The Duluth Woman’s Club has been around the Twin Ports for a long time. It has roots that go as far back as 1889, but originated in its present form in 1923, when two separate women's groups came together. One group was a social club, the other a civic group called the Duluth Women's Club Council, which had over thirty years' experience encouraging women to become active in their community.
Almost a century later, the Duluth Woman's Club retains a strong sense of commitment to both civic and social endeavors. “We’ve been well known in recent years for two things: As a bridge club and for hosting the Annual Tour of Homes and Gardens event,” said Patty Miller, the current club president. “But we do so much more than just those two things.”
At its heart, the social aspect of the club remains an important part of what they do. Since the new coronavirus has shuttered the doors of the Hartman House on Superior Street and 24th Avenue East, the club’s home since 1936, the group has worked hard to retain ties to each other. “For the sake of all our members, we’ve put in the extra effort to stay open while we’re closed,” said Mary Overland, club membership co-chair.
Outdoor activities have been scheduled for the summer, such as the weekly Camera Club, where members come together for a hike and to learn new photography skills. The monthly book club has also embraced the outdoors, meeting on porches, parks and other outdoor spaces. For their members who are completely quarantining and cannot meet even for outdoor, socially-distanced activities, regular phone check-ins are made. “It’s important that we keep connected with everyone,” Miller said.
The civic aspect of the group has had to evolve and change to fit the new world of coronavirus. Since in-person, large group gatherings and indoor activities are off the table, the group's primary annual events have been put on hold for 2020, such as the popular Annual Tour of Homes and Gardens event that has been in existence for over 50 years. A newer but growing event is the Annual Bazaar, where members share their talents and products they have created with the community. “We’re already talking about how to bring back these events bigger and better for 2021,” said Rolene Lampi, club vice president.
In the meantime, the closure has given members time to sit back and think about how they can expand their thought process with a new eye toward outreach and increased community involvement. “Historically, we know there was a great effort by the club to connect with our community during World War II,” Lampi said. She has been pleased to see this movement again today, with club members increasingly asking for the club to come up with ways in which members can help the community.
The group was already participating in outreach, with involvement in organizations such as Safe Haven Women’s Housing, Bentleyville and the Denfeld Hunter Hut, an organization at Denfeld High School that provides food, toiletries, clothes and supplies to students free of charge.
More recently, club members have turned toward mask-making. “We want to grow our cadre of activities and ideas, so that as a group we are being useful to what the community needs,” Overland said. In addition to sewing cloth masks, some members masked up themselves and spent time at the Essentia Health Duluth Heritage Center, where they joined others in making face shields for essential workers.
Almost a decade ago, the club faced a tough time when the Superior Street reconstruction cut off all access to their building. Members continued to meet at alternate locations during the reconstruction, remaining active and launching a “we’re still here” campaign. During that time of change, the club had members but no building. Today, the coronavirus has presented a different challenge: They have a building, but can’t meet in person.
The Duluth Woman’s Club is once again rising to the challenge. “Women almost always operate in Plan B, or even Plan C,” Overland said. Though the closure took everyone by surprise, members are doing what they can to make sure their social and civic endeavors carry on, in whatever form they can. “It’s like a little egg cracking open,” Overland said. “We have to modify what we have, and build off what we can.”
The Duluth Woman’s Club is still accepting memberships during the closure. Visit them at Duluthwomansclub.com or call 218-724-3168.