The Acton Woman’s Club Celebrates Over 100 Years of Service
By Madeleine Kaduboski
Horse drawn carriages, not motor cars, dashed around town in 1915, when the Acton Woman’s Club formally declared its mission. Begun in 1912 as a group that shared ideas on raising children, the Club quickly grew to include both single and married women, united in their aim to promote friendship and culture among Acton women and to support all causes that “would lead to a better society.” In 1915 the group became an official entity.
Right from the beginning, the ladies of Acton chose to contribute to the community with multiple philanthropic activities. Through every decade, AWC members donated money and sweat equity to diverse programs. The women sponsored everything from food sales to dinners, raffles, dances, and shows for children, war relief projects, and craft fairs for seniors to supplement their incomes. The schools, military men and women, children and seniors– all were recipients of AWCfund-raising.
And almost all of their charity projects were run out of two historic homes. From 1920-23, the Club met in the Evelina White house on the corner of Nagog Road and Rte 27. AWC purchased it, renaming it the Acton Community House. By 1922, the Club needed more space, and voted to purchase its current home, “The Chapel”, which was right next door at 504 Main Street. Built in 1829 as a church, the building had fallen into disrepair. After the Congregational Church opened across the street and the building was no longer needed, The Chapel became a one, two, and finally four family tenement houses. By the time AWC bought the deed, a kitchen had to be added, as well as a heating system and electricity and plumbing. The new but antique- club house opened, with great publicity, in June of 1924. In 1940, the Club ceremoniously held a Mortgage Burning Party, having proudly paid off its debt. Today, The Acton Woman’s Club is the oldest and last standing brick- ended Federal structure in town. It is a priceless piece of Colonial Acton, with its Mabel Jenks Rose Garden and location near the Town Common.
Some of today’s Club members have little idea of the variety of programs the Club started and ran with energy and creativity during its 102 years in existence. They were not even born when plays and musicals were performed by the members, and when War Bond drives were part of daily life.
During WW I, members took materials from the American Red Cross and finished handkerchiefs, surgical shirts, pajamas, sweaters, and convalescent robes. They also “adopted” 27 soldiers from Fort Devens, sending them jams, jellies and money for treats. During WW II the club furnished lunches for children whose mothers worked on the homefront — to keep area services continuing and to make life as normal as possible. Members also donated money for a sun room for the sick at Fort Devens, sent handmade Afghans to a veterans’ hospital, made surgical dressings for the Red Cross and supplemented local funds for school playground equipment and swimming lessons at Walden Pond.
As the years went by, the Club ran teas, at what is now the Lifecare Center, every week. Knitting & crocheting group made articles for Veterans’ Hospitals. A bi-annual Elegant Auction brought in money for the town’s Fuel Assistance Fund. (Strangely, one item kept appearing– a huge pair of monster shaggy slippers. They seemed to go home with a different member each time, only to return in pristine glory, two years later! ) High school scholarship funds came in from the proceeds of annual apple pie sales and from the special AWC mugs, stationary, tote bags and tiles that members bought for gifts. As time passed, interests of members changed. New events and new charities were added, and others phased out.
In 2017, AWC members still donate time to raising money for important local causes. Come June, the Acton Woman’s Club will grant two large college scholarships to Acton-Boxborough Regional High School graduates. It will continue to bake Holiday cookies for dozens of shut-ins, run a new book drive to be given to Toys for Tots, sponsor an apple pie and baked good sale for charities, send gift boxes to military service members from our area serving in war zones, and much more. The Club sends a check monthly, on a rotating basis, to local charities.
What funds all these projects? Well, the answer is the very famous Acton Woman’s Club Dance Class. Now in its 65th year, Dance Class arrives every autumn– with the falling leaves. Hundreds of local children from 5th through the 8th grade– have come to study the basics of social etiquette and ballroom dancing. Very frequently, parents of current students tell Club hostesses that they were “graduates” of the AWC classes decades ago, and still remember what fun those Friday nights were. One gentleman said that his wife thanks the Club for taking the fear out of dancing in public– as evidenced at their wedding. Other parents remark that the children grow to love dressing up for the ten sessions, and seem to show a new-found confidence in social situations. Parents clamor to chaperone and the same students want to come year after year. And there is the annual waiting list!
The AWC Dance Class provides a circle of good– the children learn, the club benefits, and profits return to preserve the historic building and fund charitable activities for the community.
AWC‘s Clubhouse simply exudes period charm, making it a favorite rental facility for showers, parties and small weddings. Those rentals are the Club’s “bread and butter”, providing some of the funds for paying utility bills, insurance and basic maintenance. Members recognize its historic significance (in 1983 it was named to the National Historic Register) but also know intimately the constant struggle to preserve both interior and exterior in good repair. Since Actonians seem to grasp both the clubhouse’s physical beauty and its reputation as a center for doing well, the Woman’s Club Board began to discuss ways to renovate the interior and make the exterior more handicaps accessible for members and the community.
In an attempt to restore, preserve and update the AWC house, the Club applied for a grant from the Community Preservation Fund back in 2011. Town Meeting voted its approval and the first part of the renovations have been completed. Now the club has: a handicap accessible entrance- a raised walkway with courtyard on the right side of the building, new insulation, wiring and bulkhead, a safer entry into the garden area, and a left-side walkway that meets town code and boasts two benches for resting.
The Acton Woman’s Club has worked with the Acton Historic District Commission on the plan and gained its support. Town Meeting, April 2015, approved phase 2 of the project, which created a chair lift to the second floor and a handicap accessible bath room.
There is a small history of the Acton Woman’s club that was distributed to the members in 1990. One section talks about a special program held in 1979, where past presidents reviewed decades of Club activities. The final words of the program seemed to sum up the essence of AWC‘s constant presence in local projects and charities. The meaningful quote came from the exterior of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.
“From the heritage of the past springs the seeds which bring forth the harvest of the future.”
Read a 1995 article about the building. (pdf)