With March being Women’s History Month, members of the Hopkins Women’s Club learned about its founders and the ways in which the club has shaped the city over the course of a century.
Mary Raabe of the Hopkins Historical Society began the presentation quoting Clint Blomquist, Hopkins Historical Society founder and the club’s first record-keeper: “When the ladies of Hopkins decided in 1908 to make their town a better place in which to live, they were well capable of getting the job done.”
“We will soon see the timeless truth in his declaration,” said Raabe as she began to highlight the club’s work, which began with three founders: Emma Anderson, Minnie Truman and Phoebe Nash.
Raabe described Anderson, the founding president, as the “force behind the formation of the Hopkins Improvement League,” the club’s name until 1947.
Truman, the second founder, was a Hopkins business owner who operated a hat store, also known as a millinery store.
“She probably liked pretty things and was a big part of the beautification of Hopkins,” Raabe added.
Nash, the third founder, loved flowers and was also described as a “one-person humane society,” Raabe said, adding that “no animal would suffer if Phoebe Nash was around.”
“It is with reverence, appreciation and honor that we should recognize these amazing three women today who somehow found each other, banded together and made it their sole mission to see that Hopkins was a fairer and better place to live,” Raabe said.
When the organization was formed, Hopkins had dirt roads and wooden planks for sidewalks. Cans and old boxes were piled up in front of businesses and “rubbish adorned the alleys,” Raabe shared. “Hopkins was a developing town back then and these three women decided it was time to smooth the rough edges and spruce things up a bit.”
With dues at 25 cents a year, these three women began recruiting others, and the work began.
Within those early years, the Hopkins Improvement League encouraged business owners to clean up the sidewalks, procured spittoons and instructed the men use them, and planted flowers and shrubs throughout town.
They helped build a park complete with a bandstand on the corner of 11th and Mainstreet, where KiddyWhampus is today, and set out to beautify the front of the Minneapolis Threshing Machine building by planting a flower garden next to the trolley tracks. Nash would walk down Eighth Avenue every morning with a bucket of water in each hand to give her plants a drink.
In 1912 – a “banner year” for the club – they founded the Hopkins public library and went door to door collecting 800 books to fill the shelves, Raabe explained. They also purchased trash cans for residents and the street corners in downtown Hopkins.
Their improvement work evolved during World War I, when 270 young Hopkins men were called for duty.
The Women’s Improvement League became the Hopkins Chapter of the American Red Cross, and they sewed and knitted nearly 1,500 sweater vests and packed 200 care packages to send overseas.
In 1918, one of its members, Agnes Blake, formed a “Mothers” Club, which later became the Hopkins Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
During the Great Depression, with Blake as president, the women’s league grew a large community vegetable garden that spanned Fifth Avenue.
During World War II, the league expanded their knitting efforts – folding bandages, sewing hundreds of garments – and sent care packages. After the war, they each donated a layette to babies of war-devastated Norway and donated to European relief and German Youth organizations.
“The mid-20th century brought the birth of public works and county welfare systems,” shifting the focus of the women’s club to more of a supportive role through volunteering and raising funds, Raabe explained.
“But the club continued to keep a watchful eye by sending representatives to school board, park board and council meetings to make sure the job of keeping the city attractive and meeting basic needs were being met,” Raabe said. The club also continued to add “extras” throughout the city, such as donating a drinking fountain to Burnes Park.
In the 1960s, club membership was up to 190 women, and they focused their attention on education by starting an academic scholarship fund.
The club was also instrumental in the building of city hall in 1965 by sponsoring a highly successful ‘Get out to Vote’ campaign in support of the new building.
One project that “stands today bigger and brighter than ever,” is Downtown Park, a vision of which began in 1973 with Jeanette Blake, Agnes Blake’s daughter-in-law, writing letters to clubs and organizations to generate interest, Raabe said.
“We would not have Downtown Park as it exists today, if it weren’t for the efforts of former women’s club president Jeanette Blake,” Raabe said.
While Blake wrote that Hopkins “was a wonderful little city, it had one ‘glaring omission’ and that was ‘a park-type park’ that included a ‘small area crisscrossed with sidewalks and benches, serene for rest and relaxation close to Dow Towers.’”
Blake went on to write, “Just as it was necessary to develop parks with ball fields and playground equipment, it is just as necessary to have a quiet place to gather.”
The club donated $2,000 to the park’s development, which began with a groundbreaking in 1979.
In the 1980s and ’90s, the club expanded its volunteer hours and increased donations, including a $1,000 academic scholarship to a female Hopkins High graduate, which continues today.
The club also supports Resource West, ICA Food Shelf, Empty Bowls, Teeming Up for Teens, Feed My Starving Children, Sojourner and MoveFwd.
This spring, the Hopkins Historical Society will be installing a bronze plaque in Burnes Park to honor one of the club’s most notable members, Catherine Burnes, also known as Doc Kate, who became the first female to graduate with a medical degree from the University of Minnesota in 1886.
“Doc Kate was known for her kindness and generosity and never charged those who could not pay,” Raabe said.
The plaque will also honor her father George, an early settler and influential contributor to Hopkins, which will include one of his quotes: “Women are the civilizers of society.”
The Hopkins Women’s Club meets for a luncheon 11:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month, September through April, at Mizpah United Church of Christ, 412 Fifth Ave. N., Hopkins.
A membership application can be found online at hopkinswomensclub.org. Join an upcoming meeting or call Fran at 952-988-7914 for more information. All ages welcome.
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