West Concord Woman's Club 85th Birthday
Celebrated on November 12, 1987

Ann Damon, 66 years old
Edith Bailey, b. 1902
Margaret (Peg) Crosby, 77 years old
Gertrude Wheeler
Mary Lush

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

On the occasion of the 85th birthday of the West Concord Woman's Club, celebrated November 12, 1987, an oral history was conducted of five of its members during the month of September 1987. The interaction between the development of the Club and the town's history is apparent in the memories.

ANN DAMON — I am Ann Damon and I am now 66 years of age. I live at 1623 Main Street. I became a member of the Club in 1963 at the encouragement of my mother-in-law. At the time she was very active in the Club and there were about 75 members. I became president from 1970 to 1972. I also have some cousins-in-law who belong to the Club, they are Libby and Lila Damon and they have belonged to the Club much longer than I have.

The Damon family came to Concord in 1834 and I married one of the descendents. They ran the mill, the Damondale Mill. It was a textile mill. West Concord, in a sense, was the commercial end of town and it still is. It certainly has been a big help with the support of the town services and activities.

When I joined the Club, the women in the Club would pick leadership and they would start in and work up toward the presidency. We had a 2nd vice President who did hostessing, the teas and then we had the 1st Vice President who worked with programs. Then she went on to be the President which gave you six years, each of these were two years. So you had six years of working very closely with the Club. Now it seems the women will take 2nd Vice Presidency but they won't work up or they will take 1st Vice President and won't work up.

We worked on many different kinds of programs. We would send out a list of different programs that people might be interested in and let the members of the Club tell us what they were more interested in. They would check off on this list the programs they were interested in. Book Reviews was one that we had and we had some very good book reviews. In fact, there was one lady that we had back three or four times. We still have plays that members take part in and seem to have fun.

We raised money for the Club mostly by rummage sales. We had them in Thoreau School and they were held for the Scholarship Fund. Now we have the Christmas bazaar to raise money for the Scholarship Fund. There aren't many rummage sales any more. We had a garage sale but not exactly a rummage sale. When we women attended the meeting, we wore hats and gloves and I was forever losing my gloves. About the time I was President or soon after, the hairdos changed where you couldn't wear a hat, the hair was so piled up on your head.

At one time, I was active in selecting students to receive the Scholarship Fund. The students filled out applications for scholarships and we were given copies of their school records. Our committee would meet and select an applicant who we thought was deserving by looking at their school records. Then we would go and meet with the students. Our committee and other committees would meet with the students and ask them questions. Their answers were very good. They seemed to have so much poise. When I was on the committee, Ruth Hanson was the chairman and she was a very good chairman. She was very dedicated to the Scholarship Committee and so we were all but she was very special. That Scholarship Fund has increased so that last year we gave $1,000 to two students so we feel that was good.

Another activity of ours is the Veterans Hospital in Bedford. We go once a month and we take cookies and have coffee for veterans who can come into the parlor in wheelchairs and there are a few who can walk in. We have a party for them and they seem to enjoy it very much. We also take their pictures.

EDITH BAILEY — I am Edith Comeau Bailey and I was born the same year the Club was born - 1902. I've been very fortunate because I have known practically every single one of the past presidents because of different associations as I grew older.

My mother came to Concord to take care of Mrs. Browning, who was Mrs. Emily Leland's mother, during her last illness so they remained friends after that. Our neighbor was the wife of the chief engineer at the Reformatory. I'm saying this because this thing obviously started among the wives of the men who worked at the Reformatory. If you look through the list of past presidents, you'll see that all of them were associated one way or another. Mrs. Leland herself was the organist at the Reformatory for many years and she retired about 1918. But between her and this engineer's wife who lived next door and I called Aunt Maude, they persuaded mother to join. This was I think around 1912 because I was in school, but I was really a member of the Woman's Club from that time on because mother and Aunt Maude discussed every meeting before and after and in between. I felt as if I really belonged even before it was time for me to become a member.

It was a very select group. There was a great deal of class consciousness. The Reformatory ladies as we called them felt themselves to be the social arbiters of everything in Concord Junction at that time.

Concord Junction at that time was like two separate communities. We didn't have much to do with each other so they assumed the responsibility for our social activities as they were much the same as they are now. They were interested in doing charity work and good things but they were very strict about their membership.

I really enjoyed all those meetings when mother joined even though I was still in school. My mother was Olivia Anne Greenough Comeau. When it came time that it was possible for me to become a member which was probably about 1925, I became a member. When World War I came along, these women worked with other organizations in town in war work making sweaters and socks and that way they became acquainted with people whom they would never have known under other circumstances. The condition was much more relaxed by the middle or the last of the '20s.

We met in the Association Hall building. The Odd Fellows Hall was on the top floor. The floor was divided into two rooms. Half of it was a meeting room with a carpet and decorations and so forth and it was very nice, and the other room was plainer with a bare floor where they had the banquets. It was very convenient to have it right on the same floor.

The two big things that I recall other than meetings as we have them now was the gentlemen's night. That was the one meeting that was in the evening and it was very very posh. The ladies wore long gowns and if the men didn't have formal clothes, they wore stiff shirts and black ties. It was very nice. We had dinner and an extra special kind of program. Mrs. Ella Blood and her husband were on the Chautauqua circuit for years and they had access to many good entertainers. There were a lot of readers in those days as we called them, they'd do recitations. And our annual meeting was in May and I have very strong remembrances of the May luncheon.

In 1930 I went to work at a full time job and I wasn't able to be a member of the Woman's Club. So when I came back in 1962, three wars had intervened in the meantime and I was very happy to find that we were completely democratic, we're all just pals.

Association Hall was actually four stories high. One night in the thirties there was a big crowd there. It was in the evening and there was another organization there too. All of a sudden we heard this terrible bang and everybody thought something happened outside. A couple of days later they condemned it. The trusses that were holding that upper part of the building had cracked and snapped so they tore those three down. I can't remember where the Club met after that because I wasn't a member at that time. There was never another place in town that had those same facilities with that nice meeting room and a dining room on the same floor and a nice kitchen with it. So I don't know where they went after that. And I don't know where they really started but I have a strong suspicion they might have met in the houses originally. It might have started from somebody's sewing circle.

I did have a letter from Mrs. Hart, the second president. The day she died she wrote to me. I didn't know her of course but her daughter wrote to me. This was in December 1940 and in January her daughter wrote me and told me that her mother wrote me that letter and she went to the window and said "Oh, it's snowing" and sat down and passed away. Her son was the first casualty in Concord, Carl Hart was the first casualty in the Spanish-American War. Her name was Clara Hart and Mr. Hart was the superintendent of the Reformatory. She was president from 1905 to 1906. I never knew the first president, Henrietta Chase. I can't place her and I don't know which family she was. I have an idea she must have been Minister Chase's wife and mother of Judge Chase but I'm not sure. I knew Clara Hart, Ella Blood and Emma Leland personally and they all had husbands who worked at the Reformatory. Almost all the early presidents were from that group, the social arbiters.

MARGARET CROSBY — I'm Peg Crosby and I'm 77 years old. I live at 558 Cambridge Turnpike. I joined the Club in 1974. There were about 60 members at that time. My father was David Sheehan, son of Jeremiah. He was born at the family homestead at what is now Concord Green. The land ran from the original lane by the side of the house along Main Street to Baker Avenue and back to the railroad. That plot consisted of house, barn and out building and an orchard. The main farm ran from the Warren property on Elm Street to Nimrod Drive and down to the Assabet River.

When I was young there was a wonderful ice cream parlor and candy store at the present site of the Village Appliance store on Church Street, Hogan's Spa run by Mame and Charlie Hogan. It had a grand marble soda fountain and ice cream bar. They sold fancy boxed candy as well as a variety of loose chocolates which could be sold by the pound. They also sold some penny candy and the colored tissue paper we used to make May baskets.

There was another candy and fruit store at what is now the "99," run by Mr. & Mrs. Akers. That had an attached pool room in what is now the barber shop. The pool room was well run and orderly enough but in the days when everyone worked all the time, people who could shoot pool during the day were considered somewhat dubious characters to say the least.

Continuing around the corner and up Main Street opposite Carter's Furniture display tent was Jewett's Market on the land on which the brick and clapboard structure now stands.

The first floor at Association Hall housed the post office and drug store. The second floor was the hall itself where movies and dances were held and the third floor was occupied by the Odd Fellows. They had a very posh meeting place with wall to wall carpeting and green plush upholstered mahogany benches all around the hall. The Woman's Club used to meet there until the two top floors were taken off.

Though my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived in West Concord, I had a full set of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Concord so I was always integrated in both parts of town. In the old days men did their courting within a comfortable buggy ride so there were blood ties all over town and the surrounding towns. Everybody knew everybody else.

My grandfather was a great friend of Minister Batt and Minister Stone. When the Union Church was built, Grandpa contributed money toward it. Then when "Our Lady's was built, Mr. Dunlop, a member of the Union Church gave the doors to it. They were of eucalyptus wood which is supposed to last forever. At the dedication of the church, Mr. Dunlop made a little speech that even if the rest of the church fell down the doors would still be standing as a symbol of the good feeling between both churches.

I was never very "club oriented" and it wasn't until I retired in 1974 that I joined the West Concord Woman's Club and I've enjoyed it ever since. It is an exceptional group to work with. It's a very light-hearted club but not frivolous. We have made really worthwhile contributions in many fields. Everyone pitches in and gladly contributes whatever talents she has without stint.

The group I am most involved with is the "Adopt-A-Ward" project at the Bedford Veteran's Hospital. Six of us go over one morning a month and bring homemade cookies and little sandwiches. Here again, the rest of the Club responds with goodies for us to take over there. We are assigned to the medical ward. Some of the patients are so sick all we can do is help them eat and drink. Some are more alert and we talk with them. Some can't leave their beds so we stop in to visit for a minute. The fact that people care enough to go there seems to give them the biggest lift.

Our Scholarship Fundraiser, the Christmas Bell bazaar attracts many who come to do their Christmas shopping. The puppet making for the Emerson Hospital is a long time project of the Club. I think its a sense of purpose as much as anything that has kept the Club vigorous and growing.

GERTRUDE WHEELER — My husband and I and two children moved to Concord in 1948 in the spring. I think it was that fall that through the invitation of Mrs. Florence Damon I was taken to the Club and immediately, I guess, became a member. The Club has meant a great deal to me through the years. I've made many many friends in it and many of them are still around. The Club has been a very strong force in the community I think.

I lived at 1501 Main Street just before you get to Brown Street so I knew many of the people that lived in the neighborhood and of course, the Club met in the West Concord Union Church at that time. Later on we did move to the Thoreau School for a few years and then back again and meet there now of course. The Club has been an active social force. I think we have done a lot for the community in various ways.

One of the things that did happen shortly after we had moved here was the redistricting of the public school system. There had been more or less a feeling between the two sections in town and when it was suggested that Concord children should come to West Concord schools there was really an uproar by some of the people on the Concord side of Route 2 because they felt their children were going to get an inferior education if they came to the West Concord schools. But fortunately, they soon discovered that it was the same school system which was being carried on and that children made good friends in West Concord schools. So things have continued to improve from then and I think that feeling of two separate sections of town has pretty much disappeared now.

In looking through some of the old yearbooks I discovered that I joined in the fall of '48 and evidently became 2nd Vice President in the fall of '51 so I think they put a finger on me pretty fast. But I was interested and I have continued and I did have a term as President during the 1950s and then again in the 1970s we couldn't find anyone to be President of the Club. Ann Mulhall who was a very close friend of mine and had been a past president were extremely upset about this. We happened to go to a Federation meeting that spring and met a woman from another club in the state who said that the way she got people to take office was to invite them for luncheon and that they never said no to her when she asked them to take on responsibility. So I said to Ann, "Well, I'll have a luncheon and we'll ask all the possible people that we think will do a good job." So we did that and we had a very nice luncheon and we began asking people if they would be President and everyone turned us down. At the time we also needed a public relations person. So someone said "Why don't you do that, Gertrude?" And I said, "Oh, heavens, I'd rather be president than public relations person." So they said "OK, you're it." Well, I was ready to take it. It was a time in my life when it was good for me to have outside interests and so it worked out and I did have another term. I do enjoy that type of thing.

The Scholarship Fund has been a very vital part of the Club and we started raising money for that by having a very small mini-fair as it was called, and it has grown over the years to quite a sizeable event that people come to from all around really and look forward to and we've made more money every year. So that now our scholarship for a senior in Concord-Carlisle High School is quite sizeable.

Way back when we did work for the hospital it was, I guess, because my husband was an employee over there. He was a physician and worked over at the hospital and we did get started working particularly with the women patients. There were quite a few of them over there at that time. We helped them out in various ways for several years and then we found that they really wanted money rather than other things and we felt that our Club could contribute to something else for a while. Now of course, as you know from Peg Crosby's remarks, we're now back again doing some volunteer work over there and I think it's very good. But the hospital itself has changed completely, you see, and the whole focus is a little different now. I think the people that are participating in that are really doing a wonderful job, very worthwhile and I'm sure it is appreciated and it is an excellent focus for some of the Club people to do.

I was asked to update the history which had been written for our sixtieth anniversary by Florence Damon, so I did do that, and at the moment I am working on bringing it up through the past five years. The Club to me has been a big part of my life and as I look back over the years, now being 81, I find that I really have been a member for about half my life.

PEG CROSBY — Gertrude, I can't let that pass about the people in Concord being so distressed at having to come to West Concord to school. I went to West Concord to grammar school and we had a very progressive bunch of teachers and the principal was very progressive. He had new ideas on how school should be run. For instance, in those days we used to line up and march to assembly hall in the morning where the principal read the Bible and we said the Lord's Prayer and march back to music. And every once in a while the bell would ring for assembly and there wouldn't be a teacher in sight but we would all line to go so someone, usually a girl from the eighth grade, would walk up and play the piano for us to march in. Then a boy from the eighth grade would read from the Bible and we'd say the Lord's Prayer and march back. Then another bell would ring later maybe for a class and the teacher wouldn't be around so after we waited a reasonable time and she didn't come, someone from the class would get up and conduct it. That was the sort of the thing that was very progressive for its time because we were taught to stand on our feet. For another thing, we had a club from the time we were in the fifth grade and the president was rotated so you got a chance to conduct a meeting so you'd know how to act. Another thing that was kind of appalling, the principal would call out, out of the blue, in assembly hall for "Little Margaret come up and speak about your club," or "Robert, come up" and you'd get up in front of the whole place, walk up on the stage, make a speech and come back and everybody would clap dutifully for you. So we grew up to be quite self sufficient, I think. When I went to Concord High, I was appalled to find out how dumb the people were that went to Concord schools beside those that went to West Concord. I lay it all to the fact that it was our principal and the teachers we had because it was the same school system.

The principal was Mr. Beek and my school teacher in the third and fourth grade was Florence Damon, who was Miss Smith then, the prettiest teacher in the school. For kindergarten I went to the West Concord School which is now torn down, but from the third grade I went to the Harvey Wheeler which was just built then.

MARY LUSH — I joined the West Concord Women's Club around 1958 after being invited by a friend. We had lived in Concord for four years and at that time lived on Old Road to Nine Acre Corner on the Concord side of Rt. 2. West Concord and Concord had separate post offices then. Our mail came through the Concord post office.

Concord had much more of a feel of small town at that time. Parking was diagonal in the center of town. An old style Wool- worth's was located where Hallmark and Irresistables are today. The First National Supermarket was located in the center of town where the bookstore is and there was a little old-fashioned dry goods store next to Snow's. The old fire station now houses Healy's Package Store and Walden Station. Emerson Hospital was much smaller, so small that it was almost dominated by the original cottage hospital. One had the feeling of knowing all the store clerks and other people with whom you dealt.

Ann Mulhall was the president of the Club when I joined. The meetings were held at the Thoreau School with tea at 2:15 after school closed. Fortunately, the meeting began at 2:45. My children were young and it was necessary to wait for the high school bus to deliver the sitter before leaving for the meeting. I rarely had much time for tea.

In my early days in the Club I remember particularly the First Aid course some of us took which was supposed to help us deal with any emergency which might arise in a bomb shelter. These were the days when everyone was being prepared in case of nuclear attack. We were even taught how to deliver a baby.

Money for scholarships was raised by rummage sales, one in the spring and one in the fall, for many years held in the cafeteria of the Harvey Wheeler School, later in the cafeteria of the Thoreau School. The list of applicants was given to the Club after all the big givers had made their choices. Our scholarship was only $100 when I first joined and there was only one. By the time I was president, it had gone up to $150 and shortly after that it went up to $250. During my own stint as education chairman, the daughter of a Reformatory worker was chosen. She became a teacher and later married and had a family. I have always been proud of her success. The Christmas Bell bazaar which started in the early '70s as a mini-fair has made a very big difference in the amount of money available for scholarships and the rummage sales were eventually phased out.

When I went in as President in 1964, my first duty which occurred just before I actually went in was to organize refreshments for the visitors at the 19th of April celebration. Refreshments were served at the Town House and one of the celebrities was Edward Brooke. I think he was not yet Senator but he had the look of a successful politician already. This was the only time the Club ever performed this particular duty.

The janitor at the Thoreau School was always on duty during the afternoon but his work day ended at 4 p.m. and there was a great deal of pressure to end the meetings by then (by him). He often did not succeed, especially when a speaker really warmed to the subject.

One feature of my tenure as President was the coverage by the Lowell Sun. The reporter, a portly older man, usually arrived without warning, often early, ready to take pictures of everyone concerned. If told we would all be ready in a half hour, he would leave and come back much later after the meeting had started and in a much less dignified condition. Sometimes he arrived very late. He was impossible to ignore making groaning and snorting noises as he impatiently waited his chance. I remember on one occasion stopping a very understanding speaker so that we might pose for pictures and let him go on his way. It was better than having to listen to him.

For a number of years, the Club sponsored the teen center located then in the old Veterans Building on Walden Street which they shared with the Concord Players. It was always in imminent danger of being torn down because of its dilapidated condition. One of our members, Muriel Loring served heroically as volunteer director during those years and the Club often raised money for this service. Eventually this was put in the old Emerson Building and the teens raised money for their own center. It moved from Walden Street to Stow Street and it was always iffy whether it would be able to keep on going or not.

For many years the Club membership hovered around 70, give or take a few members. This year we have 101 paid members plus two members at large so just recently the Club has greatly expanded its membership.

Text mounted 21st August 2013-- rcwh.