Reminiscing to the year 1938, the United States was just recovering from a deep depression and war clouds were gathering over Europe. Japan had just invaded Manchuria and China. Italy had marched into Ethiopia; Hitler was coming into poser very strongly and Nazism was taking hold in Germany. As each country began falling under Hitler's control, the United States was forced to enter the war! While many young men in Dunbar were leaving for war, twenty-two brave, dedicated and strong spirited women joined together and organized the Woman's Club of Dunbar. These women were good workers, community oriented and organizers. They believed in themselves, their community and the ideals of General Federation of Women's Clubs. Many of these women played a big part in helping during the war days. They met at city hall and knitted socks, blankets, etc. for servicemen in the armed forces.
In 1938 the Woman's Club of Dunbar was federated. The first club president was Mrs. John Lee. She held this office from 1938 to 1940. In 1943 the club was incorporated. These industrious women had a dream to have a clubhouse for their community. They purchased lots on the corner of Ohio Avenue and 14th Street. To pay for the lots, they served meals and worked every fundraiser imaginable.
While our country was heavily in war with Germany and Japan, the women had to assume more responsibility at home. Not only were they keeping their families and community together, they were working hard to pay off the loan for the lots and continued to dream and plan for a clubhouse. As a result, these women developed close relationships and very strong community ties. In 1942, the lots were paid off. In addition, they paid for the construction of a sidewalk in front of the lots.
It was very difficult during those years for a volunteer group to borrow money and very few instructions were available to make such loans. As days and weeks passed, it seemed the clubhouse would remain a dream. However, these high-spirited women never gave up. They were very determined and persistent to fulfill their dream.
In 1950 the dream of these twenty-two young women came true! It was because of the interest and concern of one clubwoman, Mrs. Mary Jarrett and her husband, Dr. L. A. Jarrett, that the dream became a reality. They gave the club two loans without interest. (Mrs. Jarrett was Club President in the 1942-44 administration.)
When they began building, the club's treasury had a balance of $3,494.41. In July 1950, Dr. and Mrs. Jarrett gave the club a loan for $7,000. In October 1950, they gave another loan in the amount of $1,500. Mr. C. C. Jones was hired as the contractor. The cost of the clubhouse totaled $13,422.97. In addition, the club spent $951.84 for the kitchen, including cabinets and equipment. The generosity of the women was astounding. Item after item was contributed to furnish the clubhouse, including dining tables, end tables, chairs, lamps, desks, buffet and numerous other items.
December 26, 1955 was an exciting day for the clubwomen of Dunbar. All the loans were paid off and the notes were burned! Naomi Walker, a charter member, remembers and recalls what a happy occasion this was for the clubwomen. (The Charleston Gazette published an article about the clubhouse, including a picture of Naomi and two other clubwomen burning the note.)
The clubwomen were extremely busy during their early history. Not only did they spend much time promoting and building their membership, they became very active in working on many much need community projects and GFWC programs. In addition, they spent hour after hour working on their clubhouse and holding many fundraisers. During the early years, according to Virginia Poffenbarger, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. L. A. Jarrett, her mother spent hours and hours at the clubhouse, along with other clubwomen, catering, cooking, serving dinners and cleaning. She shared with us that she, too, as a very young girl would go the clubhouse and help her mother clean and wash dishes. The club could not afford to hire a janitor; therefore, every club member would share in the responsibilities. The club had wonderful support from the community. When they served lunch or dinners, the clubhouse would be filled. In addition to the dinner fundraisers, the women served lunch to the members of the Lions Club two times each month from the 1950's to 1984, which helped them to pay for many projects.
In 1984, two Dunbar women’s clubs joined forces to become one cohesive unit. They gave the clubhouse a facelift inside, painting and decorating in preparation for a reception honoring Mary Alice Summerfield, GFWC WV State President and a Woman’s Club of Dunbar club member. The meeting room was filled with wicker furniture and a small “garden” in the corner to bring the outside in. All clubs in WV were invited to attend the reception and almost all clubs sent a representative to the celebration.
During the 1986-1988 administration the club was instrumental in organizing the Dunbar Beautification and Improvement League. Throughout the years Dunbar clubwomen have adopted city flower gardens and participated in decorating City Hall for the seasons and holidays. As of 2013, ten clubwomen continue to volunteer in the City gardens.
Things don’t always run smoothly in an organization and the years 1988-1990 were no walk in the park for the club. There was very little money in the accounts and some members, including the club president, called for dissolution of the club. This of course caused turmoil and division in the club. Thanks largely to past-president (1980) Ginny Ransom, the club made a comeback. Throughout the 1990’s, Ginny organized community fundraisers, dinners and other activities to keep the club members busy, interested and most importantly, together. Clubhouse rentals were increasing, our club was working the concessions at BINGO and things were looking up. With a loan from United Bank we were able to install a new hardwood floor in the meeting room.
In the 2000-2002 administration the first Co-Presidents, Janet Nelson and Peggy Wolfe, were elected. Since the loan for the hardwood floor was paid off early, it was decided that another loan would be taken out to allow for a storage room to be built. Stored in the new room would be the new white tables and matching new white chairs. The meeting room was completely re-decorated with new curtains and matching seat and table covers. These improvements made the clubhouse more desirable and the rental potential increased significantly. Numerous fund raisers and seemingly endless days of working at BINGO helped in paying off the loan.
Dottie Pruden was Club President during the 2002-2004 administration. The loan for the storage room was paid off and the kitchen received some new appliances. The extra lot beside the clubhouse also received an upgrade with the addition of a new vinyl fence and our beautiful gazebo. With these additions our rental potential became even greater and indeed the rentals did increase.
Today our 2012-2014 club Co-Presidents, Connie Boardman and Karen Henson-Bibbee, continue to rally the club membership to participate in community and club activities. In 2012 we developed our own internet web-site to help keep members informed. We also purchased a video projector system and screen to further enhance our rental potential. Our club newsletter is published about every three months and we utilize e-mail to communicate with our members. Connie was able to persuade the BINGO board to allow the club to sell tips during BINGO night and that gave an extra needed boost to our bottom line.
But the club is not all about fundraisers and clubhouse improvements.
Dunbar Clubwomen have been instrumental and, in many cases, have been the catalyst in getting many projects off the ground to help improve the community. Through the years many contributions have been made to the community through their volunteer efforts. For example, they have made contributions such as:
Today the hope of our clubwomen is that the same spirit and determination of the twenty-two young women who began the club in 1938 will touch the lives of other women throughout our community. Our hope is that these women will also realize the need for community volunteerism and the importance of belonging to the Woman's Club. An integral part of the Club’s charter is to examine the needs in our community and to organize and work together to fulfill the need. Without volunteers it would be difficult to support the community needs. Clubwomen want to make life better in their community and they work to make those dreams become reality! As we look to the future, it is with great hope that the club and volunteerism will survive and continue to be an asset to the people of Dunbar. Perhaps someday the beautiful Clubhouse, which was only a dream 80 years ago, will be listed with the National Register of Historic Buildings.
Janet Nelson, then co-president of the Woman's Club of Dunbar, wrote this in 2000.
Janet Nelson, with the help of club Co-President Karen Henson-Bibbee, updated the history in 2018