Most people are aware of the many social and political struggles that women have endured for many years. From the convention at Seneca Falls to bra burning in the 1960s, women have fought for and protested for their rights. However, many people are unaware of the many thousands of women’s organizations that have worked to help our towns and cities. Middle-class women, who had many priorities at home, started these women’s clubs and civic associations for the benefit of everyone.
As the nineteenth-century was coming to an end, middle-class women began to realize that many of their household duties were becoming obsolete. The birth rate of this group of women had lowered and there were so many immigrants that almost every household had a servant. These factors, along with new technologies of factory made goods and appliances left women with a lot less to do.  With this extra time, many of them joined newly-formed women’s clubs. The majority of these clubs were formed between 1860 and 1900. Their main goal was to bring middle-class women into the “economic mainstream”.
Just like all middle-class women of the United States in the late 1800s, the women of the town of Beverly,Massachusetts were experiencing changes in lifestyle. Beverly is the home of one of the earliest women’s clubs in the Northeast region. The club was started March 15, 1895. It was named the Lothrop Club for Women, taking the name from Captain Thomas Lothrop who led a group of soldiers to battle at Deerfield in Massachusetts where they were all killed by a tribe of Native Americans. The group called themselves “The Flower of Essex”. The Lothrop Club even selected its own flower which was the Plonta Genista or “Wood Wax”, which can be linked to the history of Essex County.
The meetings of the club were held only twice monthly, on the first and third Fridays of each month. In 1910, they met at a chapel on Washington Street in Beverly but in the first months of the club,the women would meet at the homes of various members. The very first meeting was held at the home of the first president of the club, Helen E. Kilham. Only seven women were present for this meeting with the purpose of electing chairmen for the eight committees, which were Literature, Art, Science, History and Travel, Education, Current Events, Music, and Tea.
Included in the records of the meetings of the Lothrop Club is a list of the members of each committee. The author of this paper compared the names in this list to the city census of 1900 to determine whether there were any similarities between the lives of these club women. Although only fourteen names out of the total twenty-four were located, it was a decent enough sample to notice similarities. All fourteen women in the sample were Caucasian. (See Appendix) In the 1800s there were not too many black people living in this area and even today their population numbers are low. Even the General Federation of Women’s Clubs was “…more intent on keeping their Southern membership than on overcoming racial prejudice”.
Another major similarity was the fact that none of the fourteen women had ever attended school. Many of these women did grow up in fairly well-off families, so there was probably no need for them to have schooling. Some other things the women had in common were that more than half of them were married, exactly half had children and those with children most had sent their children to school, the majority were housewives whose husbands had good jobs, and their average age was forty. (See Appendix)
Besides being an opportunity for women to seek philosophic retreat, being a member of a women’s club also allowed them to do volunteer activities to help their town. The Lothrop Club was always there to lend a helping-hand to the town of Beverly. The club was best known in its early years for its work with the public schools. “They were responsible for the ‘Little Libraries’ in the schools”and their Education Committee provided all of the grade schools with reading material.  
In later years, The Lothrop Club began to get involved with much more than just the school system in Beverly. They were very active in the 1930s as was noticeable in Lothrop Club Chairman Alice W. Conant’s scrapbook of “The Community Service of The Lothrop Club”. In 1932, The Lothrop Club dedicated a boulder and some newly planted trees to George Washington. They were placed on Sohier Road, near the current Beverly High School. The dedication was inscribed into a bronze plaque on the boulder. This was done in honor of George Washington’s bicentennial birthday. The mayor of Beverly, James A. Torrey, in his speech at the celebration, stated, “When the present members of your club have passed on and new members take your places they too will look with pride upon this beautiful row of trees which will live on and on for years yet to come.” 
Many of the services of The Lothrop Club were aimed toward the more unfortunate citizens of their community. They held numerous “reading circles” for blind people where they would tell stories and sing songs. One such service was held at the First Alliance Church in January of 1930. Included in the festivies were song solos, duets and trios, accompanied by the cello, violin, and piano. On the following day, The Lothrop Club, along with many other associations, visited The Essex Sanatorium in Middleton, Massachusetts and provided the patients with entertainment. A “Guest Night” for teachers in Beverly was sponsored by The Lothrop Club at the First Baptist Church in Beverly later that month. This affair, which was help annually, included a concert and a speech by then-president Mrs. Frank W. Hammond.
In 1943, The Lothrop Club adopted a Chinese child through their War Service Committee, and also “…an honor roll was compiled by Mrs. J. Vernon Muir to honor Beverly young men and women who served in World War II”. The club was awarded the Community Improvement Program Scroll in 1980 by the General federation of Women’s Clubs and one of its members, Beverly Carlman, was appointed State Chairman for the United States’ bicentennial birthday. In 1986, The Lothrop Club raised money for new additions to Vietnam Park in Beverly which it continued to care for throughout the years.
Other local clubs were also active in other communities. Although each state in New England had their own federation of women’s clubs, the clubs in Massachusetts were much more organized and work involved. Their club committees included legislative affairs, arts and crafts, forestry, civil service reform, and traveling libraries. Much of their work was philanthropic and they also helped to put many Massachusetts laws into effect. Since the clubs were under the authority of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, it would investigate the conditions of industrial and educational establishments and then the clubs would go in to try to fix the problems.
The following list shows just a few of the charitable things done by local Massachusetts clubs:
- an infirmary was established by a women’s club in Malden; The Women’s Charity Club built and owned a hospital and also raised over $10,000 every year;
- in Somerville, the Daughters of Maine raised $12,000 for a retirement home;
- the Heptorean Club, also in Somerville, gave one quarter of its income to charity each year;
- for six years a club in Danvers supported a free kindergarten;
- a domestic science school, which later became part of Cambridge High School, was established by the town’s own Cantabrigia Club; and
- clubs in Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, Winchester, Wilmington, and Manchester organized visiting nurse associations.
All of these clubs tried to attain free kindergartens and manual training as part of the curriculum of public schools. They established and maintained many playgrounds, and tried to fix up the schools as best they could. Apart from the schools’ appearances, they also sought to change some of the administrations and organizations of school affairs. They believed that there needed to be changes made in salaries, conditions and organization. In the community, they planted trees, put more rubbish barrels around the towns, and fixed up the sidewalks. Some clubs were responsible for the preservation of historical landmarks and geological sites.
In 1890, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs was initiated. This was a national organization which all the local clubs tried to become a part of. Its purpose was to “attract the mass of conservative middle-class housewives.” The organization believed that they would gain more power with more members. Their members totaled one million in 1910. One major club to be admitted to the General Federation was the New England Women’s club. The NEWC was the first organization in the United States to actually call itself a “club”, (they were previously referred to as associations), and the first club with a variety of committees, including social, literary, philanthropic, reform, and educational. The New England Club began in Boston in 1868 with the intent “…to provide a suitable place of meeting in Boston”.
The NEWC was formed by abolitionist women to aid in the advancements of women. Some of the most outspoken and intelligent women from New England were members of this club. The first president, Caroline Severance, was known as “The Mother of Clubs” since this was the first “club”. Julia Ward Howe was a distinguished member and also the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Her loyalty to the club was unbreakable. She was an avid women’s rights activist, commenting on the role of women, “must I sew and trot babies and sing songs and tell Mother Goose stories, and still be expected to know how to write? My fingers are becoming less and less familiar with the pen, my thoughts grow daily more insignificant and commonplace”. Many well respected essayists, philanthropists, and reformers gave lectures at their meetings. The New England Club women were so well known, that they were even given the honor of being hostesses at the General Federation’s Biennial Convention and their Twentieth Anniversary. They many have gained this notoriety from their many achievements, such as getting women elected to the local school boards and public institutions, assisting with the opening of an employment agency for women, and helping to make many new types of job opportunities available. The NEWC’s success paved the way for a multitude of new Women’s Clubs. These organizations sprang up all over the country and there were many in New England. All were very democratic, allowing women from “…all shades of color and beliefs” to be a member. They had separate committees within each club and executive and legislative authority.
It is very clear that the movement of women’s clubs was a necessary part of United States history. Without them there were be many communities that needed assistance but no other association would help them. “Often a town or city’s pure drinking water, improved school system, orphanage, scholarship fund, library, or home for wayward girls existed only because of the efforts of the clubs.” In the case of Beverly, Massachusetts, The Lothrop Club provided much needed improvements which they did not receive enough credit for. The author of this paper has heard some reports that due to a recent decrease in membership. The Lothrop Club of Beverly may be retiring for good after over a century of hard work and achievements. It is this author’s belief that it is the duty of the town of Beverly to honor this club if they are truly coming to an end.
9 Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs, History Committee. From the Past to the Future: A History of The Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs:1893-1988. (Canaan, New Hampshire: Phoenix Publishing Company,1988), 67.
15 Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs, History Committee. From the Past to the Future: A History of The Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs:1893-1988. (Canaan, New Hampshire: Phoenix Publishing Company,1988), 128.
Census Comparisons of Fourteen Original Lothrop Club Members
Place of Birth:
Nine born in Massachusetts
Three born in Canada
One born in Ohio
One born in New Hampshire
Relationship to Head of Household:
One head of household
Age: 34, 58, 48, 24, 67, 33, 30, 34, 38, 50, 53, 35, 28; Average age:40
Have Children: Seven with children
Attended School: None attended school
Read: All read
Write: All write
Speak English: All speak English
Children Attended School: Four with children sent them to school