First Mothers Club marks century on the local landscape

Current members of Huntington’s First Mothers Club pose for a recnt photo.
Current members of Huntington’s First Mothers Club pose for a recnt photo. Photo by Andre B. Laird.

Originally published May 13, 2010.

The First Mothers Club recently met at Huntington University for its annual guest luncheon.

The occasion was a special one as it also marked the 100th anniversary of the club's existence.

The club was started in the early 1900s by Susette Butler, who attended a Mother's Congress in Washington DC.

The National Congress of Mothers, created by Alice Birney and her friend Phoebe Apperson Hearst, was a movement dedicated to create a better society for raising children and collaboration among public agencies concerned with child welfare.

In 1908, the name of the organization was changed to the National Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teacher Associations. Today, it is simply known as the national PTA.

In 1909, Butler spoke to her friends about the conferences that she had attended over the years and her concerns for the children of Huntington.

The first meeting was held Jan. 26, 1910 at the home of Mrs. Mark H. Thomas on Roche St., in Huntington, with 19 women in attendance.

The group was organized as a literary club for the purpose of social advancement and the study of topics of interest to its members as mothers and homemakers. A vote at the March 16, 1912 meeting officially changed the name to "The First Mothers Club," a name that has remained to the present day.

In the early 1900s, many married American women participated in literary clubs to promote self-culture. Educating women was still a movement on the rise and more and more women were seeking advanced education at the secondary and university levels. Married women, however, were still not widely accepted at those levels and found that self-improvement would be best accomplished by their own efforts.

The club met every two weeks in the homes of the members with a woman hired to watch the children as the women discussed various topics. As the children became older, they were invited to participate in the meetings, performing readings and musical entertainment, and sometimes were entertained by the mothers with holiday parties and picnics.

The First Mothers Club has been active in helping to establish important programs and activities in the Huntington community since first organized.

In 1911, a Kindergarten Committee was appointed and it was decided to write an informal letter of recommendation to hire Miss Hotchskin as a kindergarten teacher in the Huntington City School. Meeting discussions include topics of community concern such as product samples being thrown onto porches, the conditions of the community's parks and playgrounds, a Safe and Sane 4th (of July), and saloon screens.

In 1912, the ‘Mothers' voted to cooperate with other community clubs to assist the school superintendent in informing the community about parent-teacher associations and the invitation to fathers to be members of the parents group. At the Dec. 1913 meeting, it was decided that the First Mothers Club establish a domestic science room in the east end of the high school.

This action was the birth of the first domestic science classes (home economics) in the Huntington city schools. Classes were taught once a week with some of the club members assisting in the learning laboratory.

The club was part of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (national,) the Indiana Federation of Clubs, Fort Wayne District and the Huntington unit of Women's Clubs. The GFWC became the structure, nationwide, for women to organize.

Other community activities that were joint efforts with other women's organizations of Huntington included, establishing a visiting nurse program via the health department in 1914; establishing a library fund to fund the community library in 1918; and donating $100 to build a community YMCA in 1927.

Over the years, the First Mothers Club helped to organize fire drills in schools, beautification of the parks, roads and waterways of Huntington, kindergartens in city schools, safe Fourth of July activities, and censorship of the movies.

Money was contributed to Student Loan Fund at Huntington University, Salvation Army, Cancer Society, March of Dimes, The United Way, Red Cross, for high school graduation caps and gowns for students in need, Muscular Dystrophy Association, School Child Emergency Fund, Huntington House, Love In the Name of Christ, Huntington Kids Club, Kids Kampus, Huntington Free Clinic, True Life Choices and area families in need.

This article is an excerpt from club member Stephanie Jerabek's presentation, "Curiosity about The First Mothers Club.

Complete caption: Current members of Huntington’s First Mothers Club include (seated, from left) Kathleen Steinmetz, Marilou Wardrop, Susan Brewer, Dorothy Bodi and Ann Sims; (second row, from left) Phyllis Fox, Eleanor Mann, Jean Ross, Judy Frischman, Rebecca Hawley and Stephanie Jerabek; and (back row, from left) Chris Dowden, Nancy Heasley, Phyllis Renz, Susan Braumm, Paula Kimmel and Karen Bennett. The club recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.