Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Public protection of maternity and infancy, prohibition of child labor throughout the United States, instruction in citizenship for youth, and equal pay for equal work.
Those were the four guiding principles that were established by Elizabeth Schenck Smith and other board members when the Fort Leavenworth Women’s Club was founded in 1920.
Now known as the Fort Leavenworth Spouses’ Club, the group has gone through several name changes and changes of focus during its 100-year history.
“(Smith) organized the club in response to the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the United States,” said Emily Hetherington, FLSC historian. “At the time, women who lived on military installations had no ‘state of legal residence’ and were only able to register to vote in the state in which the military installation was located. Men, on the other hand, could request absentee voting in their state of legal residence or vote in the state in which they were stationed.
“This greatly bothered Elizabeth Schenck Smith, and she helped organize women to protest this injustice,” she said. “The founders believed that through the organization, certain purposes and ideals of women could be accomplished, which individual women or individual groups cannot bring about.”
Along with Smith, other founding board members were vice president Maribel Croft, secretary Margaret Naylor and treasurer Kate Ward.
Hetherington researched discs of information at the Combined Arms Research Library about the club’s history and documented information to display at the Super Sign-Up event Sept. 9 and the club’s first luncheon Oct. 14, which celebrated the 100th anniversary.
She organized the information by decade.
“It’s been really interesting to go through all of (the archives), especially the fashion,” Hetherington said. “The fashion, especially when you get into the 50s and 60s and 70s with the hair, some of those pictures were so funny.”
Following the information about the club’s founding years in the 1920s, Hetherington said the 1930s were sparse on information, probably because of the Great Depression, but things picked up again in the 1940s.
“In the 1940s they went into World War II mode,” Hetherington said.
The women of the club supported the war effort by creating 52,865 surgical dressings between October 1942 and April 1943, putting on concerts and dances to boost troop morale, and donating hundreds of baked goods to the United Service Organizations.
The women also supported the community by adding new material to the library, helping with housing needs on post, creating an annual schedule of events to keep families entertained, and providing Christmas trees for the children on post.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, the organization started to grow more into what the club is today, Hetherington said.
Sub clubs were created for women with common interests and hobbies, such as bridge, knitting and sewing, reading and more. The monthly luncheons featured speakers like former President Harry Truman and Harold Tivol of Tivol Jewelry of Kansas City. The club also focused more on community outreach and fundraisers for local charities.
As the club shifted to more modern day from the 1990s to present day, the club created additional sub clubs and the Fort Leavenworth Spouses’ Club Scholarship and Community Assistance Grant programs and continued annual events like the Holiday Bazaar and the Golf Scramble.
The current state of the world is an example of why the charitable giving is something that will continue as long as the club is around, Hetherington said.
“For the local community, right now, there is so much need with the pandemic, and I think that it just goes to show how unpredictable things can be,” Hetherington said. “You never know when things are going to get completely turned upside down and the need will be greater than ever. It’s important that the club continue that.
“I think they recognized that, too, in the 70s and 80s,” she said.
As the club has developed and changed over the years, Hetherington said one theme has remained prevalent.
“I think the most important thing for the spouses’ club is to make sure the families and the spouses know that they are supported and that when they get here there is a community ready to welcome them and to make sure that they are not only connected to different resources, but that they’re connected to people,” Hetherington said. “That’s been the important mission throughout the whole history of the club — to bring people together. That hasn’t changed.”
Hetherington said she thought that was a big part of why the FLSC has been able to sustain itself for a full century.
“In the military community, as much as people move and relocate, as a spouse it does sometimes feel like you’re leaving your friends behind and you are moving to this new place where you might not know anybody there,” she said. “Just to know going in that there is a spouses’ club there … so that I can plug into that as soon as I arrive, I think it makes it easier to transition from place to place because there are already people working to connect me to new people and new friends.”
For more information about the FLSC, visit http://www.fortleavenworthspousesclub.org/.