THE WOMAN’S CLUB OF SMITHFIELD
On April 19, 1927, Mrs. Henry Eley, Director of the Virginia Federation of Women’s Clubs assisted sixty-two ladies in the establishing of The Woman’s Club of Smithfield. Meetings were held at the United Methodist Church and at the second meeting; an additional twenty-six ladies joined the club for a total of eighty-eight members. The first officers elected to guide the newly formed club were: Mrs. F.B. Simpson, President, Mrs. W.C. Whitehead, First Vice President, Mrs. Roy Conklin, Second Vice President, Mrs. W.H. Sykes, Sr., Treasurer, Mrs. R. Sidney Cox, Recording Secretary, Mrs. K.D. Sykes, Corresponding Secretary.
The newly organized club worked for community improvement from the very beginning. The original departments were: Education, Citizenship, Garden, Civic, Welfare, Drama, Music, Arts and Literature. The Education Department solicited funds to provide a teacher at Smithfield High School that the School Board could not afford to add to their budget. The Garden Department landscaped the High School grounds, planted trees and beautified vacant lots. The Civic Department held TB stamp sales and scheduled speakers on town programs. Book reviews were given by the Literature Department and the Arts Department brought painting exhibits to the community. Clothes were made and mended by the Welfare Department.
The James River Bridge was opened in November of 1928; and the club ladies helped the Rotary Club decorate a float to commemorate the event. In 1934, the club sponsored the Junior Woman’s Club of Smithfield with thirty young women as charter members. During World War II, activities and participation centered on war related themes; War Bonds were sold, Civil Defense was a topic for speakers and gatherings and the club members spent much of their time collecting items to be sent overseas in CARE packages.
Scholarships have always been a primary budget item and the scholarship program began in 1950. Today, applications are accepted from graduating seniors at Smithfield High School. It is the goal of the club to continue to fund scholarships to deserving students..
In 1966, the Smithfield club decided to sponsor an Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony for the town. A tree was selected each year and help was solicited from the gentlemen of the community to locate the tree in downtown Smithfield. The tree was decorated with lights and a special service was held at a local church to start the holiday season off on the right foot. After the service the town’s people walked with candles in hand to the tree for the lighting ceremony. The Town Crier proclaimed that the official Christmas season had begun and the chosen illuminator turned on the lights. Today the ceremony continues with a live tree lit with white lights on the Smithfield Times lawn on Main Street. Music and home made cookies and punch celebrate the occasion.
Fund raising is always a big part of club activities. In 1960, “Treasures from the Attic” was held; it later became the club’s annual Flea Market and has become quite well known in the community.
In 1976, the Hayden’s Lane beautification project was begun as a community improvement project and as part of the bicentennial celebration. When it was determined that the land was designated to become a city street, the club initiated a letter-writing campaign urging the Town Council to keep the tree-lined lane as a pedestrian walk. For its work on the project, the Woman’s Club of Smithfield received a Distinguished Service Citation from the Keep Virginia Beautiful Inc. organization. It won first place in the Virginia Beautification Contest in the mini-park category.
A paper-recycling program sponsored by the Garden Department was begun. With help from the local Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Ruritan and Elks Clubs and the Junior Chamber of Commerce, papers were picked up from the curb each month. Money received from this project financed community projects including the “Welcome to Smithfield” sign which was dedicated in October 1986. The Conservation Department maintained the sign until the town took over the job in recent years.
The Public Affairs Department, along with the Patrick Henry Hospital for the Chronically Ill, applied for and finally received a “Certificate of Need” so that a satellite care facility could be built in Smithfield. The facility, “Riverside Convalescent Center”, opened in 1984. Our then Woman's Club President Virginia Willis cut the ribbon officially opening the facility. Many of our members continue to volunteer at the facility and the club sponsors a birthday party for residents each year. In recognition of this project, the club received a “Certificate of Achievement” co-sponsored by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and Sears and Roebuck for working to improve the quality of community life.
The first edition of the Smithfield Calendar was printed in 1984. Pen and ink drawings were donated by the “Brush and Pallet Club”, ads were sold and a new fundraiser was born. The calendar continues to be a major fundraiser for the club each year. In 1988 the club adopted a Literacy Program. Members volunteered time to teach adults to read. The Education Department began collecting soup labels to donate to the local elementary schools and the Arts Department compiled a historical slide presentation of Smithfield and Isle of Wight Country including historic homes and buildings for use at the Isle of Wight Museum. In 1989 the Smithfield Club was involved in a House and Garden Tour of Smithfield sponsored by The Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs. Proceeds were used in the restoration of the gardens at Bacon’s Castle.
In 1991, the club donated $1,000 for the restoration of old county records and $500 for the revitalization of downtown Smithfield.
Along with the local newspaper, the Woman’s Club hosted several “Meet the Candidate” forums. The club president always gave the welcome. As more ladies joined the workforce, an evening department was created so that those unable to attend afternoon programs could participate in club business. It disbanded sometime later. In 1994, the club participated in the GFWC South Eastern Conference held at Fort Magruder Inn in Williamsburg; and, in 1996, the club attended Legislation Day at the General Assembly; and were greeted by Delegate William K. Barlow. The trip also included an enjoyable tour of the Executive Mansion and the Capital.
Interesting speakers for club meetings are always a challenge to arrange. In 1997, local author, Doris Rae Gwaltney, honored the club with a review of her book “Shakespeare’s Sister.” Mrs. Gwaltney had visited England several times gathering background information. The speaker for September, 1998, was Jean Burcher, GFWC President.
Field trips continue to be a favorite activity of club members. In 1999, club members visited the Virginia Fine Arts Museum in Richmond to view “Splendor of Egypt”; and, in 2000, club members visited Agecroft Hall in Richmond and later stopped for lunch at The Boxwood Inn Bed and Breakfast in historic Lee Hall Village.
Collections of items for donation covers numerous organizations. From the beginning, club members have been generous with canned goods (1999 World Food Day) as well as items for the New Horizon Veterans Home (wash cloths and towels). Items for Operation Smile are collected annually, and non perishable food items are collected at every meeting for the Christian Outreach Program along with items for the Humane Society.
From 2002 to present, the club continues to maintain a list of approximately fifty projects. In addition, the club receives yearly requests for monetary help and requests for donations of miscellaneous items for various causes. In 2006, the club added the “Adopt A Bag” project. Red Cross bags were filled with toiletry items and a wash cloths and towels. The bags were donated to Trinity Methodist Church to use for people who have to leave their homes during local disasters.
The club is always looking for ways to help the community. In 2006, the club donated $1,000 to help publish the revised addition of Helen Haverty King’s “Historical Isle of Wight” publication. In addition, the club gave $200 to the local Long-Term Disaster Recovery Task Force to be used to help families who were victims of house fires. Most recently, 2007, the club voted to give $300 to Historic St. Luke’s Church to help fund the activities of the church in connection with the 200th Anniversary Celebration of Yorktown. The club invited the director of St. Luke’s to speak at a recent meeting. Charlotte Klamer asked the club to consider a five year donation to the restoration project at St. Luke’s. The club committed to $5000 over the next five years.
The club has established the “Members helping Members” program in 2006, which gives a loving helping hand to our own members during a time of sickness or loss of a family member. This effort has strengthened our club even more.
Most recently, 2008, the club gave $1,000 to Isle of Wight Museum after storm damaged their facility, to aid in restoration of the movie room showing the history of Smithfield.
The Woman’s Club of Smithfield continues to be a giving organization both monetarily and through volunteer hours.
Today there are nearly one hundred members in the club working to give back to their community. Currently the Smithfield club supports approximately fifty local and national organizations through volunteer hours and/or financial support. In addition, the club receives yearly requests for monetary help and requests for donations of miscellaneous items for various causes.
The club is proud of its history of volunteer service and we pledge to continue to be true to our purpose of promoting social, civic, educational and cultural development of the community.