Fort Lauderdale Woman’s Club Celebrates Centennial
By Gretchen Thompson
In this Centennial Celebration of both the City of Fort Lauderdale and the Fort Lauderdale Woman’s Club, it is symbolic that the Woman’s Clubhouse sits at Broward Boulevard and Andrews Avenue, the corner from which all city streets and avenues radiate.
The Woman’s Club was founded on January 11, 1911, three months before the city was incorporated. Called the Woman’s Civic Improvement Association, its first improvements were trash containers along the streets and outhouses for the school.
First president Eva Bryan Oliver was the area’s first bride, who married her husband, Frank, while standing in a rowboat near Idywild. She was a suffragette, helped organize the garden club and was the first woman to drive an automobile in Fort Lauderdale.
The club helped start a volunteer fire department in 1912 and got out a newspaper for vacationing publishers. Members also kept livestock off the streets.
The club’s name was changed in 1913 when it became affiliated with the Florida Federation of Woman’s Clubs, the same year Ivy Stranahan was elected president. (She served through 1916.) Stranahan, state chair of Indian Affairs, helped secure Seminole reservations. She also was a board member of Provident Hospital, which served Northwest Fort Lauderdale African-Americans.
Ivy and her husband, Frank, donated land (thought to be too far west) for the club’s building, which was designed by renowned architect August Geiger and built in 1917. It has recently undergone renovations under the auspices of member and architect Susan McClellan. The Andrews Avenue entrance, closed off for several years, was reconfigured under Geiger’s original design, and reopened for the club’s recent 100th birthday celebration.
Club members started gathering books in 1917 and by 1925 turned over a collection of 1,200 to create the first city library system. Members also started the first Girl Scout troop and a Needlework Guild and helped plant the royal palms on Las Olas Boulevard.
The city’s first planner, nationally known Richard Schermerhorn Jr., set up a meeting in the Woman’s Club building in April 1926 to begin planning the city, which was booming out of control. His plan included renaming the streets and avenues with the clubhouse at the focal point at the corner of Andrews and Broward.
A few months later, the clubhouse was an emergency shelter during the hurricane of 1926. As years went by it was the first Red Cross headquarters and was used as a servicemen’s canteen during World War II. Members sold so many war bonds that a p