Women gathered in the Hotel Lodi downtown for a luncheon in 1919, four years before the Woman's Club of Lodi clubhouse was completed.
A pioneer woman's life was tough with cooking, caring for kids, housecleaning, laundry, milking the cow, feeding the chickens, helping on the farm and walking downtown or hitching up the horse and wagon anytime a run to the general store was needed. Sometimes, pioneer women just hungered for companionship with other ladies.In the 1880s, a few Lodi women were working in millinery and dressmaking shops, as waitresses or as hotel domestics. Lodi's Laura DeForce Gordon achieved national fame by becoming the second woman admitted to practice law in the U.S. Supreme Court. But for the most part, Lodi women worked in anonymity and socialized primarily in church activities.
In the 1890s, Lodi women wanted more. Some women organized lodges and chapters that were really offshoots of the men's Masonic Lodge, Knights of Pythias and Oddfellows. Some women joined temperance and anti-saloon groups.
But they wanted more. Women could not vote, but they wanted to make Lodi a better place to call home. In 1906, Lodi ladies made their move and created a civic improvement organization that has paralleled the City of Lodi's growth and endured for a century.
In 1906, Lodi became incorporated as an official city and could make local laws, levy taxes, provide police and fire protection, pave streets, and maintain water and sewage systems. At this time, Lodi had 2,000 citizens, and the time was right to work for civic improvements.
That year, 28 ladies gathered in the Methodist Church building and formed the Ladies Improvement Club. The club membership proclaimed its purpose was to assist in the progress and betterment of Lodi.
Emma Witte Humphrey was elected to be the first president and served until 1909. In the beginning, the women met in each other's homes. When membership increased, they met in the Odd Fellows Hall on Sacramento and Elm streets, the Davis Hall on Pine Street and the small City Hall building on North Sacramento Street. Later, they met in the Eagles Club hall at the corner of Sacramento and Locust streets.
In 1908, Mrs. John S. Montgomery suggested that the club could be stronger if it became associated with the State Federation of Clubs. The membership agreed, and the Lodi club became part of the federation's region incorporating San Joaquin and six other counties. The Lodi club participated in efforts to plant trees along the highway and installed a drinking fountain on Sacramento Street in order to offer a non-alcoholic beverage choice for Lodi's men. The ladies also petitioned the Lodi Board of Trustees to build more sidewalks downtown.
Lodi's Public Library and Free Reading Room became one of the club's early pet projects. The Lodi Library, first formed with private donations in 1885, desperately needed a permanent home. Library supporters tried to get money from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who was donating funds to build libraries across the nation, but library supporters were blocked because they didn't own property. The Ladies Improvement Club came to the rescue.
On June 5, 1909, the club held a dance, and the money raised was used for the down payment on a Pine Street lot. With the land secure, Carnegie donated money for the library. This structure, completed in 1910, was the city's library for the next 69 years. Today, it is the meeting chambers for the Lodi City Council and various city commissions, and city technology employees work in the basement.
In 1913, the club's name was changed to the "Woman's Club of Lodi." The club had 65 members. Dues were $2. Club leaders welcomed all women to join and help carry on the club's goal to stimulate intellectual and civic development and to promote fellowship among members.
In 1915, members began planning their own clubhouse. They formed the Lodi Woman's Building Association, Inc. and sold shares. The corporation had 10,000 shares of stock offered at $5 each. The association's officers were Mrs. John Montgomery, president; Mrs. Wilson B. Thompson, vice president; Mrs. Freeman B. Mills, secretary; and Mrs. C. M. Ferdun, treasurer.
On March 29, 1915, the Woman's Club of Lodi bought the building site. The lot, just a short distance west of the new library building, was at the northeast corner of Lee Avenue and Pine Street. The club bought the lot for $10 in gold from B. W. and Nellie Thayer.
Nothing substantive happened for the next five years. Ambitious building plans must have been put off while Lodi endured food rationing and bond drives, men going off to fight in World War I and then the deadly Spanish flu outbreak. Finally, in April 1920 the club was ready to proceed with the building and fund-raising campaign.
In March 1922, the colonial-style building's cornerstone was laid. R. Melville directed the construction and installation of the four tall exterior columns. Jules Perrin did concrete wall and exterior work. Nathan and Dohrman supplied the kitchen, and the furnishings came from John Breuner Company. J. F. Loftus was the painter who applied the light French gray color scheme to the main auditorium and balcony. The auditorium was the largest in Lodi at the time. When completed, the total cost of the structure and lot was $51,000.
At the time the clubhouse was built, the Woman's Club of Lodi had 450 members. Dues were then $5.
Soon after the building's completion in March 1923, the Woman's Club of Lodi hosted the three-day convention of 50 clubs from the Alameda district. More than 300 delegates attended.
The Lodi club's popular annual "Jinx" event in 1923 featured a fashion review of gowns from 1838 to 1904. The elaborate colonial-style attire was a fitting match to the building's architecture, according to event organizers.
In May 1924, a two-day women's minstrel show was held at the clubhouse. Tickets cost $1, and proceeds went into the building fund. Just before the holidays that year, Lodi held its annual Christmas party for 350 children at the clubhouse.
Over the years, the Woman's Club of Lodi continued to hold numerous popular social events and raised money to cover the building's expenses and city improvement causes.
Today, the Woman's Club of Lodi has approximately 145 members, a relatively low number compared to the club's heydays from the 1930s through the 1950s. During those years, women rarely worked out of the home and club membership swelled to 500, said Sandy Preszler, former club president and a member since 1984.
The clubhouse, now listed with the state and federal registry of historical places, is still a grand showpiece on Pine Street and continues to be used for weddings, card parties and other social gatherings. Largely unchanged since its debut 80 years ago, the building has undergone one notable change - air conditioning and a new heater were installed in 2001.
Early on a Sunday morning every fall and in early spring, the building is the congregation point for hundreds of high school students lining up to buy tickets for the Woman's Club of Lodi's annual Pigskin Prom and the Gingham dance for teen-agers.
Although there are many more social and community cause choices for Lodi girls and women today, the Woman's Club of Lodi remains a vital part of the city.
(Photo courtesy of Ralph Lea)
Woman's Club of Lodi