The GFWC Woman's
Club of Stuart
In the early 20th century, women were to be seen, not heard! But 29 Stuart woman wanted to do something for their community... an area that would become the City of Stuart, which had a population of 400. On October 14, 1913, they chartered the Woman’s Club of Stuart, Palm Beach County, Florida.
Mrs. J. R. Pomeroy was elected president. The club met once a month, paid annual dues of $1.50, and welcomed other women. Fifty-nine women joined as charter members. They needed a purpose, and chose three projects:
- to provide and maintain a free public library in Stuart;
- to work for the establishment of a public hospital; and
- to help provide and establish a park system in Stuart.
In 1914, the Stuart Woman’s Club joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and in 1922, the club joined the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs.
The women began working on creating a library. In 1916, the club purchased the Christian Endeavor Hall that would house their library for over 40 years. Members collected books for the library and opened the club reading room from 2-5 p.m., five days a week. Library customers could read in the reading room or check out books by signing up for a library card for $1.00.
In 1926, $10,000 was raised to help acquire the St. Lucie Sanatorium on Hospital Pond, a 10-bed facility. While it was not in business for long, it fulfilled the women’s dream of a hospital for their area. It was the forerunner of the Martin County Medical Center. Goal #2 was accomplished.
The 1933 Atlantic hurricane season was the second most active season on record, with 20 storms. A strong Category 3 hurricane hit Stuart on September 4. Winds took the roof off the new library and rain destroyed the books. Undaunted, the women deeded the land to the city and secured federal funds to rebuild. In 1934, the city returned the property to the Woman’s Club and a new drive replenished the library books.
Other projects during this time included providing community Christmas trees and holding a reception for pioneer settlers. During the Christmas holidays, members serenaded the passengers on the train that came through once a day. On one occasion, the passengers joined in and the train was delayed an hour.
By 1938, when the Stuart Woman’s Club celebrated 25 years, the city of Stuart had grown to a population of 2,000.
During World War II, the Woman’s Club purchased 75 cots and installed them in the building known as the Tri County Recreation Center, so that servicemen would have a place to sleep.
After World War II, a bronze statue at the World Fair in New York City called Lady Abundance caught their eye. It had sold for $25,000 in 1938. The Woman’s Club acquired the statue, had it shipped to Stuart, sold it to the City for $1.00 and installed it on the courthouse grounds.
After World War II, the population increase became a burden on the library, which the Women’s Club had run for over 40 years. The club formed the Martin County Library Association to build a county library. Willard Kiplinger, publisher of the Kiplinger Washington Newsletter, donated land, and the Woman’s Club helped raise money for the library. The Martin County Library opened in 1957.
Kiplinger also donated land for a new Woman’s Club, with a stipulation it was to be built within a year. The club sold its current building, solicited donations, held fundraising drives and literally built their new building piece by piece as money was available. The new clubhouse opened in 1958.
In 1960, the club established a scholarship for female seniors at Martin County high schools. The first one was $300. In 2016, the club allocated $32,000 for college scholarships for seven high school seniors and three other women.
Starting in 1976, the Junior Woman’s Club refurbished the Tri County Recreation Center that was built during World War II. This project, which cost more than $75,000, resulted in the county establishing a Parks and Recreation Department. Goal #3 was accomplished.
In the 1970’s, the club helped build the Hacienda Girls Ranch for disadvantaged and homeless girls, helped purchase dialysis equipment for the Martin County hospital, and supported the cross-Florida canal, for which President Richard Nixon sent us a thank you letter that hangs in the boardroom.
In the 1990’s, the Woman’s Club had a rededication of the Lady Abundance statue when it was moved from Memorial Park to its permanent home at Haney’s Circle during the renovation of downtown Stuart. By 2010, at each meeting members brought non-perishable food which we gave to the Council on Aging, non-perishable food for animals which we gave to the SPCA, and books and toiletries for veterans.
Working women, who couldn’t get away for a two-hour meeting, formed the Girlfriends Committee of the Woman’s Club in 2010. Their first project was to raise money to refurbish the Banyan Room. They raised about $19,000 which was augmented by a generous donation from the estate of club member Edna Prescott. A fund-raising event in 2011 enabled the remodeling of our kitchen. The rental income from the renovated building has made the building nearly self-sufficient.
Another project that the Girlfriends Committee facilitated was obtaining the non-profit standing of our club. We became a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization in 2011.
Over the years, the Woman’s Club of Stuart has supported the many projects of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs, and local projects in Stuart. In 2013, the women celebrated the club’s 100th anniversary with a fashion show and an open house for the community. Stuart’s population exceeded 16,000, while club membership had grown to 176.
In October 2014, a book on the rich history of the Woman’s Club was published. It is called “100 Years of Memories – Woman’s Club of Stuart” and was written by club historian Reba Shepard. All proceeds go to the club.
As the Woman’s Club of Stuart continues to grow, there will be even more opportunities to serve our community.
Reba E. Shepard
History Committee Chair
Revised July 2016