History - GFWC Florida
2012-2014 Historian Lynn Longworth-WatleyA brief history of GFWC-Florida by the year can be found here.
Former GFWC FL and GFWC President Jeannine Faubion wrote, "The history of the state would be incomplete without the immeasurable contributions of the thousands of club members, state officers and chairmen whose vision of a better community and state has been made into a reality by their untiring, unselfish work through the years…The gifts of service which they have freely given helped to make Florida what it is today."
The GFWC Florida Federation of Women's Clubs, now in its second century of community service, traces its history to the community interest found in Florida women in the late 1890s and during 1900. In 1883 the Village Improvement Association of Green Cove Springs (FL) consisted of 18 women's groups. By 1891 the Housekeeper's Club of Coconut Grove had formed. It joined the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) in 1891, the first Florida club to do so. By 1900 several more women's clubs had been established across the state.
The woman who initiated the formation of the Florida Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC FL) was Mrs. E. G. G. Munsell of New York and Green Cove Springs, Florida. Following the death of her husband she became involved in civic affairs and revived the dormant Village Civic Association.
Miss Penelope Borden, later Mrs. Penelope Borden Hamilton, was persuaded to head the reactivated association and invited members of other organizations to attend a meeting on February 21, 1895. Nineteen members from five clubs, Fairfield, Crescent City, Tarpon Springs, Orange City and Green Cove Springs, met with a committee that included Mrs. Munsell and organized the GFWC FL. Miss Borden was elected president, Mrs. Tibbetts was elected First Vice-President, and Mrs. N.C. Walmboldt was elected Second Vice-President. Although Mrs. Munsell was asked to serve as president several times, she always refused preferring to serve in other ways. Her continued work earned her the name, "Mother of the Federation."
Celebrating GFWC FL pioneer clubwomen from 1883-1900. An evening was set aside in April 1928 at the Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel for the purpose of honoring the pioneer women who through organization in the early days made the present GFWC FL possible. The period extends from 1883-1900. The gowns worn were of the period in which the club represented was organized, as were the music selections.
On January 25, 1898 the GFWC FL was admitted into membership in the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Immediately the GFWC FL began to widen its scope to include activities and projects on a state and national level. By 1903 the state and national organizations were joined into closer cooperation by the introduction of GFWC programs.
Early special projects of the clubwomen included forest conservation. During the administration of Mrs. Lawrence Haynes, a proposal to make a Forest Reservation on Paradise Key was endorsed; this later became the heart of Royal Palm State Park. By 1905-1906 a new Federation constitution was adopted and a Florida Federation pin was designed and accepted.
Early clubwomen worked on projects that led to the passage of the Child Labor bill, Compulsory Education bill, and Fire Protection for Schools bill; traveling libraries were established; assistance was given to Seminole Indians.
By 1914 the Florida Federation had branched into departments. A grant for the Royal Palm Park was secured and a lodge was built and equipped at the park. The GFWC FL was now divided into five sections or districts each led by a district vice-president. During the war years members devoted their efforts to war related projects. The first Florida Bulletin, the official publication of the GFWC FL, was published in ten issues per year at a cost to the member of five cents per capita.
In November 1922, Junior work was adopted as a division of the senior membership with Junior members reporting separately on their activities. The Florida Bulletin was renamed the Florida Clubwoman. For the first time the GFWC FL had extra money to invest. The Board of Directors placed it in government bonds for an Endowment Fund.
By 1930-1932 the GFWC FL had to face a shortage of funds due to the failure of one of its depositories; however, the Endowment Fund remained safe. Junior clubwomen gained separate status during the 1930-1932 administration. During the Depression years the clubs continued in their sponsorship of libraries, helped with school problems, beautified communities and assisted with welfare work.
In the World War II years federated clubwomen sewed for the Red Cross, were active in Bundles for Britain, helped with bond sales, and planted victory gardens. Travel was difficult due to gasoline rationing but all districts held meetings. GFWC FL President Mrs. Ralph Austin Smith used borrowed gas coupons to enable her to visit clubs throughout the state.
In the late 1940's clubs transferred their efforts from wartime to peacetime projects and concerns. The Royal State Park was presented to the United States government in a ceremony on December 6, 1947. At the ceremony, attended by President Harry S Truman, Mrs. W. S. Jennings of the GFWC FL was cited for her foresight in securing the lands and the GFWC FL was cited for keeping the park open to the public. It became the Florida Everglades National Park. GFWC came to Florida for its convention for the first time in 1949 in Hollywood with Mrs. A. T. MacKay serving as GFWC FL President.
In 1950 sub-Junior groups of high school girls were formed and had their first state convention in Jacksonville in March. During the 1950's the Arts department became more active and contests for poetry and short stories were introduced. "Pennies for Pines" was begun as a state project and the first of many federation-sponsored forests was planted. In 1952 GFWC FL President Mrs. Walter Jones saw the need for the establishment of a permanent headquarters and had plans for such begun. By 1956 the headquarters building was completed and was dedicated in Lakeland, Florida.. The reading society, Epsilon Sigma Omicron, was also established as a part of GFWC FL at this time. At the request of the Broward County clubs, an additional district was added to the federation structure, bringing the total to 13.
During the 1960-1962 administration an additional district was again added, bringing the total to the current 14 districts. The GFWC Convention was again held in Florida, this time at Miami Beach, in 1961. At the 1966 GFWC Convention, former GFWC FL President, Mrs. E. D. Pearce, was installed as GFWC President, the first from Florida.
In the 1970's the sponsorship of Hacienda Girls Ranch in Melbourne, Florida was adopted as a project. By 1972 funds had been raised to build the first cottage at the Ranch, named "Pratt Cottage" in honor of GFWC FL President Mrs. J. C. Pratt. In 1976 a second cottage was dedicated, the "King-Harris Cottage" named in honor of GFWC FL Presidents Mrs. Karl King and Mrs. E. Ross Harris. Trout Pond, the only recreational park for the handicapped in the United States at that time, was built by GFWC FL in 1971. By 1976 clubwomen had raised funds for a Tot Lot at the park for use by mentally retarded children. The playground was dedicated on April 17, 1976. In the late 1970's clubwomen focused their interests in support of such projects as International Special Olympics, the Protect Every Child state -wide immunization project, and shoplifting prevention projects.
The 1980's saw a continued wide variety of programs and projects offered to federation members, many of the projects and programs involving the youth of Florida. Leadership development was stressed and encouraged. High school sophomores were sponsored to the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership seminars (HOBY). Juniorettes were recognized as the future members and leaders of the federation and leadership training was a high priority for the young women. In 1983 the Juniorette category was officially accepted into the GFWC FL structure. Hacienda Girls Ranch was officially adopted as an ongoing project of the federation in April 1984. Funds were raised for the construction of a multipurpose building, Rainbow Building/Perkins Hall, in 1984. Child abuse prevention and awareness was also stressed.
Other major accomplishments of the 1980's included the furnishing of a suite and a conference room at the Winn-Dixie Hope Lodge, a "stay-free" facility for cancer treatment patients at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida; the furnishing of a playroom at the Hope Lodge in Miami; and the receipt of a $200,000 plus grant to furnish the kindergarten children of Florida with materials concerning energy conservation in the KEEP IT FLORIDA - Offalot energy education program. During the 1986-1988 administration of GFWC FL President Vi Thornburg, federation clubwomen traveled to Tallahassee on the first "Legislative Days" trip to view the Florida legislative process.
In the late 1980's the federation was forced to give up its headquarters building when its property lease was taken back by the city of Lakeland. During the term of Mrs. Jimmie Smith, however, a new lot was purchased; a building was designed, built, and dedicated debt free.
The 1990's also saw continuing community service performed by federated clubwomen. Arts were stressed in the public school curriculum, clubwomen rallied to help each other and others following the devastation of Hurricane Andrew and the "no name storm"; clubs supported local chapters of the March of Dimes, raised awareness of depression and other mental health disorders, supported cancer research and drug abuse prevention projects. Membership recruitment and retention became important issues. Dollars for Delegates was begun to aid in offsetting the expenses of delegates to state meetings; the Electralyte Charity Club, an all black club, was admitted into GFWC FL membership; and a Membership Action Team (MAT) was established to encourage attendance at district meetings. In 1990-1992 the position of Director of Juniorette Clubs was established. In 1995 the letters GFWC were prefaced to the name, Florida Federation of Women's Clubs, to help in club identity.
Other milestones in the 1990's included the installation of Jeannine Faubion of Florida as GFWC President, the Centennial Celebration of the GFWC FL on May 5-9, 1995 and raising sufficient funds to construct and furnish the Board Room of the Canine Companions for Independence Southeastern Training Center in Orlando. The Juniorette program continued to grow and a Juniorette Annual Summer Meeting (JASM) was started to allow the young women to have a statewide meeting separate from that of the women's clubs.
The GFWC FL entered the new millennium under the direction of GFWC FL President Bunny Sandlin. Clubwomen turned their attention to heart disease awareness and sponsored cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes as well as provided monies and materials for Heart Camp for children at Boggy Creek Camp. With increasing costs of materials and other items members voted to increase GFWC FL dues from $3.00 per capita to $5.00 per capita effective in 2003-2004. Clubs responded to the tragedy of September 11, 2001 with contributions to a special Emergency Relief Fund of the GFWC for use by the Red Cross and to "Operation Firefighter", a fund to purchase a fire truck for the city of New York. GFWC FL President Linda Boyd, 2002-2004, has selected as her president's project the mentoring of youth. She has also issued a "President's Challenge" asking each member club of the GFWC FL to select at least one "hands-on" project to meet the needs of its community. In 2002 the Florida Federation also saw former GFWC FL President Judy Lutz installed as GFWC President at the GFWC Convention in Kansas City, MO and former GFWC FL President Jimmie Smith installed as President of the GFWC Southern Region Conference. Now the GFWC FL is preparing to host the GFWC Convention 2004 in Orlando.
Over 115 years since its inception the members of the GFWC Florida Federation of Women's Clubs are still about the business of identifying the needs of the local community and then working to meet those needs through community service projects. As former GFWC FL and GFWC President Jeannine Faubion wrote, "The history of the state would be incomplete without the immeasurable contributions of the thousands of club members, state officers and chairmen whose vision of a better community and state has been made into a reality by their untiring, unselfish work through the years…The gifts of service which they have freely given helped to make Florida what it is today.
Reference: "Leading the Way - A Century of Service" Jessie Hamm Myer; "The History of the florida Federation, 1895-1969" Mabel Staats; revised Jeannine Faubion 1960, 1981