By Karen James
There are few places in Winter Park where you will be so warmly welcomed as the Winter Park Woman’s Club. Gracious ladies stand the entrance with genuine smiles and introductions. Last month on a chilly Thursday evening, the club held its Centennial Celebration dinner at its historic clubhouse on Interlachen Avenue. The program for the evening included the history of the club, the kick-off of its Founder’s Day Centennial Campaign, and music videos from the early 1900s.
The organization that has so faithfully served generations of Winter Parkers is now hoping citizens will return the favor. The Centennial Campaign will help fund much-needed repairs to the stately historic clubhouse. More on this below.
At the celebration, Club President, Sandra Blossey, a lifelong educator, presented the history of the organization. In 1915, the club was founded by Mrs. Charles H. Morse, wife of one of the city’s founders, and 16 of her friends. They met at her home, “Osceola Lodge,” on Interlachen Avenue. As clubs and associations grow over the years, mission statements often change. This is not true for the Woman’s Club. The mission has remained the same as it was in 1915:
- To associate its members and the public in efforts to advance the civic and educational welfare of Winter Park and surrounding areas.
- To aid worthy students entering or attending institutions of higher learning.
- To preserve the history and the premises of the Woman’s Club of Winter Park for future generations of members and the community.
The club grew as the city and country grew. Volunteerism and activism focused on local concerns and the prominent issues of many generations. Early community service efforts were related to World War I. In 1919, members petitioned the Florida state legislature for municipal suffrage for women. Other endeavors included sponsoring the first community Christmas tree, petitioning for garbage service, sponsoring the first state flower show, starting the Garden Club, and hosting art shows, a library, and church services. Longtime Winter Park resident Ann Saurman shared fond memories of the club:
“My parents were married in the Winter Park Methodist Church in 1930, and their wedding reception was held in the Woman’s Club. From 1944-46 my mother, Kathryn Morgan, was president of the Woman’s Club. My sister, Jane and I attended the Winter Park Elementary School adjacent to the Woman’s Club, and we would walk over to meet her after school and after her meeting so that we could all go home together. I have happy memories of the many dances we all went to at the Woman’s Club as we were growing up. I am so thankful that through the years the membership has made the effort to maintain and preserve this beautiful, graceful building. It never goes out of style.”
Currently the club provides fiscal and physical support to community agencies such as the Salvation Army, Orlando Rescue Mission, families from Winter Park Housing Authority, the Adult Literacy League and many others.
The emphasis on scholarship is a history unto itself. In 1937, Robert D. Van Tassell, Judge of the Orlando County Juvenile Court, spoke to the club about the plight of needy and deserving children. A Committee was formed, an appeal for funds was made in 1938, and by New Year’s Day 1939, the first two scholarship awards were announced. Early fundraising events included bake sales and flea markets. Fortunately, generous bequests initiated an Endowment Fund that continues to this day. “Using only proceeds from the principle of the Endowment Fund, the club has been able to provide many students with substantial grants. Last year we awarded $31,000 to twelve students,” said Blossey.
The clubhouse itself is of great interest to the Friends of Casa Feliz and many others who value good architecture and preservation. A lovely example of the Neoclassical Revival style, the building was designed by New York architect L. Percival Hutton and built by L.C. Townsend, an important local contractor at the time. Completed in 1921, the clubhouse sits on land donated by Mr. Charles H. Morse from the original 18-hole golf course. Rectangular, symmetrical buildings of this style with low roofs, columns, and finely scaled windows and doors were very popular in the country in the early twentieth century, especially in the South. The use of the small pavilions on either side of the main block may be been inspired by Mount Vernon’s famous façade. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and the local Winter Park Register.
The Women’s Club members have preserved and maintained the house over the years. Substantial renovations to the house were undertaken in 1960, 1980 and 1992. And while the house has never been threatened by intentional demolition, with old buildings ‘demolition by neglect’ is always a concern. So, in its 100th year, the Women’s Club is undertaking the Centennial Campaign to raise $300,000 to cover the renovations and start an endowment for house maintenance. The work needed on this lovely building—used by hundreds of people each week for meetings and celebrations—includes kitchen renovations, roof replacement, terrace replacement, landscaping and redecorating.
The Woman’s Club has given so much to the city and the country for almost one hundred years. If you are able, please consider making a donation to the club so the organization can continue to meet the needs of the community for the next one hundred years.
Donations to the Centennial Campaign can be sent to The Winter Park Woman’s Club, P.O. Box 1433, Winter Park, FL 32790. Donations of any amount are gladly accepted and anyone who makes a contribution will receive a certificate as a member of the Centennial Society of the Woman’s Club of Winter Park, Inc.
Karen James is the Vice Chairman and the Advocacy Committee Chairman of the Friends of Casa Feliz.