WHRC Oral History Collection Now Searchable Online!
GFWC has been preserving and sharing the memories of clubwomen since its founding in 1890. “Jennie June” Croly published her book The History of the Women’s Club Movement in America in 1898. Mary Wood’s The History of the General Federation of Women's Clubs for the FirstTwenty-two Years of its Organization (1912), Mildred White Wells’ two volumes of Unity in Diversity (1953, 1975), and Mary Jean Houde’s Reaching Out: A Story of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (1989) continued the tradition, providing biographies of, and quotations from, prominent clubwomen.
Since 1984, the WHRC has encouraged clubs and state federations to contribute their written and oral histories to GFWC’s collections. The oral history collection now consists of over 300 taped interviews. The interviews provide a unique overview of GFWC membership, documenting the experiences of clubwomen from diverse regions of the country and at all levels of membership. The interviewees range from new members to members with many years of GFWC service. All have had a significant role in their local communities, and many have made contributions at the state level and beyond.
The collection includes interviews with many state federation presidents and several past GFWC International Presidents. Skowhegan (Maine) clubwoman Senator Margaret Chase Smith was interviewed by former WHRC Director Cynthia Swanson in 1992. Senator Smith was 94 years old at the time and recalled her memories of Senator Joseph McCarthy and her historic speech of June 1, 1950:
Mister McCarthy. Oh, by the way, when we went over on the little train that went from the Senate Office Building to the Senate Chamber, when I got on [Senator McCarthy] was sitting on. He said, “You look very bloomy; what are you up to?” I said, “I’m making a speech, Joe; I am sure you are not going to like it.” He didn’t say anything. He didn’t say a word. He went up to the Senate chamber like I did. He sat in his seat, which is three seats in back of me, with his chin in his two hands and listened through, I was told. Of course, [my back was] to him. I sat down after I finished my speech, thinking that would give him a chance to attack me, which I expected him to do, or to ask me questions. I did not want to have him have the chance to say I ran out on him. So I sat down for I think five or six minutes. One of the page boys came over and said, “Senator McCarthy has just left chamber.” Which meant that he had gone. He was not going to say anything. Of course, the press was full of it the next day. The sad part of it was that he was a young man, a young lawyer; he could have made such a difference if he had taken the opposite role.
In the June + July issue of GFWC Clubwoman magazine, the WHRC encouraged clubs to submit oral history recordings and transcripts for an oral history book project, which was to be completed by the end of the 2006-2008 administration. The call for oral histories was so successful that the project was given a twenty-first century facelift, as outlined in the February + March issue of GFWC Clubwoman magazine. The collection, now available online, currently consists of over three hundred recordings that detail the contributions of GFWC clubwomen to their communities.
The WHRC welcomes new oral histories for the collection. If you are a longtime GFWC club member or know one, please help us record those memories for the future! To request additional information about the WHRC's oral history program, please contact the WHRC at WHRC@GFWC.org.