A great 125-year run for Monticello Woman's Club

Women’s Suffrage? Yep, they were right there, fighting for their right to vote.

Hungry children after the stock market crash of 1929? They hosted lunches that fed 95 kids each Wednesday during those tough times.

And all along they were learning; from German opera and history to technology and the arts, along with pushing for women’s rights along the way.

But membership that at one time topped 100 members has dwindled to 14, and the Monticello Woman's Club hung it up for good last week, celebrating its final meeting with a skit to remember its heritage.

Ironically, some of the issues that were pushed by the club to give women more rights may have contributed to its declining numbers.

“Women are doing different things now. Young women are now busy with kids, sports after school, other activities,” said the group’s last co-chair Madonna Davis. The fact that more women are in the workplace these days also makes it difficult to perform service projects, many done during the day.

“There is little time to do club work,” added Davis.

The group officially disbanded at a final meeting May 9 at the Allerton Public Library, followed by the dramatic reading by members Marilyn Benedino and Colleen Vaughan, who told of dreams of being in the shoes of Jeanette Crea and Ella Noecker; the club’s first president and vice president when it was formed in 1893.

“We decided to meet weekly and one week later – on Feb. 22, 1893, we were established as a club. Members would be chosen by secret ballot. Dues were to be 25 cents. We even adopted a motto – ‘From Possibility to Reality,’” said Benedino during the presentation.

Early meetings were not only about learning, but about singing.

“And we loved music,” said Vaughan in channeling the club’s first president. “I remember, the song we sang to open our meetings back in the early 1900s, ‘She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage.’ And we always ended the meeting with ‘A Bicycle Built for Two.’ I guess what we meant was, we were wanting to get out of the cage and get moving independently, even if it was on a bicycle.”

Davis, a member since 1990, enjoyed all 28 years of her time in the Woman’s Club.

“Over the years you bond with the people you might not have met otherwise. So for me, I’ve appreciated every step of the way,” she said.

That social aspect of the club may continue.

“We’ve talked about having an alumni club once a month. It’s been very educational, you bond with each other,” said Marion Suhre, the other co-chair who had been a member of the club for 36 years.

Although the group struggled with low numbers in recent years, they decided to hang on long enough to reach its 125th year milestone, which was achieved in February.

It’s history lives on with the club’s meticulous records now in the hands of the Piatt County Historical and Genealogical Society.

“I am very pleased that the Historical and Genealogical Society has every treasurer’s report for 125 years. Every minute that was written – in beautiful handwriting – and I hope the community will go ahead and resource that,” said Suhre.

Davis added all of the good work the club was able to accomplish was due to community support, including the sale of discarded Community Building tiles that were repurposed into Larry Ziemer artwork, and afghan sales.

“All of the things that we were able to do, a lot of it we were able to do because the community supported us,” commented Davis. “I mean, they bought the tiles, they bought the afghans. They helped us to do things we were able to do.”

Key moments
Some key moments in the 125-year history of the Monticello Woman’s Club include:

–1893: The group officially forms, and soon after forms a stock company to raise $10,000 towards construction of the Monticello Community Building, which originally housed the Allerton Public Library as well as an 800-seat opera house.

–Late 1800s: The club hits heavy topics such as “Woman’s Legal Rights” during the suffrage movement that eventually led to women being given the right to vote in 1919.

–1929: After the stock market crash, the Woman’s Club sponsored free clinics for school children and for a time fed lunch to underprivileged children lunch once a week.

–1938: Club programs keep up with the times, including ones on visual aids for school and the advent of television.

–1940: The group has a membership of 107 people.

–1950s: A club member, Jessie Morgan, published “The Good Life in Piatt County.”

–1969: The club starts a thrift shop, which raises funds for several years

–1990s: Computers generate more information, and members become involved in social causes such as the Illinois Clean Air Act, smoking in public areas and recycling. They also participated in a mammography study by the American Cancer Society.

Afghan sales help fund donations to Faith in Action, the Piatt County Toy & Gift Program, Habitat for Humanity, Peace Meals, Head Start and Monticello Main Street.

–2006: With membership at about 30, the club begins to evaluate its future, and withdraws from its state and national federation, but continues to operate as the local Woman’s Club of Monticello.

–2012: Club members ride in the back of a 1933 black antique truck in Monticello’s 175th anniversary parade.

–May 9, 2018: The Monticello Woman’s Club officially disbands at a meeting at the Allerton Public Library in Monticello.


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