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 plane was named in the club’s honor.
Meanwhile members funded elderly care, recommended the name “Port Everglades,” made layettes for the Salvation Army and supported the YMCA, Sundial School and many other causes that needed help.
The club motto still holds true today for the projects members support: “For the cause that needs assistance; for the wrongs that need resistance; for the future in the distance; and the good that we may do.”
Club presidents and members have been as fascinating as the group’s efforts.
Luella Giles Snyder, who served as president in 1921-22, created and operated the Fort Lauderdale Service Men’s Club in 1944 and received an Outstanding Military Services Award.
Annie Beck, president in 1924-25, planted the yellow trumpet tree (Tabebuia Caraiba) at her landmark home in 1939. She and the Garden Club were instrumental in the restoration of devastated Fort Lauderdale after the 1926 hurricane. A small memorial park in her name, planted in Tabebulias, can be found along Victoria Park Road. Her home, floated down New River to preserve its 20th century bungalow architecture, is today at Middle River Terrace City Park.
Virginia Shuman Young School was named for the only woman mayor in the first 100 years of the city’s history. This outstanding woman was the Woman’s Club president from 1969-71. She was Fort Lauderdale’s mayor from 1973-75 and 1981-83. Her grandmother, Mrs. DeWitt Greenfield Ten Brook, was a founder and Woman’s Club president from 1911-12. Her mother-in-law, Mrs. George W. Young, was FLWC president in 1944-46.
Club membership slowed in the 1980s and 1990s as many pioneers moved or died, but the club seems to have found a rebirth in the new century as more than 100 members from all walks of life have re-energized activities.
Outstanding presidents who will make history continue as Alice Sakhnovsky, a trail-blazer, was the first African-American president in 2007-09. Alice is also president of the East Broward Federated Republican Women’s Club.
The current president, JoAnn Smith, a master gardener, has been involved the past eight years in community gardening, a trend that has taken off across the country. JoAnn often provides advice to others working community gardeners. Her church/neighborhood group uses chickens to provide fertilizer and gives extra greens to food pantries. In some ways it’s back to the future.
JoAnn planted the vast garden outside the Woman’s Club corner at Andrews Avenue and Broward Boulevard, which is admired by those who pass the very center of town today.
This club, which predates both the city and Broward County, no doubt will continue to be a part of local history until the next Centennial.