Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Santa Fe Woman's Club & Library Association

Santa Fe Woman's Club & Library Association


Honored October, 2003

Santa Fe Woman's Club & Library Association

The spacious building in which today's Living Treasures ceremony is being celebrated is home to one of this community's most enduring, most effective, most generous, most visionary, most far-reaching and most significant civic-minded organizations: the Santa Fe Woman's Club. Normally this organization does its endless good work quietly and modestly, behind the scenes. Yet today it must take a turn in the spotlight—for today the Santa Fe Woman's Club officially is declared a Santa Fe Living Treasure.

From the day of its founding—July 9, 1892—the organization has been dedicated to making Santa Fe a better place. Its stated purpose was "to make civic improvements and establish a library"—and off it set at once to accomplish those goals. In 1894 the Woman's Club became "Guardian of the Plaza," in a self-appointed mission to prevent the ancient hub of the community from falling into decay and ruin. Members repaired the benches, fertilized the grass, filled the holes, built a picket fence and filled the horse troughs. It all was paid off by January 1, 1895—and then came the library project.

On January 15, 1896, Santa Fe's first public library opened, with a total of 400 books, on the northwest corner of the newly refurbished Plaza. From this modest beginning, the Woman's Club never looked back. In 1903 the Territorial Legislature gave the club a 100-by-150-foot tract of land on Washington Avenue, and construction on a new library began in 1907. By 1915, the building held 3,500 books. The city and other branches of government took over operation of the library in 1930, and in 1962 bought the property from the Woman's Club, which donated its $100,000 collection of books.

Even a mere listing of the club's other works over the years exceeds the limitations of space here. A few of them include: preservation of Fairview Cemetery; a "milk fund" for needy children in World War I; a larger relief effort in World War II, with train discounts for Santa Feans needing dental work in larger cities; support of efforts such as Kitchen Angels, Boys Ranch, Girls Ranch, Crime Stoppers, the Blood Bank, St. Vincent Hospital Cancer Treatment Center, St. Elizabeth's Center for the Homeless, La Familia Clinic, and more. And year-in, year-out, major support for the library.

In its 111-year history the club has gone through name changes and mergers with other organizations: the Benevolent Association, the Woman's Board of Trade, the General Federation of Women's Clubs. As first the library and then the cemetery operations passed into other hands, the Woman's Club official mission statement has been recast once or twice. Now it is simply: "Do whatever supports the needs of the community.

Story by Richard McCord
Photo ©2003 by Steve Northrup

Photo, left to right: Lois Magrath, Board Member; Catherine Byers, Board Member & Past Co-president 2000-2002; Bette Reeder, President 2002-2004.