First in the Field: “Mother of Clubs” Caroline Severance

Caroline Severance was an abolitionist, suffragist, and pioneer organizer of women’s
clubs, founding the first club in the East and the first in Los Angeles.

Viewing clubs as vehicles for social reform and a bridge from the home to the public arena, Severance brought political awareness and support of suffrage to the club movement which earned her the name “The Mother of Clubs.

Severance was very active at conventions and speaking on behalf of women’s rights on the east coast in the mid 1800s.

In 1853, she delivered the first lecture by a woman at Cleveland’s Mercantile Library Association, titled ” “Humanity: A Definition and a Plea”. She argued that women should be included in the definition of the word humanity. That same year, she presided over the first annual meeting of the Ohio Women’s Rights Association. She campaigned with Susan B Anthony against the inclusion of the word “male”  in the 14th amendment.

In the winter of 1867-1868, Severance established the first woman’s club in the United States: the New England Women’s Club. The club supported women in eduction and awarded scholarships as well as promoted the kindergarten movement.

Severance moved to Los Angeles in 1875 and continued her reform work in California, raising the social consciousness of the city with her tireless civic activity. In 1878 she founded the Los Angeles Women’s Club, whose members campaigned for the establishment of California’s juvenile court system.

In 1881, Severance established a lasting institution, the Friday Morning Club, devoted to cultural and social betterment and civic reform. The Friday Morning Club became the largest women’s club in California, with membership of over 1,800 women by the 1920s

The club ran a lending library, maintained an employment bureau and conducted classes. Clubwomen, under the leadership of Severance, also supported the introduction of the kindergarten movement to Los Angeles. Club programs addressed the need to reform child labor laws and women’s fashion. Her long-range objective was to nurture a civic activism in women in an effort to justify their claim to equal suffrage. It became one of the most powerful and prestigious organizations in the city.

The bungalow in Hollywood purchased in 1923 by another women’s club, the Assistance League as their first community house was used a decade earlier as “Resthaven”, a project of the Friday Morning Club that offered a residential facility for the treatment of nervous women patients. By 1900, there were more than 100 women’s clubs in Los Angeles including the Friday Morning Club and Assistance League.

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