“Community Clubs for Women and Girls” (1912)

Janeie Porter Barrett sits with her husband and three children in the parlor of her home

This leaflet, published in 1912, outlines a method for assembling women and girls into clubs that help them improve their domestic skills as well as organize for the social good. The annual convention of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs was held in Hampton the same year this leaflet was published. Two of the authors of this leaflet were on the faculty of Hampton Institute: Caroline D. Pratt was in charge of the Domestic Arts Department and Ida A. Tourtellot was a teacher of history.

The other author, Janie Aurora Porter Barrett, helped found the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1908, and she served as its president until 1932. The clubs described in this leaflet, with support from the Federation, go on to offer social services and pressed for social justice and women’s suffrage.


Women’s Clubs

Objects of Organization

Women’s clubs are all founded on the principle that women have large responsibilities, both in the home and out of the home. Many recognize the fact that they owe a great deal to their own families but they do not so often feel how much they owe to others in their community.

Women’s clubs aim to make the individual, the home, and the community more useful in every way. They can bring into a neighborhood a spirit of helpfulness which can be obtained in almost no other way, and a fresh enthusiasm comes to the individual member as well as to the life of the community. If there is a close relation between the club and the church this is especially true.

In bringing women together into clubs it is wise to have some definite end in view which will appeal to the largest number of women that one hopes to reach. But there is no one object which will bring all women of a community together; therefore, although a club may start out with one definite object it is often wise to introduce others or to combine a number of objects for which the club shall work. The following are some of the activities in which women’s clubs have become interested.

(1) Clubs for church work

Sewing societies

Societies for parsonage improvement

Societies for helping with the pastor’s salary

– page 4 –

(2) Clubs for Missionary Work

Working for institutions such as old folks’ homes, poorhouses, jails, schools, or any other institutions which are in need of articles that women can furnish.

Working for the poor and sick.

Working and caring for orphans.

(3) Clubs for Community Improvement

This object furnishes a number of fields for usefulness among which are:

The cleaning and beautifying of home yards.

The whitewashing of outbuildings and fences.

The bettering of health conditions in the community, such as furnishing aid and supplies to those who are sick and in need; the supplying of an emergency box containing sheets, pillowcases, towels, underwear, and baby clothes to be loaned to those who need it; showing the danger of patent medicines; showing how the water supply may be kept pure and how waste water and refuse may be best disposed of.

(4) Clubs for the Welfare of Children

Teaching the care and feeding of infants and small children.

Seeing that there are no children kept from school through lack of clothing.

Looking out for children in jails and poorhouses.

The study of children’s amusements, such as the selection of books for reading, games, the use of leisure time.

(5) Clubs for Self-Improvement

Such clubs can give instruction and advice through lectures, talks, papers, and discussions on the following subjects:

– page 5 –

Sewing – The making of new garments and the cutting over of old ones for children.

Cooking – The canning of fruits and vegetables; the selection of food materials and the best way to prepare them.

Nursing – The dressing of wounds and the general care of the sick; also instruction in the handling of emergencies.

Gardening – The benefits to the home of vegetable gardens, and the choice of seeds for flower and vegetable gardens.

Poultry – Which breeds of poultry are most advantageous; how they should be housed; how to keep their quarters clean; how to treat the diseases of poultry.

House cleaning – The best way of sweeping and dusting, washing and ironing; care of winter clothing during the summer, moths, etc.; insects; choice and arrangement of furniture and pictures; advantages of painting and whitewashing; care of refuse.

Savings – Household expenditures and how they should be distributed.

How to organize

How the women shall be brought together is in part determined by the object which one has in view. it is often wise to invite the women who are connected with some church to meet on a certain day at the home of some woman in whom the community has confidence. At this meeting the possibilities of the club may be freely discussed. In order that free discussion can take place it will be necessary for the one forming the club to have the confidence of the women. This must be gained by careful conduct in the community, such as regular attendance at church services, taking an active part in the Sunday school, and always being ready to help in all good enterprises. Then, too, it is necessary to have a

– page 6 –

very definite idea in mind which can be presented to the assembled women. With these two conditions fulfilled, opinions from the women can be obtained. Usually a club organizes through the church has for its object either point one, two, or three in the preceding list, but any of the objects already mentioned can be brought before such a gathering.

A second way in which women’s clubs can be organized is to make them an outgrowth of patron’s meetings. Patrons’ meetings bring together everyone in a community, old and young, men and women. At such a meeting the women can be invited to meet at some stated time and place to talk over more intimately the needs of community along more definite lines. These women can organize a woman’s club, choosing some one of the previously mentioned objects for its work.

Still another way of organizing may be through friendly visits. Anyone interested in community betterment and not caring to work through the church or the patrons’ meeting, can often arouse the interest of the women by friendly, helpful way. House to house visits are made in a friendly, helpful way. The idea of uniting for a neighborhood circle is gradually brought up. After a while the women are called together to talk over what can be done and the women’s club is then organized.

The Organization

In forming a permanent organization the club will need a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, chaplain, program committee, new-membership committee, an entertainment committee, and other committees which will vary with the objects which the club selects for its work.

It has been found best to have the committees composed of five members.

The president shall preside in the absence of the president.

— page 7—

Girls’ Clubs

Object of Organization

The great object for which all girls’ clubs are organized is to make better women for the future from the girls of the present. In order to make better women, clubs should contribute something of uplift to every side of the girls’ nature. They should benefit them physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. No club should aim to develop one side only, but as the opportunity presents itself all the demands of her life should be met in at least some small measure. Every club should contribute to her physical development and to her moral and spiritual development. Some clubs may aim to develop her mentally, but this cannot be done unless she is morally and spiritually helped at the same time. There are various kinds of clubs which have been tried and proved exceedingly helpful for these various objects.

Kinds of Clubs

(1) Handicraft clubs

Sewing – making aprons, bags, garments, etc.

Crocheting and knitting


— page 8 —

Basketry, with both raffia and corn shucks





(2) Outdoor clubs

All sorts of outdoor games are used in these clubs; such as ball, croquet, basket ball, tennis, etc.


The putting up of tents, building of outdoor fires and ground ovens; walks, with bird, tree, and flower study

(3) Housekeeping clubs



Home Sanitation; care of insects such as flies, mosquitoes, and other household pests; sanitation in the community; the handling of the family income and savings. (For explanation see page 10.)

(4) Patriotic clubs

Such clubs see that national holidays are suitably celebrated and arrange to give programs at the school and church, or in some hall, for entertainment and instruction. The following days are suggested as good occasions for programs:

Douglass’ Birthday, February 12

Lincoln’s Birthday, February 22


Memorial Day, May 30

Fourth of July



— page 9 —

In the handicrafts club all or one of the suggestions could be used. It has been found that some girls prefer crocheting to sewing, while others prefer to sew on the practical, everyday things of the home. Many girls like to make clothes for their dolls rather than attempt larger things for themselves.

When one is doing basketry it is a good idea to have the girls obtain their own material, using willow splints and cornshucks as far as possible because they are inexpensive and easy to obtain.

It is seldom, however that a club with nothing but handicrafts can hold a group of girls indefinitely. In every club a purely social meeting for fun and frolic should have its place. This is often very successful when held out of doors and the girls should never be kept indoors sewing for too long a period.

One most successful club made the girls pledge themselves, for its entrance requirement, to sleep with the windows of their bedrooms open. Some little health requirement of this kind is often a great help in building up the girls physically.

Out-of-door clubs for girls are growing more popular everywhere as people realize how little girls know of nature around them. Many clubs have been able to hold a large number of girls by taking regular walks in the woods, where the members have a chance to question and to learn about what they see.

The housekeeping clubs are helping the girls to become good mothers in the future. The cooking that these clubs do ought not to be on too large a scale. Little things such as glasses of jelly or small cakes are often more attractive to girls than the larger things that are made in the home kitchen.

In the connection with this work lessons in cleanliness of person, kitchen, home, and neighborhood are easily taught. This is largely sanitation. Here is the opportunity to learn how to fight the various insect nuisances in and around the home.

— page 10 —

One of the important part of housekeeping is the saving and spending of money. Girls’ clubs should help to make their members understand how much things cost and how much can be saved by right buying and by the right use of material. They can be easily trained here to keep account of the things used in the club, and later of all of the money they may have to spend.

How to Organize

Invite the girls of suitable age to come and bring their friends.

Be sure that there are not great age differences in the club, but that the girls are pretty nearly of the same age.

See that they do not feel that it is a school affair.

See that they do not feel that it is a church affair.

These two points can be handled by not making the invitation to join a club general but by inviting a few and urging them to bring their own friends.

What was said concerning the arousing of enthusiasm in the organization in the women’s clubs applies to the organization of girls’ clubs. The leader must be most enthusiastic and must know definitely to what she is directing the enthusiasm of the girls.

Watch carefully to see that there is no disturbing member in the club.

Watch carefully to see when the enthusiasm for one kind of work is waning—then introduce a new kind.


(See directions for women’s clubs)

APA Citation:
Barrett, Janie Porter, Pratt, Caroline D. & Tourtellot, Ida A.. “Community Clubs for Women and Girls” (1912). (2021, November 05). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Barrett, Janie Porter, Caroline D. Pratt, and Ida A. Tourtellot. "“Community Clubs for Women and Girls” (1912)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (05 Nov. 2021). Web. 28 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, November 05
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.