In 1910, the official proceedings of the convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs reported:
We read in the papers that every time one of the great Sunday journals of New York City is issued, thirteen acres of timberland are consumed to make up the paper; that every time one of the great ships crosses the ocean thousands of tons of coal were destroyed, and we began to feel like those prodigals and spendthrifts, who, at some supreme moment discover that their fortune has vanished….Every thoughtful man, and every thoughtful woman, began to devote something of their time and strength to that great crusade by which we hope to preserve these natural resources, not only for our selves, but for those who come after us….[E]very woman’s club is consecrated by the very existence of their organization, and by the very temperament of their nature, to preserve these great assets.
Women, “by the very temperament of their nature,” were seen as connected to the Earth. The clubs, dedicated to making use of women’s innate talents for the good of society, therefore felt it was their duty to speak out in favor of conservation of resources.
At the 1910 convention, recognizing the effects human intervention had had on the environment, a resolution was discussed
[t]hat we lend the weight of our influence to further the preservation and intelligent utilization of our forests; the reclamation of our arid lands through irrigation; the restoration of our rivers to navigability through the construction of deep waterways;…and the adequate protection of our bird life. (Referred to Forestry Committee.)
Another resolution stated,
[t]hat the Federation vigorously opposes the proposed destruction of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley and withdrawal of the finest part of National Park, to be used as a water supply for San Francisco. (Referred to Legislative Committee.)
True to their feminine instincts, the clubwomen also addressed aesthetic symbolism, recommending that
each State consider the question of a National Floral Emblem and take such action as it deems fit.
Environmental issues were just part of a club agenda that included improving conditions in schools, implementing workplace safety regulations and compensation for workers injured on the job, outlawing “food products that are either adulterated, preserved by antiseptics, peeled by lye or prepared by any process that will either conceal inferiority or diminish their food value,” and many other social issues that were especially of concern to mothers and wives.
At the 1910 convention, 42 years after the start of the women’s club movement, it was acknowledged that many smaller groups were still “study clubs,” devoted to self-improvement and learning about culture. But as the activity of the convention makes it clear, clubwomen did not wait to get the vote (finally granted nationwide in 1920) before lobbying for social reform.
Maybe your great-grandmother belonged to a women’s club.
Violet Snow is writing a historical novel, To March or to Marry, about suffrage and the women’s club movement.