Celebrating Freedom: GFWC Marks Banned Books Week and Promotes Legacy of Literacy
Perhaps no other issue is as close to the heart of GFWC clubwomen as literacy and the support of public libraries. GFWC founder Jane Cunningham Croly, one of the earliest American newspaperwomen, was an avowed supporter of freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, and throughout our history GFWC clubwomen have demonstrated a passion for promoting literacy and the work of libraries across the nation. By the 1930s—after four decades of Federation unity—GFWC clubs had founded more than 474 free public libraries and 4,655 traveling libraries.
In fact, the American Library Association confirms that 85 percent of all libraries in the United States have been founded by GFWC clubs.
In 1997, GFWC established Libraries 2000 and pledged to deliver at least $12.5 million worth of books and materials to public libraries and public school libraries. By June 2002, GFWC members had surpassed this goal, eventually raising more than $13.5 million for public libraries. Inspired by the Federation's accomplishments in the area of literacy, International Past President Ernie Shriner (2004-2006) challenged members to focus on combating the startling low literacy rate in the U.S. and reaching students in need, setting a goal to train 7,500 new literacy tutors and tutor 10,000 students by 2006.
Local clubs have worked hard to fulfill the mission of supporting reading and library services, as well.
- In 1899, there were no libraries in Oregon, and the Portland Women's Club was committed to the development of a state library system. Banding together with other women's clubs to form the Oregon Federation of Women's Clubs, their first project was a state library bill which, after a vigorous campaign, was passed.
- The New Hampshire Federation of Women's Clubs purchased a bookmobile in 1938 with proceeds from the sale of a book, The Folk Tales of New Hampshire, which was compiled and edited by a past president of the club. The bookmobile held revolving shelves and more than 600 books.
- In 1956, the Begley Tuesday Study Club of Minnesota won a state award for the new commuity library they created; the club took responsibility for hiring a librarian, selecting books, and administering the library.
- GFWC Cranford Club, one of the oldest in Connecticut, developed and published an innovative and highly marketbale booklet, "Let's Go to the Library" in the 1980s. The book was designed to introduce the young child to the library, teaching beginning library skills through the story and drawings of Edgar the Eager Beaver. Clubs members, who represented varying age groups, printed and published the book as a fundraising effort as well as a service to the community. They were successful on both counts.
Today, clubwomen continue to support libraries with book drives across the nation. And our legacy of literacy is visible throughout the history of GFWC’s work.
- GFWC's literacy program extended internationally through a partnership with CARE in 1962-64, and the Federation developed the first literacy programs of their kind in eight countries: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, and Turkey. A total contribution of $135,000 enabled the Federation to send literacy kits to each of those international destinations.
- The continuing education program co-sponsored by Shell Oil Company resulted in scholarship funds totaling $1,054,501. Workshops and training programs were developed through new GFWC Division of Leadership Mobilization; more than $50,000 worth of scholarships were provided for Native Americans; and 871 new libraries were founded.
»Read more about current club activities related to literacy and education
At the 1948 Annual International Convention in Portland, Oregon, GFWC members passed their first resolution to support libraries. The resolution reads in part:
The General Federation of Women's Clubs...recognizes the contributions libraries have made and should continue to make to the national welfare...and supports adequate library funding at all levels; and further [GFWC] urges its member clubs to:
- Continue strong support of existing libraries
- Encourage the extension of library services to all areas
- Strongly encourage the people of their communities to make full and responsible use of their library facilities and services
- Support and encourage enforcement of confidentiality laws.
Supporting local libraries continues to be a Federation priority today. Our Program Department supports a Literacy Program that provides information on tutoring activities and resources available in local communities. In addition, GFWC's Lifelong Learning Program encourages members to participate in the Epsilon Sigma Omicron reading program and support libraries in their communities, with an action plan, awards, and resources.
GFWC is proud to celebrate the achievements of clubwomen across the nation in creating and protecting opportunities for American citizens to learn the joys of reading. As the American Library Association observes Banned Books Week, GFWC joins the chorus in reminding readers to celebrate and protect their democratic freedom to read!
»Links and Resources
No matter how you choose to commemorate Banned Books Week, remember to report your activities to GFWC.
In 2006, GFWC members volunteered more than 800,000 hours on projects related to education. more than $5.2 million was raised for these programs, which thrived in communities throughout the country. Clubwomen worked to educate children, adults, and each other through a wide variety of successful projects.
- Epsilon Sigma Omicron (ESO), GFWC’s honorary educational society, grew in popularity during the 2006 club year. Twenty-eight states reported active clubs and most reported increased participation.
- Georgia clubs rallied against the practice of banning certain authors and books by promoting Banned Book Week in September 2006. Clubs handed out a list of banned books to raise public awareness.
- Other clubs sponsored libraries in unusual places, such as the GFWC Rhinelander Woman’s Club, who opened libraries for children at local food banks.
The primary way that GFWC clubs promote Lifelong Learning is through their support of numerous scholarships, giving high school seniors the option of higher education. Clubs also provide camperships to enable children to attend a variety of programs, field trips, and camps.
GFWC members partnered with such organizations as Reading is Fundamental, Books for Babies, First Book, and community based literacy councils and afterschool programs to promote literacy. GFWC members also promoted family literacy by encouraging parents to read to their children at home.
GFWC members also tackled the issue of adult literacy and teaching courses on English as a Second Language and tutoring adults for citizenship tests. These varied and successful programs have allowed clubwomen to reach their entire communities and promote education throughout the country.
- The Mississippi Federation of Women's Clubs distributed funds received for Hurricane Recovery to the Waveland Elementary School to put a computer and printer in every classroom. The school lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, including a new computer lab.
- The Las Vegas Woman’s Club of New Mexico saw a sincere need for a bilingual dictionary for third graders in local schools. Clubwomen received a grant from a local bank and were able to donate 195 dictionaries to 20 third grade classes.
- The Northboro Jr. Woman’s Club of Massachusetts held a Women in Science and Math Conference to help encourage young women to explore careers in those fields by introducing them to successful female role models.
- The GFWC Women’s Club of South County in Rhode Island partnered with the local library to deliver books prepared by the librarian on the first and third Tuesday of every month to 25 home-bound seniors and nursing homes. In addition to delivering good literature, these volunteers also deliver friendship as they spend time visiting.
- The Randall Progressive Study Club of Kansas packed ten boxes of books donated by the Randall Library to send to Better World Books in Indiana, where they will be distributed to towns to help start libraries.
Let us know what your club is doing to promote literacy and lifelong learning!