Charles Dickens and the Woman’s Club of Palo Alto

Charles Dickens died in 1870. What then was his connection to our Club
which was founded in 1894? The
answer: Dickens provided the stimulus for the creation of our parent organization, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC). In 1869, Charles Dickens was invited to speak at a banquet given by the New York City Press Club. Tickets to this event were a hot item. Women, however, were not invited to attend. This infuriated female journalists.

It particularly infuriated Jane Cunningham Croly who had been a professional journalist for over 40 years, had served on the editorial boards of several New York City newspapers and was the first female journalist to be syndicated nationally. Her reaction to this snub was to form a club, called Sorosis, for female journalists only. Unfortunately, no one would rent meeting space to the group as it was deemed improper for women to appear in public without a male companion. A room above Delmonico’s Restaurant in the Village was finally secured and Sorosis met there for 21 years.

Croly realized that groups of women across the nation were forming clubs for suffrage, temperance, civic reform, gardening and literature. She invited 100 of them to a conference in New York City. In 1890, representatives of 63 clubs met and formed the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Their goal: To allow women of diverse interests to gather outside the home for self-education and personal development.

On June 20, 1894, 2,935.4 miles away from the Sorosis Club, twenty-four women met to form the Woman’s Club of Palo Alto. They adopted a constitution, elected o cers and dedicated themselves to “Self Improvement, Mutual Help and Community Work.” The Woman’s Club of Palo Alto joined the GFWC in 1898 and the California Federation of Women’s Clubs (CFWC) in 1900.

What would Charles Dickens have made of all this?

– Margaret R. Feuer