By Jean Schurman
For the past 100 years, women of the Bitterroot Valley have been gathering, first in the daytime, later in the evenings, and now on Saturday mornings, to decide how to help their communities and socialize. While the times of the meetings have changed as women’s lives have become busier with most women working outside the home now, the purpose of the Bitterroot Woman’s Club has not changed. It has always served the valley through support of the public libraries, scholarships, support of various programs in the schools and more.
The club operates under the sanction of the General Federation of Woman’s Clubs (GFWC) which is a national organization that has more than 100,000 members in the United States and more than a dozen countries. The national organization is responsible for the establishment of 75 percent of this country’s public libraries. This organization was established in 1890 and was chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1901. One of the early projects worked on was child labor laws in the U.S. and another was the “Women’s Crusade for Seat Belts” which resulted in more than one million seat belts being installed in one year in the early years of seat belts.
Montana has about 30 clubs now. The valley was once home to three clubs, the Corvallis Woman’s Club, the Hamilton Woman’s Club and a club at Woodside in the early years. That club was absorbed into the Hamilton and Corvallis clubs once the Woodside Bridge was built. The Corvallis Woman’s Club was established in 1914 and became affiliated with the GFWC in 1918. In 2009, the club changed its name to the Bitterroot Woman’s Club to broaden opportunities for membership and assistance to the entire valley. The club now meets on Saturday mornings for brunch in establishments throughout the mid valley.
The Corvallis club helped establish the hot lunch program in the Corvallis school in the 1930’s and continued to volunteer and help with the program until after WWII. Members also helped establish a school nurse program and helped with upgrading the playground equipment.
Since uniting the clubs in the valley, the Bitterroot Woman’s Club has worked on several valley-wide projects. These include scholarships for graduating seniors, Valentine plates for shut-ins, Supporters of Abuse Free Environments (SAFE), Bitterroot Youth Homes, birthday bags for the Darby Bread Box, several programs at the Corvallis school, and funding for delegates to Boys State and Girls State. Members even decorate Corvallis Main Street for Christmas. To do these projects, the club raises money by selling concessions at the Brawley Christmas Classic, a wrestling tournament, selling plants and pies at the Corvallis Memorial Day Parade, and the club will hold a silent auction event at the Higher Ground Brewery in April.
Cathy McCormick, president of the group, said the club keeps in touch with the teachers at Corvallis by having a lunch for them at the beginning of the school year. “We tell them if they have a need, we’ll try to fund it.”
In return, the Consumer Science class puts on a tea for the group.
And speaking of teas, the Bitterroot Woman’s Club will be having a celebratory tea on Saturday, January 11, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Corvallis Methodist Church, located at the intersection of Eastside Highway and Corvallis Cemetery Road. The public is welcome.