History of GFWC Woman’s Club of Tallahassee
Nestled among the oak trees at the entrance to Los Robles is a stately structure – the Clubhouse for the GFWC Woman’s Club of Tallahassee. Since its completion in 1927, this historical landmark has been the site of countless civic, social, educational and entertainment events.
Six local ladies met for tea at the downtown Leon Hotel (now the site of the Federal Courthouse). They emerged from the Hotel not just as individuals, but as an enthusiastic community service group, organized and ready to go to work improving life in Florida’s Capital City.
The Club’s influence was felt almost immediately. Members soon persuaded City officials to: Screen the city’s open air market; Place sidewalks on Monroe Street; Improve the railroad station; Plant trees; and Keep the cemetery in order.
In keeping with the philosophy of “strength in numbers”, the local Club decided to extend its outreach. So 1905 saw its affiliation with the national group known as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC).
Education was also a high priority. The ladies organized and operated the City’s first kindergarten. They were distressed that the high school age students had no building of their own, so members devised a plan. They canvassed every property owner in the School district and brought about a referendum to raise taxes for construction of the first Leon High School building.
The fundraising effort was a success, the building was built on land between Duval and Bronough Streets facing Park Avenue, and students began classes there in 1910.
When Leon High outgrew the space in the late 30s, and moved on to its current location, Lively Vocational School became the new occupant. Then in later years, Lively School moved, the structure was torn down and replaced by the Collins Leon County Public Library building. At that time, the original cornerstone for the first Leon High Building was given to the Woman’s Club and now graces the left wall of the entrance portico of the Clubhouse.
The next big project was acquisition of property and construction of the Clubhouse. The beautiful Mediterranean Revival styled edifice opened in 1927 and has been the center of community activities ever since. Additions and renovations have taken place through the years, and the Clubhouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1987. During the celebration of its 110th year, an official State Historic Marker was placed at the Clubhouse entrance. Issued by the Florida State Historic Preservation program, it is number 770 in the State, and only the 35th for Leon County.
Over the years, the GFWC Woman’s Club of Tallahassee has remained at the center of community activities and service. During World War II, Club members turned the building over to the American Red Cross for multiple uses in the war effort, and Club luncheon meetings were held in a downtown hotel.
Many local charities have benefited from the outreach of this Club. Some of these are: Big Bend Hospice, Pace Center for Girls, Operation Prom Dress, Gretchen Everhart School, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Project Annie, The Dyslexia Research Institute, Woodland Hall Academy, Pyramid Players, Refuge House, Chelsea House, Sharing Tree, Lighthouse Children’s Home, Leon County Humane Society, Second Harvest Food Bank, Raa Middle School, Foster Children in Leon County, Manna on Meridian, Vietnam Veterans, Tallahassee Community College Scholarship Program, Kids Vote, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House, Lake City Veterans Hospital, Lighthouse for the Blind, and the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Seminar (HOBY).
The Club has long supported beautification of the Cities parks and public areas and was particularly active in the years when preservation of our beautiful oak trees became a very hot topic. Charter members of the Club assisted in the planting of trees in the downtown City parks and also in the Los Robles area. When the widening of U. S. 27 South leading up to the Capitol entrance was completed, and it was designated as a Blue Star Memorial Highway, Club members were busy raising money and then personally putting plants in the ground to beautify the new entrance to the Capitol.
Historic preservation in general has been a major interest. The Club was active in the relocation and preservation of the Historic Union Bank Building and also assisted in the restoration of the Historic Los Robles Gate.
Some tag lines given to the GFWC Woman’s Club of Tallahassee — ”the heart of Tallahassee” and “Tallahassee’s oldest civic organization”. Add to that “its beautiful Clubhouse — the Crown Jewel of Midtown”.
As time marches on, the Woman’s Club will still be a vital part of life in Tallahassee, as its members continue this legacy of historic preservation and service to the community.
1903 Miss Anna S. Chaires †