Prior to having the vote and legal rights, women found ways to have some power in society by banding together in local social organizations known as women’s clubs. However, real power happened when the smaller individual clubs joined together in coalitions.
The first phase of the “Club Woman Movement” began with Jane Cunningham Croly (1829-1901), a journalist working in New York. Croly was a respected author, journalist, publisher, wife and mother, but still found time to get together with other women to discuss the changing role of women in society. When she and several other female journalists were denied tickets to see Charles Dickens speak, she decided it was time for women to formally unite. She founded the first club for women professionals. It was called Sorosis and was designed to be a “centre of unity” that had neither a charitable nor socio-economic purpose, but sought “collective elevation and advancement”.
Over the next decade, more women’s clubs arose across the nation. Historically women had often been denied access to educational opportunities. The professional clubs were a place to learn, share, and grow with other women. The clubs addressed social issues along with women’s issues and became motivated to make a difference in women’s lives. Knowing that there is strength in numbers, in 1890 Croly wisely created a national coalition of these individual women’s groups which led to women having real influence in society even before getting the vote. It was called the Greater Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC).
In response to a very nasty racist letter by a male editor, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin sent out a “call to confer” to Black women's groups across the nation. Delegates from these various clubs met in 1896 in Washington D.C and having seen the success of other women’s groups joining together to get things done, the National Association of Colored Women was formed. Mary Church Terrell brilliantly organized the many diverse groups into compatible categories in order to create strength and unity. The group changed its name to the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1904. (For more information on the formation of the NACWC see SuffragetteCity100 Episode 45.)