Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Galesburg's Colored Women's Clubs

Adah Davis
African American women in Galesburg actively organized and worked in various women’s clubs from the end of the 19th century through to the mid to late 20th century. Colored Women’s Clubs, as they were known, allowed women to develop leadership skills, advocate for racial uplift, care for their communities through benevolent and service activities, and then later in the early 20th century, develop political awareness and acumen. Several women from Galesburg Colored Women’s clubs served in leadership positions as officers of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in the early 20th century: Susan Allen, Eva Solomon, Adah Davis, and Mignon Watkins. (See the book The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs by Elizabeth Lindsay Davis.)

The earliest women’s club in Galesburg was the Autumn Leaf club, organized in June 1890. Eva Solomon was instrumental in organizing the club, and she recounts the history of the club in an interview she had with Knox College professor J. Howell Atwood. The club’s motto was “Love One Another.” Some women from Autumn Leaf actively participated in district, state, and national associations of Colored Women’s Clubs. By the 1930s the club's membership waned upon the deaths of many of the original members. 

The next oldest Colored Women’s club to be organized in Galesburg was the Thimble Circle in 1894. Mary A. Botts was president and the corresponding secretary was May Catlin Green. No documents exist in our present collection that trace the history of this club. 

Eva Solomon
Eva Solomon recounts the history and activities of the Woman’s Progressive Club organized in 1909 which had the object of “study and uplift.” This club was affiliated with the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs and with the Illinois Federation of Colored Women and was a charter member of the District Association of Colored Women. Solomon goes on to say that the club faithfully sent representatives to the District, State and National conventions, and that "all important offices of the District have been held at some time by local members."

Knox College professor J. Howell Atwood interviewed Addie Garnett about the Culture Club, which was organized in Galesburg in November of 1909. The objective of the Culture Club was “social service and literary improvement.” Mrs. Booker was also interviewed, saying, 
“I wanted to see a club with several objectives. Boys & girls after leaving school here ceased to have any literary interests. They had to earn a living. Got into the rut. You don't have to study to learn to sling pots. I quoted to them the thought Lincoln advanced. ‘I'll be ready when opportunity comes. If it doesn't come, I'll be ready anyway.’ Why not help crystalize opportunity along with having a good time club.”
The Phyllis Wheatley Club was organized in 1910 in the home of Eva Solomon. The club’s membership was originally limited to girls age 12-16 but later the age limit to join was raised to 21. The club focused on raising money for Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church and other churches, but its broader objective was “charitable, civic, moral uplift”. The Galesburg club was a charter member of the district association of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. The club celebrated its 51st anniversary in 1962.

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