The Westport Woman's Club

History

Westport Woman’s Clubs: In 19th-Century Home, Addressing 21st-Century Issues
Click to read Dan Woog’s overview on his 06880 blog…

 

In 1907, a small group of Westport Women organized for the purpose of cleaning the town streets, caring for and planting trees and laying sidewalks. They called themselves “The Women’s Town Improvement Association”, later the name was changed to The Westport Woman’s Club.

The programs the Woman’s Club has initiated to the town are numerous. The “greening of the Post Road” and Canal Park are but two firsts. The Visiting Nurse Service was started in 1925 and funded by the Club for 35 years when it was turned over to the town in 1960. Free dental clinics, vaccination clinics, well-child clinics, tuberculosis campaigns, free milk distribution, polio saliva tests, a lending service of sickroom equipment – all these were inaugurated by the Club.

The Club pioneered classes for children with learning disabilities by conducting experimental classes with a trained teacher and volunteer for three years until the program was integrated into the local schools. The Club has worked closely with the schools on many projects from the earliest years and presently awards academic scholarships to deserving students. It was the Club that introduced the idea of “visiting teacher” to consult with parents, the counterpart of today’s Guidance Counselor. It also gave Westport its first school nurse, dental hygienist and district nurse.

In 1975 the Club started an Emergency Food Distribution Program for the local needy under the leadership of Westport Department of Human Services. It is now known as the Food Closet and continues to this day.

In sum, the Westport Woman’s Club has a successful history of answering calls for “help where needed” and in recognizing areas of need before calls for help go out.

The House

In 1945, when it became clear that the WWC’s second floor home (known as “Bedford House”) at the Post Road YMCA built by E.T. Bedford, was needed for the growing “Y” population, E.T.’s son, Frederick Bedford, sought to honor his father’s commitment to providing the WWC with rent-free space by purchasing for us a new clubhouse, the 1881 Sidney Watts house at 44 Imperial Ave. However, the gracious Queen Anne style property lacked adequate general meeting space, delaying the full relocation.

Then, in 1950, The Saugatuck Congregational Church decided to move its 1832 sanctuary building across the Post Road (the photo made the cover of LIFE Magazine) and sell its 1866 “Sabbath Meeting Hall” to a non-profit. The WWC and Frederick Bedford realized the opportunity to resolve the meeting space problem and split the cost of the acquisition, move, annexation and renovation. Remarkably, when the 1866 hall was connected to the 1881 Sidney Watts House, eyewitnesses reported that “the clapboard matched” and surmised that the connected buildings were “meant to be.”

From 1950 to 2015 the gable roofed “hall” gained a stage, a kitchen, dropped ceiling, fire sprinklers and, finally, a complete interior redesign with state-of-the-art lighting, A-V and acoustics, but–until 2015–it was known simply as “the auditorium” for monthly meetings or “the banquet room.”

In 2015, to celebrate the hall’s extensive renovation and interior redesign, and to honor the philanthropic role of the Bedford Family in providing space to the WWC since the 1920s, the Membership voted to name the space “Bedford Hall.” The Board also voted to establish “Bedford Hall Grants,” offering a once-per-year use of Bedford Hall to other non-profits for fundraising purposes.

Regular private rentals–for corporate meetings, weddings, performances, bar/bat mitzvahs, memorials services, etc.–continue to defray the costs of historical house maintenance and generate revenue for grants and scholarships. CT Braille and the Town Food Closet (a WWC joint venture with Westport Health & Human Services) continue to occupy space in the lower level.

In 2016, the WWC hosted a 150th “Birthday Bash” for Bedford Hall, which today, along with our 1881 Sidney Watts House, are models of historic preservation and adaptive re-use.