Woman's Progressive Club celebrates 100 years

Friday, May 26, 2017
Club member Rhonda Gail Davis, center, presented Jeanne Fleming and Melba Berry with gift bags for the being the Marked Tree Woman's Progressive Club's oldest continual members. (DT Photo/Corey Clairday)

The Marked Tree Woman's Progressive Club celebrated their 100th anniversary at last Saturday's meeting. The club, which was originally called the Mother's Club, was organized by 15 women in February of 1917.

Club member Rhonda Gail Davis presented the history of the club during Saturday's program. There weren't many women's clubs in the country until the late 19th century with the rise of post-secondary organizations in coastal cities, which later spread to the rest of the country. In 1897, the Arkansas Federation of Women's Clubs was organized. There were 100 women's clubs in the state of Arkansas by 1913 with around 3,575 members. And those numbers grew by 1922 to over 250 women's clubs with about 8,000 members.

"In 1917, so many people wanted to come to Arkansas because there was land," Davis said. "It was the largest building boom percentage-wise we've ever had." Many women at that time were selling books, such as Draper's Self Culture, a set of self help books which included essays, art, and self culture questions. These books were used for the programs of many women's organizations, including Marked Tree's. Davis showed the group an example of the Feb. 20, 1917, program, which included topics such as what constitutes a good mother, readings on marriage and college, and a reading of a poem called "The Calf's Path." Davis has found a complete ten-volume set of Draper's Self Culture, which she has ordered for the library.

The club first met in the home of Mrs. G.E. Paullus, who had come to Marked Tree from Missouri at the age of 27 and was married to one of the five doctors in town. Mrs. Paullus served as the first president but was only in Marked Tree for three years as her husband offered himself for service in World War I and was needed in France.

Davis said that in the 1920s, after women gained the right to vote, many women's clubs changed their names to reflect the social reform that was in the air. In 1923, Marked Tree's club changed its name to the Woman's Progressive Club. By that point, they had grown to 30 members.

Throughout the years, the club has done a lot for the community such as instituting the first library in town, sponsoring the Girl Scout Troop in 1944, sponsoring numerous plays in the 1920s-30s, raising money for the war memorial in the 1940s--on Frisco Street near the railroad tracks--raising money to fight tuberculosis, and they even transported people suspected of having TB to a Jonesboro Clinic for treatment in 1940. Among the many other things they accomplished, they also landscaped the post office in 1964, and Davis said the plants they planted could be the same ones that are there today.

During the course of Saturday's program, State Representatives Johnny Rye and Dwight Tosh presented the club with a citation from the 91st Arkansas General Assembly and a letter from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Mayor Mary Ann Arnold presented a proclamation declaring May 20 as Woman's Progressive Club Day. Arnold, Rye, and Tosh were also recognized as Friends of the Woman's Progressive Club.

The club also honored its two oldest members, Mrs. Melba Berry and Mrs. Jeanne Fleming, who have been attending meetings for the past 40 years.

"I thought, I can't believe that we were so fortunate at that time to have a club," Berry said. She added that she felt fortunate to have been involved with the club all these years.

"It was an honor to be asked to join the Woman's Progressive Club," Fleming said. "I have loved all these years of being a member and hope to continue on."

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