In 1898, a few Laramie women put out an announcement that they were calling all interested women to a meeting in the Albany County Courthouse to form a woman’s club for Laramie. Over 100 showed up.
That first exploratory meeting led to over 85 women becoming members of the new organization. The next year they affiliated with the state and national federations of women’s clubs.
There was some teasing from Laramie men; letters to the editor of the Laramie Boomerang in 1898 attest to that. The men worried that women would stop being “Mrs. Charles Bellamy,” becoming simply Mary Bellamy, and that they would be “trying [to be] independent” as members of such a club.
Despite this, 116 years later, the Laramie Woman’s Club is still going strong, with nearly the same number of members and many civic projects to their credit.
At the first regular meeting of the Club, interest areas with a chair for each were formed. They were mothers’, domestic science, social science, art, music, history, literature, and current events. Meetings were to have programs on these topics, a practice that continues today, though the interest areas have expanded.
The UW American Heritage Center holds some of the archives of the group. Documents there indicate early support for a public library (built in 1905); their letter-writing campaign to establish it began much earlier. By 1926 they were collecting artifacts of Laramie pioneers and speaking out on the need for a local history museum. They sought tuition assistance for a young man they would sponsor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. They supported programs in the past to bring books to people of all ages, including a book for every first grade student in Wyoming (a practice they have continued for Albany County first graders).
Other civic improvement projects continue today. “Laramie Woman’s Club has become one of the foremost service clubs of Laramie,” says President Louise Richardson, “I am so proud to be a member.”
Then as now, this group has raised money for projects involving women and children caught up in domestic violence or extreme poverty. They give funds for things that “fall through the cracks” of government assistance programs, such as helping folks with immediate need for food, housing or medical assistance, or a kind gift to let them know that someone is thinking about them.
A major monetary assistance project has been the half million dollars that they have raised for special restoration projects at the Laramie Plains Museum. These funds come from their booths at a local flea market, with items donated by community residents or heirs when an estate needs liquidation.
Since the early days, the Club has advocated for change. In 1949 members began a post card and telegram campaign to achieve a state severance tax; and they opposed legalized gambling. At the same time, then and now, they have provided forums for speakers on a wide variety of local and international issues. They keep an eye on whether women are represented in elected governmental bodies, and have been known to encourage “fine and capable women” to seek office.
By Judy Knight
Caption: THEN: A few members of the Laramie Woman’s Club, January 1907 at a meeting to plan a special Woman’s Edition of the Laramie Boomerang. Those pictured (listed as they wanted to be referred to) are: Back row, l-r: Mrs. Wilson, Jeanette Naismith Harris, Mrs. Emma Howell Knight, and Mrs. J.J. Garlock. Second row, l-r: Mrs. Lida Eaton Fitch, Mrs. Mary G. Preston, and Mrs. Mary Godat Bellamy. Front row, l-r: Mrs. Eleanor Quackenbush Corthell and Mrs. Maud Southworth Buffum. Photo courtesy of S.H. Knight Collection, UW American Heritage Center.