The Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club is the oldest civic organization in our town. The only other organization which pre-dates this group is that serving the membership of military service men and women: Local American Legion Post #116.
In 1926, eight women, all of whom lived in the area of town known as “Varina,” met and organized themselves. Oral records tell us that the club began in the home of Mrs. Bessie Hopson (first wife of N. H. Hopson, a local businessman). Shortly thereafter, they moved into a rented room in the Judd Building on Broad Street. Calling themselves the “VARINA WOMAN”S CLUB” , they elected Mrs. Hopson as their president and adopted their motto, “Service.” In 1951, the Club became the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club officially as women from both areas had become members over the years.
The women who founded the Woman’s Club in Varina knew about two earlier levels of organization designed to unite women in support of causes important to their lives and families.
The earliest, now known as GFWC (General Federation of Women’s Clubs) traced its origins to Jane Cunningham Croly, a professional journalist, who in 1868 had attempted to attend an all-male press club dinner honoring novelist Charles Dickens. Denied admittance based on gender, she formed a woman’s club called Sorosis. Across the nation other groups of women who had organized, attended a convention in New York City in 1898 to discuss the causes of their gender. From that came the official General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1890.
The more local North Carolina Woman’s Club is dated from 1902 when seven clubs held a convention in Winston Salem. North Carolina’s Sallie Southall Cotton was a leader in this movement to provide for the women of our state. From their meeting came the North Carolina Federation begun with 20 clubs federated in 1903.
Our Varina Woman’s Club voted to become a federated club with the North Carolina Federation in 1927. The local women enjoyed the support of Dr. J. M. Judd, whose wife Amorette Ballentine Judd was a charter member. The Judd’s gave the ladies a lot on Ennis Street on which Dr. Judd supervised the building of a clubhouse in 1936.
The clubhouse was paid for with chicken stew suppers, oyster dinners and food booths at the State Fair. Construction began, and the lot was deeded to the club president on November 23, 1936. Accordingly the event prompted a story and picture in the Independent (which had begun publication in mid 1935). Their 1938-39 Yearbook notes that “members consider finishing (paying for) their new clubhouse as their best piece of work.” Keeping up the clubhouse, refurbishing it from time to time, have been major parts of the club history. The most consistent funding over the years has come from the publication and sale of five cookbooks.
The Raleigh Woman’s Club followed by others led to a total of 31 N. C. clubhouse buildings owned by clubs in 1938. Over time, maintaining a building became quite an investment for many clubs. By 2004, only 15 individual clubs still owned their buildings. The Fuquay- Varina Clubhouse was listed on the National Historic Register 2007 and received Landmark Recognition by Wake County in 2010.
Over the years, the club has been served by 38 different women as president. Both wives of Hopson, Mrs. Bessie Hopson and Mrs. Myrtle Hopson served more than one term. Also serving two separate terms were Mrs. Helen Honeycutt, Mrs. Shirley Simmons, and Mrs. Marilyn Gardner. Nine women have served as District Presidents and numbers have held various State offices. Mrs. Lynette Walters led in establishing the first F.V. Junior Woman’s Club in 1963; Mrs. Kim Pearce organized the present GFWC Juniors in 1986. Mrs. Jeane Elkins organized the first Juniorette club for high school girls in 1970; Mrs. Stephanie Wallace organized the present juniorette club at FVHS in 2009. Mrs. Myrtle Hopson belonged to the club from 1938-2001; Mrs. Jack Senter, with 67 years work, became the longest tenured member of history at her death in 2016.
The club history notes the contributions of every Presidential administration as the club has functioned to serve the world, nation, state, and our town. During the 1940’s the club work was organized into departments: The American Home, Literature, Music, and the Garden.
By the 1950’s, the departments featured the American Home, American Citizenship, Art, Education, International Relations, Literature and Music, and Public Welfare. By 2000 six departments worked: Art, Conservation, Education, Home Life, International Affairs, and Public Affairs. The recent reorganization calls for Community Service Projects (CSP’s) listed as Arts and Culture, Health and Wellness, Environment, Education and Libraries, and Civic Engagement and Outreach.
Working through those various departments and CSP projects, the Club has organized two Fuquay-Varina Garden Clubs, the first in 1954 and the current one in 2007. A senior citizen organization, the Sippihaw Pioneers, was set up in 1971 and remained in existence many years. One of the outstanding projects of Women’s Clubs was founding of United States public libraries; the Fuquay Public Library was originated by the club in 1954 and remains a proud project of the club women under the Wake County System. Mrs. Helen Gunter from the club was the first librarian and member, Mrs. Robert Cotten , a town leader in the library’s development.
At one time a club sponsored Ceramic Center existed in Falcon Park, the special education program was originated at the high school, glee clubs were created at the high school, beautification and street lighting were led by the club and the FV Theater Arts Guild was organized. The FV Woman’s Club advocated for a Cultural Arts Center for decades .
Scholarships at the high schools of Fuquay-Varina, Harnett Central . Southern Wake Academy and now Willow Spring have been annually provided; administration of the FV Mini Grants for teachers and the FV Technical Scholarships are handled by the club in partnership with the Town of Fuquay-Varina. An annual Arts Festival dating from the 1950’s has been a proud program for clubwomen and for students, now reaching some 15 local schools with new ones added continuously.
Additionally, programs throughout the decades have received emphasis and support.
Among these were Infantile Paralysis, Cancer Drives, G.I. Bill, Unicef, Dimes for Liberty,
March of Dimes, N. C. Zoo, N. C. Aquarium, Operation Smile, FV Hospital Auxiliary, Boys and
Girls Homes at Wacamaw, Crysalis Club at Woman’s Prison, Fire Safety, Jaws for Life, Operation Christmas Child, Heifer, Wreaths Across America, and on and on as they wax and wane.
From a charter membership of 8, the club reached a high of 97 members in 1959-60.
Throughout the years, women of all interests, origins, and ages have served as members of this historic club. Volunteerism is alive and well at all three levels of GFWC in Fuquay-Varina.
With the current fight to overcome the interruption of life by Covid 19, the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club hopes to continue it proud tradition of “service” to the community of Fuquay-Varina. It’s clubhouse is still serving a vital need as a place for small dinners, baby showers, birthday parties, family reunions and even start-up churches.
The Fuquay-Varina Museums hopes to archive the records of the Woman’s Clubs and all other civic clubs so that the history of our town is preserved and always treasured. Non-profits are invited to consider memberships in exchange for this archival support. In exchange for use of the clubhouse for Friends of the Museums Board meetings, the museums are giving a $100 annual membership of non-profits to the F. V. Woman’s Club.
Federation Day for the GFWC is celebrated each April 24th. On that date in 1890, 63 clubs officially formed the GFWC. Today we are one of nearly 3,000 clubs. Their general reasoning came from Julia War Howe, “It occurred to them that union is strength. Then they began to reach out toward each other.” Women of the Fuquay-Varina Women’s Clubs are still reaching out.
The museums staff, in conjunction with the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club Education CSP, has compiled this short historical record of our local club in recognition of Federation Day 2022.