It was 1904. President Theodore Roosevelt was elected to a second term. The Russo-Japanese War began. There were 8,000 cars in the country, hustling about at a 10 mph speed limit, and only 144 miles of paved roads. Only 8 percent of American homes had a telephone, and a 3-minute call from Denver to New York cost $11. The X-ray machine, the baby incubator, the dishwasher and the ice cream cone all made their debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
The new 20th century was kicking up its heels. There were big changes in politics, education, science and literature, many of which were set off by women.
Author Ida Tarbell had just come out with her incendiary “muckraking” bestseller, History of the Standard Oil Company. Mary McLeod Bethune, a noted educator and leader of the black women’s club movement, opened the first Negro girls school in Daytona Beach, Florida. Games inventor Elizabeth “Lizzie” J. Magie Phillips was granted a U.S. patent for “The Landlord’s Game,” the precursor to Monopoly. Women’s suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony, at 84, was still hard at work.
And in Santa Monica suffragette and community activist Elmira Stephens organized “The History Class”, a group of women that met to discuss history and current affairs. The first meeting of this study group was held in the home of Miss Elizabeth McLaughlin, on the corner of Fourth Street and Wilshire Boulevard.
By 1905, with Elmira as president, “The History Class” became the Woman’s Club of Santa Monica now known as the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club and still today upholding the mission of “The History Class” of “the advancement in all lines of culture, education, welfare, service and civic affairs.”
Nine years later in 1914, under the inspirational leadership of Elmira T. Stephens, the women of Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club opened their magnificent Clubhouse on Fourth Street, Santa Monica. Designed by architect Henry Hollwedel, with funds provided in part by Arcadia Bandini Baker De Stearns, the Clubhouse became a hub of activity, a place to meet and socialize, but also a place to raise money for social causes – a center to organize, to educate, and to celebrate.
In its early years the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club raised money to found the building of the Orphans’ Home of Los Angeles and in 1919 established a free Well Baby Clinic in the Clubhouse. Thousands of infants, and their mothers, were cared for by two trained nurses and the Club’s doctor, until this service was taken over by the Santa Monica Hospital in 1958. The narrow side tables that can be seen in the Clubhouse today are part of the legacy of the clinic – they were built specifically for baby changing.
It was not long after the inauguration of the Clubhouse that war broke out. During WWI, the Club held dances for servicemen, organized Red Cross knitting circles, sold war bonds and sponsored a WAVES recruiting station. An estimated fifteen to twenty thousand people attended the dances for servicemen in just eighteen months.
The Elmira T. Stephens Fund was established in 1927 to honor the memory of “Mother” Stephens. The fund, which is still active today, raised money for scholarship awards to assist able and talented young people to fulfill their potential. Each year a select group of students from Santa Monica High School apply for the award and for many successful candidates it is the beginning of a long relationship with the Club.
In 1937 a bequest from the estate of Laura E. Hubbell was set up to help the indigent women of Santa Monica and, in a continuation of that work, the Club has very recently made donations to Sojourn, the Rape Crisis Center, and WISE Senior Services. In addition the Club has raised money for the 826LA literacy project, Doctors without Borders and National Rescue Dogs. By donating to Pennies for Pines the Club is reforesting National Parkland at the rate of two acres per year.
On April 8, 1991 the Clubhouse was designated a City of Santa Monica Historical Landmark.
Today, at 106 years old, the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club celebrates its traditions while ensuring that the Club continues as a social meeting place and a center of community service.