By Sterling McGinn
The Newberry Women’s Club officially ended its longstanding career after serving the area for 125 years. The group, which has been dedicated to its members and the community for generations, disbanded largely because of a decline of membership and participation.
“We would only have three members show up sometimes,” said member Sandy Caswell. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, it was just hard to keep it going.”
It’s a common theme for women’s clubs in the U.P. – they are gradually closing, one after the other. “At one time there were 18-20 clubs in the U.P.,” stated past president Eleanor Lane. “Now there are only four left.”
Most recently, the Newberry Women’s Club held regular monthly meetings at Zellar’s Village Inn and other locations. The group was dedicated to community involvement through volunteer service. They promoted education, preservation of natural recourses, good citizenship, healthy lifestyles and the arts.
Originally known as the Bay View Reading Circle, the club launched in Newberry sometime before 1895. On October 14 of that year, it was officially organized with 13 original club members consisting of both men and women. The members studied a wide variety of topics including American history, literature, and different cultures. At each regular meeting (held in various residences), the members would report on their studies. The Bay View Reading Circle notes were regularly published in the 1895 and 1896 editions of the Newberry News. Local teacher Eva Beurmann became the first president.
The meetings became more frequent—every three weeks instead of once a month. Eventually the Bay View Reading Circle met once a week. During the four-year course, some members dropped out or moved away. The remaining two members attended a general meeting at Bay View where they received their diplomas.
By 1902, the organization became the History Club, and only women were members. In 1905 it changed names again, becoming the Newberry Study Club. Under that name, it became part of the Michigan Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1914. Their by-laws and constitution were also adopted at that time. With an increase in membership, a limit of 40 members had to be placed in order to continue meeting in member’s homes. Because of that restriction, there was a waiting list to join the club.
For years the Newberry Study Club provided educational and entertaining programs for their members and community. Their members wrote songs, poetry, and plays, which were often produced here in Newberry.
Members studied and presented their papers on a multitude of subjects revolving around history, culture, Shakespearian plays, arts, and music. A colonial party was held in the Community Building in 1922, where the members dressed in colonial period clothing.
Local photographers often presented movies, slides and pictures to the club. Local citizens made guest appearances with entertaining and inspiring programs.
The Newberry Study Club supported the campaign for the construction of the new McMillan Township Community Building in 1920. During both world wars, the group contributed their services for the war efforts. In WWII, they saved and collected grease and wastepaper. The club members and their families purchased a total of around $25,000 worth of war bonds.
They also raised $240 through a subscription in the club to purchase a metal tablet memorial for the soldiers who fought during WWI. The tablet is still hanging in the Community Building at the entrance to the old auditorium. It survived the devastating community building fire of 1926.
The club was instrumental in organizing a hot lunch program for local students. Members of the club served the meals in the community building, until eventually turning the program over the school board.
The members were also interested in child welfare and P.T.A. For a period about three years, milk and graham crackers were furnished to under-nourished children.
The Newberry Study Club was also the first to present a resolution to The Newberry Village Council for the adoption of a curfew ordinance.
Newberry hosted the 1951 state convention. More than 535 members of the Michigan State Federation of Women’s Clubs attended the three-day event. At the time, it was one of the largest conventions held in Newberry. A number of district conventions were also held here.
The club name was again changed in May of 1957, to the Newberry Women’s Club. Despite the name change, they continued to carry on original traditions while adding some new ones.
Beginning in 1995, the women’s club presented art scholarships to graduating Newberry High School seniors. The groups also sponsored the NHS math and science awards given each year at class night. The club also nominated NHS seniors for the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Michigan scholarships in art and nursing.
Some of the other Newberry Women’s Club contributions include: donations to Timber town, Bay Cliff Health Camp, Girlstown, Rambunctious Readers, Diane Peppler Resource Center, Project Petunia, and the Kiwanis graduation party for high school seniors. They helped fill Christmas baskets and organized a club for girls. Teddy bears for juvenile ambulance riders, assistance in health clinics, and the sponsorship for the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership program are just a few more of the programs sponsored by the Newberry Women’s Club.
The Newberry club continued holding monthly meetings until deciding to disband. “I enjoyed being a member,” said president Janice Krafft. “I joined when I moved to the area.”
Normally when a women’s club closes, the group has a final dinner for the members. But the Newberry organization opted out of the dinner, choosing instead to give one last contribution. “Instead of a dinner, we gave our remaining funds to Bay Cliff,” said Sandy Caswell.
In 1955, three longtime members: Mary Chamberlain, E. E. Shaw, and Maude Campbell wrote an extensive history of the club and the many contributions that took place. In it, they wrote: “It surely is not much to say that the influence of our club for the better and higher things of life cannot be overestimated.” They concluded, “All in all, the club has been an inspiration and a very definite asset to the community.”
Although the Newberry Women’s Club will no longer be among the ranks of Newberry’s service organizations and clubs, many would agree their statements were largely fulfilled.