896), p. 160; Chloe, “Our Favorite Ladygrads,” The Bullblog (blog of the Yale Herald), September 21, 2009.

[6] Shanna Stevenson, “Here Come the Suffragists: The Role of the Mercer Girls in the Washington Woman Suffrage Movement,” Washington Women’s History Consortium website; Roger Conant, Mercer’s Belles: The Journal of a Reporter (Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 1992), pp. 117-19; Brown profile, History of the Woman’s Century Club.

[7] Lucile McDonald, “The Battle over the State Flower,” Seattle Daily Times, January 31, 1965, p. 85; “Hucksters Destroy Flowers, Naturalist Warns Citizens,” Seattle Daily Times, May 18, 1924, p. 17.

[8] Kendall profile, History of the Woman’s Century Club; “Club History Is Read at Outing”; “Franklin B. Kendall Dead,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 10, 1898, p. 5.

[9] Kennedy profile, History of the Woman’s Century Club; Alex Fryer, “Seattle School Board to Offer Superintendent Job to S.C.’s Goodloe-Johnson,” Seattle Times, April 12, 2007.

[10] Stevenson, “Here Come the Suffragists”; Conant, Mercer’s Belles, pp. 117-19; Margaret Pitcairn Strachan, “Early-Day Mansions [Angus and Lizzie Macintosh],” Seattle Times, February 25, 1945; Mackintosh profileHistory of the Woman’s Century Club.

[11] Parkhurst profile, History of the Woman’s Century Club; “Harriet Emmeline Stoudy Parkhurst,” findagrave.com.

[12] Slauson profile, History of the Woman’s Century Club; June Anderson Almquist, “Jane’s Journal,” Seattle Daily Times, December 25, 1966, p. 55.

[13] History of the Woman’s Century Club.

[14] Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt, p. 29.

[16] G. Thomas Edwards, Sowing Good Seeds: The Northwest Suffrage Campaigns of Susan B. Anthony (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990), p. 181.

[17] Receipt for lecture signed by Susan B. Anthony, June 6, 1896. Woman’s Century Club archives, Seattle.

[18] Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt, pp. 30, 50.

[19] History of the Woman’s Century Club.

[20] “Century Club Record Is Worthy of Pride,” Seattle Daily Times, September 24, 1933, p. 20; “Club History Is Read at Outing.”

[21] Woman’s Century Club Year Book, 1932-33, p. 6. Special Collections, Allen Library, University of Washington.

[22] Woman’s Century Club Year Book, 1928-29, p. 106. Special Collections, Allen Library, University of Washington.

[23] “Woman’s Century Club, Seattle, Statement of Building Costs,” Pierce Horrocks, architect, November 16, 1925, Woman’s Century Club archives, Seattle; Report of the Building Board of the Woman’s Century Club, June 2, 1923–January 7, 1926, Woman’s Century Club archives, Seattle.
[24] Woman’s Century Club Year Book, 1941, p. 59. Special Collections, Allen Library, University of Washington.

[25] Woman’s Century Club Year Book, 1928-29, p. 68.

[26] Seattle Municipal Archives, “Mayor Bertha Knight Landes.”

[27] Paula Becker, “Amelia Earhart Speaks at Seattle’s Civic Auditorium under Sponsorship of the Woman’s Century Club on February 3, 1933,” HistoryLink.org, January 27, 2012.

[28] Letter from Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. J.C. Dickson, June 20, 1941. Woman’s Century Club archives, Seattle.

[29] Woman’s Century Club Year Book, 1941, p. 56.

[30] “Social Events of the Week – Annual May Breakfast of Century Club,” Seattle Daily Times, May 30, 1920, p. 30.

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Carrie Chapman Catt photograph from the Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections; Bertha Landes photograph from Wikimedia Commons; all others by Woman’s Century Club members.

Woman's Century Club
Additional Resources

Andrews, Mildred. “Woman’s Century Club (Seattle),” HistoryLink.org, December 2, 1998.

Blair, Karen.  “Women’s Club Movement in Washington,” HistoryLink.org, September 27, 2009.

Catt, Carrie Chapman, ed. Woman’s Century Calendar, Political Science Study Series (National American Woman Suffrage Association), vol. V(3), September 1900.

Dorpat, Paul. “A Century of Strength,” Seattle Times, November 11, 2007; excerpted from Washington Then and Now (Tartu Publications, 2007).

King, Marsha. “Century of the Woman–Predictors of Progress: This Year’s Empowerment Is No Surprise to the Woman’s Century Club,” Seattle Times, November 13, 1992.

Kreisman, Lawrence, and Glenn Mason. The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2007.

Nelson, Sean. “Tea at the Ladies’ Club,” The Stranger, January 22, 1998.

“The Number 72 Figured Prominently for Them,” Seattle Times, November 29, 1994.

Washington Women’s History Consortium. “Presentation by Dr. Karen Blair on the History of Women’s Clubs,” March 29, 2007.