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By 1882, women had begun meeting on the grounds each morning to study and discuss subjects of interest and importance to them. In 1889 the Chautauqua Assembly Board of Trustees voted to “consolidate, in one department and under one management, the various lines of the women’s programs existing on the grounds.” The Assembly Secretary then announced the establishment of a new department to be called the Women’s Club. The organization would have its own constitution under which it would elect officers and prepare programs.

On July 25,1889, Mrs. Emily Huntington Miller, a professor and administrator at Northwestern University, presided over 200 women at the first meeting of the Chautauqua Women’s Club which was held in the Hall of Philosophy. Later that day some women gathered for a group photo in front of the Lewis Miller home. The Chautauqua Assembly Herald reported that Bishop Vincent opened the meeting, endorsed the movement, and briefly stated the Club’s purpose. He stressed women’s responsibilities in the home, labeling them the five C’s - cleanliness, cooking, chemistry, contentment and courtesy. Membership in the CWC brought a new sense of identity to Chautauqua women, but in the years ahead, it would prove to be increasingly important to them at Chautauqua as well as in their home communities.

Program Growth: Mrs. Miller’s first topic in 1889 was “The Home,” but women also discussed “house furnishings and decorations, sanitation, hygiene, care and training of children, management of servants, marketing and cooking, dress, social forms and duties, and personal improvement.” A membership fee of 25 cents was collected and used to purchase books about those ideas. By August the topics had broadened and Emily Miller spoke on “Women as Wage Earners,” urging club members to have a sense of responsibility for the conditions of all women. Personal improvement, social ethics, temperance, suffrage and philanthropy were main themes of the programs.

In 1896, Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Vincent was appointed president, and under her twenty-one year leadership, the Club’s ties to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the New York State Federation, and the Federation of Clubs in Western New York were strengthened. By 1906, programs shifted toward civic, educational, and social issues of the time. The Club’s aim was to reach, through individual women, a large number of communities throughout the country. Today’s Club programs and activities are many and varied, offering something for all Chautauquans, while effecting dynamic support and furtherance of Chautauqua Institution’s literary, educational, and religious purposes.

The Club House : Then and Now: Mrs. Anna J. H. Pennybacker of Austin, Texas, a past president of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, began her twenty-one years as CWC President in 1917. Also in that year the women purchased and renovated an existing home at the corner of Janes and Lake as their first Club House. The thrifty women paid off the mortgage on that property in three years. Although formal large meetings conintued to be held at the Hall of Philosophy, the House provided facilities and conveniences for daily programs, classes, discussion groups, and social events. However, as the number of programs and membership increased, the House proved to be inadequate. A new building had long been a goal shared by the membership and Anna Pennybacker, and under her direction, funds were raised to make the dream a reality. Following the summer of 1928, the Buffalo firm of Kidd and Kidd directed the razing of the old house and constructed the present house, which opened its doors for a dedication reception July 3, 1929. Archival photographs through the decades show guests such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Mina Edison, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and others at the historic house. To this day, Board and committee meetings are held here. It is the real and symbolic center for CWC efforts in support of the Chautauqua Institution and the community, including providing student scholarships in the performing arts and an array of educational programs for the entire Chautauqua community. The Club House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Property Committee was established in 1969 to oversee all aspects of preservation, renovation, and maintenance of the CWC’s properties and raise funds in support of its mission. A Property Fund has been established for this purpose. During the 2010-2011 winter, the first phase of a restoration plan for the CWC house has been underway. The restoration has been funded by generous donations from members and friends of the Chautauqua Women’s Club and the long established Property Fund.

The Program Committee arranges and offers a Contemporary Issues Lecture each Saturday at the Hall of Philosophy. In collaboration with the Chautauqua Institution, the CWC offers a Dialogue with a Chautauqua speaker on Wednesday afternoons. In addition, programs such as the Professional Women's Network, Chautauqua Speaks, Young Women's Group, and Language Hour have been created to address the varied interests of the membership. The Program Fund was established in the 1980's to support the programs that CWC sponsors.

The Chautauqua community is cordially invited to attend the summer recital programs in the performance venues and to participate in the program by providing scholarship assistance and support of CWC fund raising activities annually.

Today and Beyond

The Chautauqua Women’s Club has enjoyed a long, proud, vital history as an integral part of the Chautauqua experience. The organization strives to maintain its well-deserved reputation with its thoughtful, innovative approaches, dedicated volunteerism, and opportunities for personal enrichment, education and fellowship. Over the past few years, the Board of Directors and the Associate Board have spent a great deal of time identifying the core values of and for our organization. We have had retreats and a number of conversations with our Board of Directors, Associate Board and members about the core values and just how to state what is important in a Mission statement. The goal is have a clearly defined Mission statement to guide the programming, fundraising, events, activities and the future planning for the organization. The result is the Mission statement. As we continue to develop a strategic plan for the next 5-10 years, we need to insure that our leadership is committed to the core values identified by our constituencies and presented through our Mission statement.