Upon her arrival to Chester in 1904, Maud A. Hurt, wife of Dr. A.J. Hurt, the first doctor in Chester, used her time to improve life in Chester from education, religion and community service. In 1937 she brought together a few like-minded women to begin a community service organization known as the Woman’s Club of Chester. Their charter into the General Federation of Woman’s Club became effective that same year. The accomplishments from the early group resulted in the development of many firsts in Chester and 75 years later, members continue to follow the same theme given the club at the start, “Working together, we can make a difference in our community.”
Through the years, the Women’s Club has undertaken projects to improve public education, recycling, environmental concerns, and mentoring students, providing academic improvement recognition and granting scholarships to Thomas Dale, L.C. Bird and Community High Schools for college bound students.
According to Liz Welchons, publicity chairman, in a press release, “Many outstanding members have contributed greatly toward club accomplishments.” Naming a few, “Founding of the Chester Cotillion, placing of street signs, membership in the Chester Community Center, participant in historical festivals, arts exhibits, library projects, raising awareness for cancer research, raising funds for MCV Linear Accelerator, providing eye screening for day care centers, driving patients to medical appointments, volunteering at Lucy Corr Nursing Home and Chesterfield’s Camp Baker, the Christmas Mother project, volunteering at the Virginia Governor’s Mansion and public TV.
“Under the leadership of Hurt, the club was instrumental in the development of the first county library, the founding of the Chester Baptist Church, the Chester Red Cross and bringing together, in closer unity, the women of Chester to promote through common interest, social civic and cultural welfare.
“During World War II, the club members assisted in civil defense as plane spotters by climbing an observation tower located on Curtis Street. They kept in close contact from the International Affairs Department on the latest news and developments throughout the war.”
Welchons stated that membership grew to 170 members during peaceful times and involved women from all walks of life. Some notables included Dr. Clark, one of the first female doctors to graduate from MCV School of Medicine; Dorothy Armstrong, who was instrumental in establishing the John Rolfe Players; and active member Phyllis Bass, who initiated the development of the current YMCA and the Chester Street Light Project.
Today, the club supports the building of the Chesterfield Center for the Arts, under the leadership of member Betty Mathews, who is chairman of the Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation. Completion of the art center would be another first for the community.
Pat Mercer serves as the club president today. She also served as president during their 60th anniversary. Part of the club’s anniversary celebration includes a tea at Magnolia Grange for its members and past-presidents in April. They also are preparing for their annual fashion show and luncheon, which is their only fund-raiser. The show will reflect fashion through the ages, 1930s through today, with a theme of “Celebrating 75 years of Community Service in Chester.”
“The club has done so much for the community,” Mercer said. “We need to celebrate and let the community know what we have done over the years.” The fashion show will have seven models in vintage clothing; and 10 models in current fashions provided by Dillard’s.
Mercer said the club has 45 active members today but it is an aging club. “We are an aging club, the average age is in the 70s,” she said. “We need new members. For me, I am just glad to have been a part of it and meet the women of the club.”
In celebrating its 75th anniversary, the club extends its appreciation to the community for its support and most enthusiastically invites women who share the ideal of serving the community to join them for a meeting and perhaps to become an active member. The club meets on the first Monday evening of each month. Contact Woman’s Club of Chester, P.O. Box 3074, Chester, Va. 23831.
The club’s Spring Fashion Show will be held Saturday, March 17 at 11 a.m. at Chester Baptist Church. Tickets are $20. For ticket information call Gayle Murman at 743-7695.