It took two men and a ladder to lower the boxes from the top shelf of a closet in the basement of the Methodist Church in West Pittston and lug them to a table. The ledgers, notebooks, photo albums and scrapbooks in the boxes — which belonged to the West Pittston Women’s Club and hadn’t been opened in decades — were heavy with age.
Joan Pribula and Mary Smith, officers of the Club, had long wanted to go through the boxes. There were cries of, “oh look at this” and “isn’t that something,” as they looked at the club’s annual booklets, yellowed news clippings and meeting minutes, hoping to find definitive proof of what they believed to be true — 2019 is the club’s 100th anniversary.
And there on the first page in a ledger marked “No. I” under the date Jan. 24, 1919, were minutes handwritten by Jennie D. Berry with this first sentence: “Thirteen ladies met at Mrs. Bradford Richards to consider organizing a Women’s Club.”
By the spring there were 40 members and traditions were established such as tea service, musical entertainments and speakers on public affairs. At the Feb. 19 meeting, a Dr. Morris of Wilkes-Barre spoke about the League of Nations. From the minutes: “It is the duty of Christian Nations, Mr. Morris declared, to aim as a brotherhood of mutual understanding that will eventually make unnecessary to employment of force.” The April 1 meeting was Polish themed. “Madam Krych of Kingston dressed in a Halka costume and sang Polish songs in her native tongue.” The women had Polish pastry with their tea.
Other speakers the first year were an expert on Russia, an explorer of Greenland, a bird expert who mimicked calls and songs, a wounded World War I veteran and a Mrs. Johnson whose talk was “Foreign Nationalists in Our Community.” She said there were “no Greeks, only one Finn, an occasional Turk and a few Syrians in this vicinity.” Otherwise the foreign nationals were all Lithuanians and Italians.
Dues were set at $1 a year. The club flourished.
The June meeting was at the Hotel Sterling. In September, the club was admitted to the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women. The notification of admission and the envelope it came it were attached in the ledger by a rusty paperclip. The club elected two vice presidents and other offices, but didn’t find someone willing to be president until October, when Helen Troxell became the club’s first.
During the 1930s through the 1950s, interest was so high a Junior Women’s Club was organized. Membership was near 200 and dues increased to $5, then $10. Departments were formed for nature, civics, literature, drama, music and public affairs. The departments had their own meetings. The nature department met at Mrs. Walter Margie’s Harveys Lake summer home.
In 1945, a musical group, The Double Trio, formed within the club. Anna Netter, Reba Chivers, Lavera Frost, Marianna Ryan, Ethel Davis and Lucy Totten sang while Ruth Quinn played the piano. Netter’s husband, Edward, was the West Pittston school music director. He spoke at a meeting about the origins of patriotic sings
Flower baskets were displayed at an annual spring show at the John D. Stark American Legion Post, which was rented for 16 meetings and the flower show for $150. In 1939, there were 40 entries in the flower show.
In more modern times, the club stayed active. In 1965, the club was honored by Pennsylvania Power and Light for helping beautify the area through “active participation in Operation Trees.” Into the 1980s, there were still more than 100 members and in 1983 the club was recognized by West Pittston Mayor Merle Bainbridge for helping expedite repairs on the Water Street Bridge. Club members took photos and went to county commissioner meetings to lobby for money for the bridge. In 1994, for the 75th anniversary at Fox Hill, members modeled clothes, hats and wedding gowns from the 1920s and ’30s.
As it has on all service organizations, modernity has taken its toll on the West Pittston Women’s Club. Today, membership is down to 26, even though it has events during the year and does a lot of good donating to the fire company, Little League and other West Pittston organizations. The club is most proud of its scholarships, which go to two Wyoming Area senior girls.
Georgia Ann Neff has been president since 2008. She said with a chuckle her term was supposed to last only two years.
She thought about the club turning 100.
“Well, we represent women who have worked hard all these years. They put their hearts and souls into it and I hope it lasts another 100 years,” she said.