Mary Lou Parks
For accomplished author and GFWC clubwoman Mary Lou Parks, writing her club history, HerStory, was a journey that formed lasting friendships and a new perspective on women’s history. HerStory tells the history of The Alpha Literary and Improvement Club and its members in Lompoc, California. The book describes the evolution of the club, paralleling the history of the women’s rights movement over its 115-year history. The friendships Mary Lou formed throughout the writing process were instrumental in creating this personal account. Reading the book, it is easy to connect with the clubwomen that left a mark both on the club and women’s history. It’s one of the reasons why writing a club history is important in documenting the contributions of women volunteers for future generations.
What sparked your interest in writing this club history?My interest in writing began when I was in grade school and won a writing contest sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. I suffer from a mild form of dyslexia, and my mother once told me that I could not be a writer because I cannot spell. I wasn’t discouraged and have continued writing.
At one of Lompoc’s annual flower shows I was approached by a club member, who knew I was a writer, and asked if I was interested in writing a club history. I was initially hesitant due to my work schedule, but really wanted to create a history of the town from a woman’s perspective. This club history was a chance to do that.
I suffer from a mild form of dyslexia, and my mother once told me that I could not be a writer because I cannot spell. I wasn’t discouraged and have continued writing.
What challenges did you encounter in bringing a club history to life?
I was lucky that many of the Alpha clubwomen were incredibly helpful in organizing and locating documents. Alyce Martin and Marge Scott have been members for decades, and were instrumental in helping me gather the stories, club year books, minutes, and other documents necessary for writing this book.
What is your advice for others writing club histories?
Get started as soon as possible! The longer you wait, you risk losing your connections to the past. I was incredibly fortunate to work with Marguerite Hall who had been with the club since its early years and was a major inspiration for this book. Communicating with other members and associates kept me right on track. It really writes itself once you have all the right pieces. It also helped that the town of Lompoc has a wonderful historical society that was able to provide a lot of useful information. Once I had all the information necessary, I made an outline, did it chapter by chapter making changes as I went along. This allowed me to tell a story from personal perspective.
What did you learn from writing this book?
Women have contributed in so many more ways than I realized. The Alpha club was literally involved in everything; we raised money for hospitals, schools, and libraries. This goes beyond the club to the whole General Federation and its history. It’s about friendship and giving back to the community. It’s a special feeling to belong and we have to appeal to that. Learning of all this motivated me all the more to write this club history. It’s a shame that so few institutions continue to teach women’s history.
How have people responded to your book?
A lot of people didn’t realize what the Alpha Literary and Improvement Club did, and this book opened their eyes. They didn’t know how big it was and how powerful it could be. They didn’t know how much women have done. This changed the outlook on women’s clubs. I was originally doing it for personal reasons because I liked my friends at the Alpha club, but it turned into much more.
*Read an excerpt of HerStory and learn more about Mary Parks’ work at www.MaryLouParks.com.
Minnie Bell Johnson
Minnie Bell Johnson is described by her fellow clubwomen as the happiest person they know, with a smile that brightens the whole room. Having just celebrated her 100th birthday, she has many reasons to smile. During her time with the Portland Woman’s Club (Oregon), she has served as both the club treasurer and club president. She’s still an active member to this day, voting on issues and club elections, and participating in projects like handing out personal care products to homeless women at the Rose Haven Women and Children’s Day Shelter.
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