ROCK SPRINGS — In the face of a pandemic, it becomes vitally important to take a mental break from the hardship and challenges at every turn for a positive perspective and uplifting and inspiring thought. With National Women’s History month coming to a close, the Woman’s Club of Rock Springs has more than earned a place in the history of Rock Springs and will hopefully brighten the outlook of the day.
That is precisely what this group of women has done for the community of Rock Springs since its formation in 1922.
When the idea of a Women’s Club is mentioned, a stereotype of wealthy overdressed women in fancy hats meeting for lunch monthly at expensive restaurants comes to mind. These women held their share of luncheons, but the membership was and still is open to all women ready and willing to serve their community. Women from all walks of life joined together to make a positive change, whether they owned a fancy hat or not.
Some of those accomplishments included the Lending Closet, War Bond Drives, the Milk Fund, Scholarship Fund, the Rheumatic Fever Throat Swab program, and so much more. Whenever they saw a need, they put their ideas, talents, and muscle together and created a solution.
The General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Wyoming (GFWCW) Woman’s Club of Rock Springs originally evolved from the Delta Meta Delphian Club.
After much discussion, the women decided to make a move from the Delphians to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. With a $50 donation from Miss Beulah Hay and $15 from the club funds, Mrs. A.G. Duell drove 650 miles round trip to the state Federation meeting in Torrington, Wyo. to have the club placed on the “Founders List” of the Endowment Fund making them affiliates of the General Federated Women’s Club of Wyoming.
They held their first official meeting on November 11, 1922, and placed 56 names on the club roll. From there, the membership began to grow, and improvements to Rock Springs began to take shape.
The Woman’s Club of Rock Springs began as a group of women in a windy, dust-filled coal mining town from a wide variety of nationalities and ethnic groups looking to improve their living circumstances.
Past President, Helen M. Johnson wrote, “This was a community where the women yearned for a means of relaxation, sisterhood, and community involvement.”
Wasting no time, the newly formed club contacted the state Federation. It offered to host the 20th annual convention of the Wyoming Federation. Women traveled from all parts of the state to represent forty-seven clubs and give their reports.
At the convention, the state president, Mrs. Lin Noble said, “Let us realize deeply the great privilege it is to be a part of the womanhood of Wyoming – gathered in one body, united in purpose and spirit.”
When asked why they had joined the club, answers included, “For companionship, friendship, wisdom, inspiration, and efficiency.” That response holds as true today as it did nearly one hundred years ago.
The women immediately set to work earning money and putting it to use for worthy causes around town. One of their long-standing projects included city beautification with the significant undertaking of creating a town park – Bunning Park. They donated $10 to the city to purchase trees for the park in 1925. The Garden Section was a department within the club where the women could choose to participate. The Garden Section bought, planted, and groomed many trees over the years as well as flowers.
Despite the comment of a community leader that, “If God wanted trees in Rock Springs, He would have planted them here himself,” the women continued planting.
The club hosted a Garden and Flower show every year, which eventually led to their involvement in the Sweetwater County Fair. The club sponsored the Flower Show at the Fair for 40 years. The club was also key in the installation of Palisades Park. The women purchased and planted 526 trees and 1,062 shrubs at the park.
Another priority for the club was education. They emphasized education for themselves in the form of music, drama, art, and literature. In 1923, they purchased a $100 Chickering piano for their meeting space at the Elks and donated $50 to the Education Fund.
They often invited speakers and presenters to their meetings to instruct them on gardening, history, and 20th-century music, just to name a few of the many topics of interest. The Short Story Section studied the development of the short story, which began with the study of the oldest story in existence written in 2,500 B.C. Similar pursuits were undertaken as the women strove to expand their knowledge.
When Western Wyoming Community College began, the Woman’s Club was right there with two full-tuition scholarships and a $500 book scholarship. And that was not all – the club hosted an open house for the new junior college boasting the theme of “Let’s Put Our College On the Map.”
About 15 years after the college opened, Annalise Domhoff led volunteers from the Woman’s Club in the physical labor of building a kiln, purchasing a pugmill to mix clay, and starting a pottery school at WWCC. Domhoff worked as the pottery instructor at the college.
The club always focused on the needs of others, and in 1934, the need was milk for undernourished children in the schools. Club members placed empty milk bottles on the counters of local businesses to collect donations. The money bought milk for needy students.
Fundraisers were held yearly, with donations explicitly designated for the project. The Milk Fund was in place for about 35 years. Eventually, the women instituted a school-lunch program as well.
Children were often the focus of service for the women. Thousands of books and equipment donations went to the libraries and schools. Movie tickets were provided for kids for Saturday matinees when the mines were on strike, and times were tough. They reactivated the Girls Scout program when it faltered. Trees were planted at Washington Elementary and a sledding hill created at Yellowstone Elementary. The Child Development Center was often a recipient of funds and willing hands.
And how many residents have either attended or took their children to Story Time at the library every week? Thank a member of the Woman’s Club for starting that program back in 1938.
This is part one of a two-part series showcasing the woman who made Rock Springs what it is today for Women’s History Month. Keep an eye out for the second article in this series.