Women's History Month

Women's History Month

Women's Clubs in Champaign County

3/22/2024 | Angela Whitlock, CSRA


The formation of women’s clubs began shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, with the first women’s organizations officially formed by 1868. The formation of such clubs was spurred by the fact that women had limited opportunities for things outside of the home. Many of the first women’s clubs consisted of white, middle-aged women who had both leisure time and limited access to higher education. Initially, these new organizations were primarily social clubs that focused on certain subjects of interest, such as law, music, liberal arts, or the sciences.

Over time, these organizations moved beyond existing as just social clubs. They began to expand the space women occupied, from the home to the community. Women began using the skills they honed within the domestic sphere, such as organization, to focus on socio-political issues, such as community service, suffrage, education, and racial equality.


One of Champaign County’s first women’s club was formed on October 30, 1876 by Mary Healy and several other women. It was called The Art Club, and its original purpose was to “advance the knowledge of and love of Art and Literature and to promote the Art of Conversation.” The club examined eras of art and focused on subjects within art history by having members prepare papers and invite guest speakers to discuss various topics. The Art Club worked with the USO during World War II to provide a Christmas party at Chanute Air Force Base for hospitalized soldiers. The club celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1976.

Another one of the first women’s clubs in Champaign County was the Fortnightly Club, formed on March 20, 1895 in the home of Mary Elizabeth Bowen Busey. There, fourteen women met to discuss the organization of this new club, which ended up meeting bi-monthly at different member’s houses to discuss literature, world events, the status of women, and to hear from guest speakers. The club also attended plays, musicals, and poem recitals. The Fortnightly Club dissolved after 124 years of operation, on September 10, 2018.

Originally called The Tuesday Club, the Homer Women’s Club is also an early established women’s club, formed on January 28, 1898. The members of the Homer Women’s Club were required to follow the principles of the organization, which included intellectual curiosity and social gatherings. After roughly ten years of operation, the club began to focus on community service projects, one of which led to the creation and care of Women’s Club Park near the Wabash railroad tracks.


Other noteworthy women’s clubs of Champaign County include: League of Women Voters, which encourages active, informed participation from citizens in government and works to increase understanding of public policy issues; The Medra Club, which regularly supported local service organizations such as United Way of Champaign County or the McKinley YMCA, among others; the Tuesday Morning Musical Club, a music performance club for women by women that advances the interests and promotes the culture of musical art within the community, and is still in operation today; and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), formed in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune. In its operation today, the NCNW continues to work to improve the Champaign County community, and has hosted several events over the years, including Wealth of Music, and Evening of Cultural Diversity.


The Museum of the Grand Prairie has previously showcased the impact that some of these women have made through our previous exhibit, How Long Must Women Wait? Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights in Champaign County. We also house several paper artifacts from the Busey family, some of which are letters written to and from Mary Elizabeth Bowen Busey, and have worked extensively with the National Council of Negro Women to complete the exhibit The Legacy is Yours, which was originally a physical exhibit and currently exists online. Click here to view this exhibit. 

There are many more women’s clubs that have formed throughout Champaign County’s history. The tremendous impact that they made deserves the utmost recognition and appreciation. 


Sources: News Gazette (online), The Urbana Free Library Local History and Genealogy Digital Exhibits (online)

Image Credit: The Urbana Free Library Local History and Genealogy Digital Exhibit, The Art Club section. Photograph entitled “The Art Club Picnic,” year unknown, published with permission.