Chautauqua Women's Club

History of the Chautauqua Women’s Club

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.

Emily Huntington MillerOn 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 Chautauqua Women’s Club arranges, programs, and sponsors the Contemporary Issues Forum Lecture Series each week at the Hall of Philosophy and other weekly programs such as Chautauqua Speaks and Language Hour that were created to address the varied interests of our growing membership.  A Program Fund was established in the 1980’s to support these programs that CWC sponsors.

CWC at White House 1935

CWC at White House 1935

The Club House: The original Chautauqua Women’s Clubhouse was purchased and renovated in 1917 under the direction of then President Mrs. Anna J.H. Pennybacker.  During her tenure, the thrifty women of the Chautauqua Women’s Club raised the funds to pay off the mortgage on the property in just three years.  Although formal large meetings continue 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 once again, funds were raised to make their 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. 

The current house underwent a major renovation from 2010-2013 with support raised over many years by the Property Committee and generous donations from private donors. The Club House is the real and symbolic center for the Women’s Club.  Every week 2 to 3 current programs are offered, 2 or 3 social events are sponsored, Board and committee meetings are held, and recreational opportunities such as  scheduled. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this clubhouse provides a venue for the fellowship of members and their guests as well as five lovely up to date bedrooms to provide a steady stream of income to the organization.

Mrs. Pennybacker

Anna Pennybacker and Eleanor Roosevelt

Original Clubhouse

The CWC House Today

Scholarship and Programming are the key focus of the Chautauqua Women’s Club each season and is clearly defined in our Mission.  Numerous Fundraisers and Special Events along with the operation of the Flea Boutique remain a part of our annual summer activities with the goal of continuing to sponsor scholarship students (and help them obtain their future goals) along with providing thought provoking programming for the Chautauqua community. Refer to our scholarship page as to how to get involved.

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 history as an integral part of the Chautauqua experience.  For over 134 years,  CWC continues its steadfast commitment to enrich the lives of the communities we touch by providing opportunities for lifelong learning, volunteerism, and scholarship support.