Martinez Woman’s Club: 96 Years Young and Still Going Strong!
By Harriett Burt
It was 1911 in Martinez. Goats and chickens were running all over the streets, garbage was strewn about, and in the summer, the mosquitoes were terrible. The ladies of Martinez were plain fed up with it. A modern California town, the county seat no less, shouldn’t have problems like these but the Town Trustees just weren’t dealing with them.
It was time for action. With the formidable Miss Aga Lander, principal of Martinez Elementary School, calling the meeting to order, 33 local ladies met in the Fireman’s Hall on October 14, 1911 to form an Improvement Club. A week later at a second meeting, 22 more ladies signed on and by-laws were discussed. The objective was the improvement of Martinez. In another week, Mrs. E. H. Shebley was elected president and Miss Leila Veale (later Mrs. A. F. Bray) was elected vice-president. These ladies may not have had the vote but they were determined to change things.
In no time, garbage cans were placed on city streets, the trustees made sure that papers were picked up, grass was removed from the streets, and they passed an ordinance requiring that all chickens and goats be penned up. The Club also made sure the Trustees hired ‘a man to spread oil every 10 days during mosquito season’.
Its most impressive early accomplishment was getting trees planted on both sides of Talbert Street leading to Alhambra Cemetery. That also became its biggest disappointment. In 1917, the same trustees had the street graded which destroyed the trees. But undaunted, the Club, by now officially part of the California Federation of Woman’s Clubs in fact and in name, kept up the pressure reminding the Trustees that the Municipal Wharf was in bad condition, the garbagemen were using “earth as a deodorizer” and stock was still running around in the streets.
Ninety-six years later, the Martinez Woman’s Club, affiliated with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs International, is the community’s oldest service club. In nearly a century, little has happened in the community, the region and the state without the Martinez Woman’s Club being involved.
- Scholarships for graduating Alhambra seniors? The Woman’s Club has been funding several annually since 1969. They recently awarded $3,000 to a graduating senior in the class of 2007
- Celebrating the California centennial and the national bicentennial? The Woman’s Club presented special luncheons and events for each and donated $500 towards the fountain in Don Ygnacio Plaza in front of City Hall.
- Assisting active servicemen and veterans? The Martinez club was the only one in the state to allow its clubhouse to be used as a hospitality center for World War II soldiers and over the years, much support has been given to the Veterans Hospital often with items such as lap robes for patients made by club members.
- Beautifying the community? Trees purchased by the Club have been planted throughout the city honoring early members of the club or as part of school projects and since 1962 the Club has participated in Pennies for Pines, a state reforestation program
- Improving health and social services? The Club helped buy a dialysis machine for County Hospital in 1971, furniture was purchased for Discovery House, money was donated to the county’s Cripple Children Society for construction of a therapy swimming pool, books were donated in 1954 for the County tuberculosis library. Special Olympics has been supported by the Martinez Woman’s Club since its inception.
- Preserving Martinez history and maintaining community pride? Goats and chickens no longer roam the streets and thanks in part to the Woman’s Club, Alhambra Cemetery is being restored to respect, the Martinez Museum is in full operation featuring a period sofa and four chairs. Club members enrolled in the Martinez Adult School upholstery class and did the restoration work themselves. The sign and the floodlights at Nancy Boyd Park were donated by the Club in 1964-65.
- Supporting new community projects? When American Field Service began its community foreign exchange student program here over 50 years ago, the Woman’s Club immediately helped out as it did when Alhambra Grad Night was founded in the 1990s. Help sustain established projects? The Boys and Girls Club, Contra Costa Food Bank, Bay Area Crisis Nursery and many other worthy projects all have been aided by money, time and handcrafted items supplied by hard-working Woman’s Club members.
The list of projects, donations and accomplishments in nearly a century could go on and on. And indeed, it is being added to currently by members led by current president, Doris Bonham, and membership chair, Stephanie Zichichi and the members, many of whom were originally members of the Martinez Junior Women’s Club which has merged with the Martinez Woman’s Club.
Over the years, the Club owned two club houses – the first on Las Juntas Street and the second on C Street next to the County Hospital. Now it meets at the Mt. View Improvement Association building, 600 Palm Avenue on the first Tuesday evening of each month. For more information, contact club president Doris Bonham at 228-1959 or firstname.lastname@example.org or membership chair Stephanie Zichichi at 372-3633 or email@example.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles on the service clubs of Martinez who have raised funds, conceived of projects, supported community activities and generally added to the life of the community for a combined total of over 300 years. The next edition will feature Martinez Kiwanis Club.