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posted: 9/10/2012 11:10 AM

Elgin Woman's Club marks 125 years of service

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  • From left, Elgin Woman's Club President Linda Fagan poses with Dr. Ian Jones, vice president of clinical performance at Sherman Hospital; Pat Heitman, Illinois president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs; and Georgia Ross, past president of the Elgin Woman's Club, during a recent anniversary function.

    From left, Elgin Woman's Club President Linda Fagan poses with Dr. Ian Jones, vice president of clinical performance at Sherman Hospital; Pat Heitman, Illinois president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs; and Georgia Ross, past president of the Elgin Woman's Club, during a recent anniversary function.
    Courtesy of Elgin Woman's Club


Can you imagine starting a new club for women with just an ad in the newspaper and expecting the group to last 125 years?

While the odds might seem against you, that's exactly how the Elgin's Woman's Club, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, got its start.

"Women of Elgin, young and old, rich and poor, married or single, come let us reason together and lend a hand in the world's great work," read a notice in the Elgin newspapers in the summer of 1887.

That ad drew 36 Elgin women to the YMCA building, then located on the north side of Chicago Street, one block east of the Fox River.

"They came in automobiles, carriages, but most walked to the meeting," according to an early history written by one of the members. At the first meeting they selected the name Elgin Woman's Club and agreed to meet one week later.

Club histories and newspaper accounts also indicate the group elected officers at the following meeting. They also selected the club motto, "Progress," and the club flower, the "carnation." The objectives of the upstart group were described as "mutual sympathy and counsel and united effort in all benevolent and educational movements in the community to which the club belongs."

Before the new group was scarcely a year old, the women were deeded a house by Elgin businessman Henry Sherman with the stipulation that it become the city's first hospital. Located at the southeast corner of North and Channing streets, the structure opened in 1888 after being thoroughly renovated by the women -- an effort bolstered by donations from individuals and businesses.

The Channing Street facility soon outgrew the demand, and in 1895 the women opened a new hospital on Center Street on the city's northeast side. Various additions were made to this new building, which the women continued to manage until the mid-1940s.

Besides managing the hospital, the women were outspoken advocates for free garbage collection in Elgin. They also worked on various city projects, including cleaner streets, tree planting, and riverfront beautification. In 1916 the club staged a production of "Hiawatha" at the lagoon in Lords Park.

In the 1920s, the club advocated for physical examinations for preschool children and partnered with the Geneva Home for Girls to provide recreational activities for the residents. Other benefactors of the club's efforts were the Salvation Army, veterans at the Elgin State Hospital, now the Elgin Mental Health Center, and the Associated Charities, which is the forerunner of the current United Way.

"Indian Welfare" and "International Relations" were added as new "departments" in the club during the 1930s. To honor new American citizens, the club began a multiyear program of presenting a copy of the U.S. Constitution to those who received their citizenship papers at city hall.

During World War II in the 1940s, the Elgin Woman's Club worked on five Victory Loan drives, collecting between $9,000 and $10,000. They sold stamps and bonds at Kresge 5 & 10 cent store in Elgin's downtown and raised more than $25,000 during a two-and-a-half year period.

The women packed and shipped more than two tons of canned food they had collected for the war effort. The mid-1950s marked the beginning of the Travel Adventure Film Series, a joint effort between the club and Elgin Community College. The film series served both as an educational event and a principle fundraiser.

Riding the wave of postwar patriotism, a yearlong project was begun to sell a flag to every Elgin home. Postcards were sent to every Elgin home announcing the project.

When the Jayne Shover Rehabilitation Center opened in the 1960s, the Elgin Woman's Club donated to their building fund. They also provided many hours of volunteer service to the center.

Other benefactors of the club's efforts in the years ahead included the Larkin Home, YWCA, and various scholarships. The club also donated money to the Statue of Liberty Restoration Project, Channel 11 TV, and the Hull House in Chicago.

During the 1970s the club held painting classes at Lords Park, donated to the USO, and helped on the new Meals on Wheels program. Continuing its long association with Sherman Hospital, the club donated $3,000 for showcases built between the parking garage and the lounge corridor of the Center Street campus.

Other recipients of the club's benevolence over the years include the Ecker Mental Health Center, Izaak Walton, and the Well Child Conference. The club also helped the Interfaith Food Pantry, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and Literacy Connection.

Various scholarships have been awarded to students going into health occupations. The group also supported the Sherman Hospital campus on Randall Road with a $40,000 pledge to the building campaign.

While active management of Sherman Hospital was turned over to a board in the 1940s, reminiscent of the its earliest days, the club still has representation on the Sherman Hospital and Sherman West Court boards of directors.

"We're so proud of all the club has done in the past 125 years," noted Joy Jensen, who is instrumental in planning the group's anniversary year events.

The women marked its 125 anniversary with a special luncheon in May. After taking its regular summer hiatus, they will resume their meeting schedule with a luncheon Tuesday, Sept. 11, at the Holiday Inn in Elgin.

The program will be presented by Kim Schelling-Rog and Ruth Peterson, educators for the Community Crisis Center of Elgin, and will feature a presentation titled "The Face of Homelessness in Our Community."

For details on the Elgin Woman's Club or the luncheon, call the group's hotline at (847) 622-3614.

• Jerry Turnquist writes about Elgin history. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. Email him at

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