The Tempe Woman’s Club is historically significant at the local level, under Criterion A of the National Register Criteria, for its contribution to the broad patterns of American history. It is locally significant for the role it has played in the social history of Tempe, and for its continued use by the Woman’s Club of Tempe. Beginning with its establishment in 1936, the clubhouse has been the center of social and civic activity for many women residing in Tempe whose influence is felt throughout the community. The following is a brief historical account of the establishment of the Woman’s Club both in Arizona, and here in Tempe, and more particularly their Clubhouse at 1290 S. Mill Avenue.
In December of 1912, a group of 14 ladies met at the Eighth Street and Mill Avenue Schoolhouse to form a Mother’s Club. There are no minutes from that meeting, but about a month later, on January 24, 1913, the Club formally organized. From that time on, minutes were kept. During the January meeting of 1913, the name Tempe Woman’s Club was chosen, the First Constitution and Bylaws were drafted, and the motto was adopted, which is still in use today:
In Essentials, Unity
In Non-Essentials, Freedom
In All Things, Charity.
Also during the first organized meeting, the pink rose was chosen, as well as the club colors pink and green, which are still used today. Mrs. C. C. Cash was the first President, residing for two years and actively working for the club for many years. The new club’s stated purpose was, "To enable women to work more efficiently for the benefit of the schools and the city in general". This mission statement is at the heart of the Tempe Woman’s Club’s significant relationship to the community, and the continuing commitment to the betterment of life here in Tempe.
The work of the Tempe Woman’s Club was underway. The ladies immediately surveyed Tempe for its worst eye-sores and reported them to the Marshall, who promised to speak to the owners. One community involvement project example included the Tempe Buttes, which had become a dumping ground. The Woman’s Club organized a group of volunteers to clean it up. On the school playgrounds, they also quickly pin-pointed problems of sanitation and lack of supervision.
The early years saw approximately ¼ of their time and energy spent on finding places to meet. Finally, in 1928, they found a lot at Mill Avenue and Lovers Lane (now 13th Street), and voted to buy it. Shortly after their purchase, they heard that the American Legion was about to build their clubhouse. The Woman’s club negotiated to collaborate on building construction with the American Legion, but in the end, it ultimately fell through, and then decided to build on the lot at Mill and 13th Street.
Mrs. J. C. Grimes wrote a memorandum some years later in which she recalls, "There was some criticism about buying a lot (Mill and 13th St.) way out there, as some of the ladies would never attend a meeting if they had to go that far. But there weren’t many two-car families in those days, and it probably meant walking about five extra blocks. The lot now seems very close to the old town-center."
In the spring of 1936, the ladies had about $2,860 cash on hand, and they voted to go ahead and buy a house. They looked into the zoning and tax laws, the costs of different types of construction, and estimates of the costs of furnishing and upkeep. Kemper Goodwin, a young local architect, step-son of Club secretary Charlotte Goodwin and member of the Arizona pioneer family, volunteered architectural services for the design of a new clubhouse (Mr. Goodwin went on to become one of Arizona’s most prominent architects). On May 6, 1936 the contract was given to Leonard Carr for the construction of "an adobe clubhouse". The Woman’s Club borrowed $3,200 from Mrs. Margaret Minson on a secured note, looked over the final plans, and the construction began. Mrs. Prather remarked that if railroad ties were used as floor supports, it would eliminate termite problems, but Lucille Snavely, president in the years they actually did have termites, wasn’t around in those days
November 4, 1936 saw the Incorporation of the Club with every member owning one share of the building. On November 8, the Clubhouse Dedication Ceremony, arranged by Mrs. Bertleson, Mrs. Wexler, and Mrs. Vihel, took place. At this ceremony, Dr. Grady Gammage, President of the Arizona Teacher’s College (now Arizona State University) gave the main address, the Arizona State Teacher’s College band played, Reverend Gorsage gave the invocation, Thanks Anderson spoke, and the American Legion presented the Tempe Woman’s Club with an American flag.
The new site also had to be landscaped. When most of the orange trees died, they had to re-landscape. They also paved the parking lot and placed cement inserts, in addition to buying 100 chairs, as well as constant housework and housewarming gifts.
The bulk of the money for the house came from dinners and banquets served and cooked by Club ladies. They had thirteen dinners at the Clubhouse in 1936-37 and a similar number every year for about seven years thereafter, including dinners for the Lions Club, Rotary, Eastern Star, the A.S.T.C. Football Banquet, and many others. The Club even charged a $0.25 per plate fee for their own events such as dinners, and the annual Mother-Daughter Banquet. In addition to the dinners, the Tempe Woman’s Club used to have three or four large parties every year, some of which raised as much as $160 per function.
It should be mentioned that the dinners and parties were in addition to other benefits and plans to raise money for charities, schools, and hospitals. The regular projects for the community were constant. This building was paid for by numerous additional projects by women who worked hard and wasted nothing. In December of 1941, it was necessary to borrow $750 to refinance the Clubhouse. Mrs. Charlotte Goodwin provided the loan, and on December 29, 1943, the announcement was made that the building was paid for.
The Tempe Woman’s Club has remained in continuous use as a woman’s clubhouse and community meeting house since its construction in 1936. The building has been well maintained and changed little in that time, retaining a high degree of integrity. Its adobe bearing wall construction, rare for a non-residential structure built since territorial days, is indicative of the depression-era methods of its day. For over six decades, this building has served the City of Tempe as a host for various cultural and social activities. For its significant contributions to the social fabric and integral aspect of local Tempe history, it is very fitting that the Tempe’s Woman’s Club be considered a serious candidate for a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Tempe Woman's Club meeting hall is available to rent for a wide range of activities ranging from church services and receptions to luncheons and parties. In addition to the large meeting hall, it is well-equipped with a receiving lounge, large kitchen and food preparation area, a performance stage, restrooms, and on site parking.
Arizona Historic Property Inventory Form, Tempe Multiple Resource Area, T-431, Ryden Architects, 1997.
Tempe Historical Museum, Minutes of the Tempe Woman’s Club.
Tempe Woman’s Club History, manuscript at Tempe Historical Museum.
Tempe Woman’s Club Yearbook "1995-1996".
Luhrs Collection at Arizona State University, Hayden Library, Arizona Collection.