For more than 100 years the Dayton Woman’s Club has been a home for social, charitable and professional growth.
After the flood waters receded in 1913, a group of civic-minded ladies saw the need to form an organization for women that would be a center for civic and literary activities.
Julia Patterson Crane, the sister of National Cash Register Corp. founder John H. Patterson, was among the women who sought to find a home for the club.
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In an effort to help revitalize the city, Patterson urged his sister and the newly formed group to purchase a “downtown mansion that was still solid after the flood,” according to Mollie Hauser, historian of the Dayton Woman’s Club.
The home at 225 North Ludlow St., one of the oldest in the city, was built in the late 1840s by Robert W. Steele in the Classic Revival style. It was purchased for $25,000 from the second owners, the family of Napoleon Bonaparte Darst.
Darst made extensive changes to the home, adding a mansard roof, which raised the mansion profile to three stories. Inside he added marble mantle pieces in the parlors and detailed ornamentation to the ceilings. A flower garden and fountain complemented the property in the back.
The elegant home was deemed a perfect site and club members purchased stock at $10 a share to come up with the $5,000 down payment. On Nov. 1, 1916, the Dayton Woman’s Club, referred to as the “Woman’s Clubhouse Company of Dayton, OH,” was incorporated.
Marie J. Kumler, the first president of the club, wrote the house should be a base for education and philanthropy, serving “as a meeting place for music, art and study clubs and circles composed of women or of men and women.” It should also be an “open forum for the presentation and discussion of all subjects pertaining to educational, civic or social improvements and for a social center for women.”
Lectures and weekly book reports were held in the auditorium on the second floor for the women, according to Hauser. A piano stood on the stage and the outstanding singers and actresses of the time put on performances.
Maintaining the historic home was expensive and in 1918 an addition was put on with 21 rooms that were rented to “ladies of good character.” These young single women worked downtown at the Rike-Kumler department store and in law offices. The last tenant of good character left the home in the early 1980s. The building was reconfigured for club use.
Civic and social activities were a popular draw for women and in 1924 there were more than 1,500 with memberships to the club.
The philanthropic and educational work continued through the decades. In the 1970s and 1980s membership began to decline as more women entered the workforce. In 2006 men were allowed to join and Dayton Daily News columnist Dale Huffman became the first male member.
Today the members of the Dayton Woman’s Club maintain the group’s aim as well as preserve the historic home.
“I fell in love with the beauty of the house and have learned so much about the women that founded this city,” said Hauser, who can recite a list of influential members such as suffragette and library scientist Electra Doren and Katharine Wright, whose brothers Wilbur and Orville invented the airplane.
“You come into the house and you realize these woman needed a voice in the city and what better way to have a voice than to have their own organization,” she said.
HISTORY EXTRA is a weekly pictorial history feature showcasing the Miami Valley’s rich heritage. If you have a unique set of historic photos found in your parents’ or grandparents’ attic that depicts the past in the Miami Valley, contact Lisa Powell at 937-225-2229 or at Lisa.Powell@coxinc.com.
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