Women’s Improvement Club

women visiting at an eventThe Women’s Improvement Club of Modesto was indispensable in securing the town’s first recreational greenspace, Graceada Park, in 1907. Early on, Club women infused civic pride into the community by ensuring beautification efforts and park development were interwoven into the fabric of community life. At a time when social virtues–such as health, prosperity, and social harmony–were said to flow from public parks, during the national City Beautiful Movement. Even the Southern Pacific Railroad noted “feminine features” appearing about Modesto. Reported the Evening News, “The Railroad wishes to emphasize just how effective this spirit, when expressed by the ladies, may be made for the development of a community,” in publicity pamphlets for riders onboard their locomotives.

The Women’s Improvement Club of Modesto was indispensable in securing the town’s first recreational greenspace, Graceada Park, in 1907. Early on, Club women infused civic pride into the community by ensuring beautification efforts and park development were interwoven into the fabric of community life. At a time when social virtues–such as health, prosperity, and social harmony–were said to flow from public parks, during the national City Beautiful Movement. Even the Southern Pacific Railroad noted “feminine features” appearing about Modesto. Reported the Evening News, “The Railroad wishes to emphasize just how effective this spirit, when expressed by the ladies, may be made for the development of a community,” in publicity pamphlets for riders onboard their locomotives.

Soon after the delivery of public irrigation in 1903, the region’s first Women’s Improvement Club, in Modesto, was founded in 1906. Referred to as the “Mother” club, Modesto women were the first to step-up and organize among the nine “federated” clubs in the San Joaquin Valley during California’s progressive era. Indeed, the face of Modesto would forever change on April 16, 1906, when forty-two women organized as charter members of the first improvement club for the purpose of park-making. Their Club motto: “We Place No Limitations on Human Possibilities.” To support their cause, the Club hosted a yearly fundraising attraction called the “Fiesta.” An outdoor festival and parade, held every June, this much-anticipated town event was created to support early park development and maintenance.

The economic tide created by irrigation, and the dramatic increase in Modesto’s population, did much to buoy the town’s treasury during the early 1900’s. This boom, along with the rising social acceptance of women’s access to civic planning and local politics-made possible by the progressive era–enabled club women and city officials to pursue urban improvements “together” for the first time in history. In future years, the Club would expand its reach to include infant health care, children’s education and library support, social justice, war-time relief, veteran burial services, among other important urban improvements.