New Preston Women’s Club celebrates its 100th
Meeting minutes were still being handwritten when Doris Walddron joined the New Preston Women’s Club. That was 42 years ago.
Since then, that and more has changed.
Waldron has put aside her steno pad and, as club secretary Ellen Heydet planned the club’s 100th anniversary, she checked her iPad for relevant information.
“There were a lot of young women with children who belonged to the club when I started,” Waldron recalled. “Most women didn’t work then, but we still held our meetings in the evening.”
In 1973, the club had some 55 members.
While that number has dwindled to 40, spirits are high and expectations are new members will be found.
Membership dues are only $15.
A century of club history
November 1915: A group of New Preston women get together and decide to form the Women’s Club of New Preston.
Bylaws are developed, 25-cent dues are established, and the club become part of the Federation of Women’s Clubs. Activities include guest speakers, music, debates, discussions and cooking.
1916: The club begins to get some financial substance and considers purchasing the mill property, commonly known as the falls area, but the purchase falls through.
1933: A meeting is held in the former inn. Following litigation by the Smith family, the building is established as a community house rather than a clubhouse.
In addition, the Bertie Corning Fund is established as a small endowment to maintain the building.
1917-18: Many activities are pushed to the background during American involvement in World War I, but informal programs are offered.
1921: Using a kerosene heater in a cloakroom, the club begins a children’s hot cocoa program, which eventually grows into the hot lunch program still used at Shepaug Valley School in Washington. The program becomes the first school lunch program started by a women’s club in the state.
1924: The club turns a small community library into the New Preston school library. The library inspires the development of the library for Shepaug Valley School.
1925: and after the club offers medical and dental checkups, eye and ear tests for young children and vaccine clinics to community members, often in cooperation with the Visiting Nurse Association and the PTA.
1950:Alice Jackson of Lake Waramaug leaves $30,000 for the club in her will.
Ongoing throughout the years after 1950: The club supports several scholarships and provides meeting space in the Community House for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, the Retired Men’s Club, the Women’s Fellowship and other community organizations.
Events held draw large crowds, such as the “History of New Preston” lecture in March by Stephen Bartkus, the Gunn Memorial Museum curator.
Jane Moore, the club president, remembers reading a newspaper article 20 years ago in which Waldron commented new members were needed.
“I joined then and there,” Moore said.
It has often been friends who bring other friends to one meeting or event and the women are hooked, according to Chris Curtis, who has been a member for 16 years.
“I met Jane Averill at the (Washington) Senior Center line dance club, and she encouraged me to join,” Curtis said.
Meetings and events are held at the club’s community house along Church Road. The building was bequeathed to the club in 1932 by Sydney Smith, whose late wife, Alberta Corning Smith, was a member.
Up to that time, the building was known as the Gray Squirrel Inn.
In 1933, a club meeting was held in the former inn and the Bertie Corning Fund was established as a small endowment to maintain the building.
That was supplemented in 1953, when Alice Jackson, a resident of Lake Waramaug, left $30,000 in her will to the club.
That $30,000, invested by the club, has grown to $100,000 today.
The Jackson Averill Scholarship is awarded by the club to a New Preston graduate of Shepaug Valley School. The club’s first president in 1915 was Dorothy Averill.
Even before owning the inn, the club played an active role in the New Preston/Washington community. In 1921, a children’s hot cocoa program grew into the first school lunch program started by a women’s club in Connecticut.
In 1924, the club turned a small community library into the New Preston school library.