Its unassuming clubhouse is located only a half-block off the Sonoma Plaza, overlooked by visitors drawn to nearby restaurants, the mission and historic adobes.
But for more than a century the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club has played an integral role in civic improvement and service projects. They included beautifying the plaza when it looked more like a pasture than a park, and helping save the San Francisco de Solano Mission after it was damaged by the 1906 earthquake and became a place to store hay and wine casks.
The organization’s profile has fluctuated, but after 115 years it’s still raising money for charitable causes, albeit with an older group of members involved with low-key, charitable projects.
“The Woman’s Club in Sonoma is one of the best kept secrets. A lot of people don’t know we exist,” President Dorothy Lund said.
But Lund and others in the 80-member club are looking to change that by bringing in younger blood and broadening participation in philanthropic projects.
This week marks the centennial of the completion of the 1916 clubhouse on First Street East, providing an opportunity for an open house Saturday intended to highlight the role of the organization and some of its good deeds.
The Craftsman-style building designed by noted architect Brainerd Jones will have historic displays along with refreshments served from 1 to 3 p.m.
The Sonoma City Council is recognizing the anniversary with a proclamation noting how the women raised funds to build their clubhouse — putting on a luncheon on the plaza, renting rooms to visitors and charging sightseers to visit General Vallejo’s home.
Its early handwritten minutes have numerous references to purchasing benches, planting grass and trees, obtaining loads of dirt, gravel and fertilizer, and paying a young man to water the trees.
In some instances, the city’s male trustees, precursor to today’s City Council, were reluctant to chip in any money for improvements but the women “were able to persuade people and make a huge change in the City of Sonoma,” said City Councilwoman Madolyn Agrimonti, a member of the club.
Lund said club members “were able to wheedle the men, the townsfolk, to get these things done.”
The woman’s club petitioned town trustees to enforce the ordinance prohibiting cows from roaming at large. They also were given permission to install a fountain on the plaza, at the end of Broadway, with one for horses, one for dogs and one for humans to drink.
The women put on balls, and held card parties and doll shows to raise money.
The club established and staffed the first library in Sonoma in 1903 and eight years later initiated a grant application for the Carnegie Library that replaced it.
Lund noted there were women’s clubs established before Sonoma’s, in Petaluma, as well as in Santa Rosa under the name Saturday Afternoon Club.
Women’s Clubs gained momentum around 1890 and by 1906 there were 5,000 across the country under the umbrella of General Federation of Women’s Clubs, with a progressive agenda that included the establishment of an eight-hour workday and an end to child labor.
All of this was before women gained the right to vote in 1920.