After being in existence for more than a century, come September the Brookfield Woman’s Club will be no more.
The club, which was founded in 1906, is disbanding. It will hold its final meeting on Sept. 6. The club is down to only five members and the youngest is 77 years old.
“We just couldn’t go on anymore,” said Joanne Bazata, the longest tenured member of the club, who joined it in 1980. “It was too much for us. A couple of us have some health issues.”
The five remaining members are all very sad about shutting the down the Brookfield chapter after 111 years.
“We’re heartbroken over it,” said Sylvia Gauthier, the president of the club. “It’s a sad story. We’re down to only five members, and five members just cannot carry on the club. We just can’t seem to get more people involved. Everybody’s just too busy.”
The problem attracting members is not limited to Brookfield. At one time approximately 3 million women belonged to Woman’s Clubs in the United States. Now there are a little less than 80,000 members in 3,000 officially designated Woman’s Clubs located in the U.S. and 11 other countries, said Michelle Furman, the director of communications and public relations for the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The General Federation of Woman’s Clubs was founded in 1890. Early clubs fought to obtain the right to vote for women.
But changes in society and in women’s lives in recent decades has led to a decline in interest in the women’s clubs which some have seen as old and stodgy.
“As women have transitioned back into the workplace we have seen a decrease in membership,” Furman said.
Many women today feel they just don’t have time to be in a club.
“Women are working now,” said Betty Moskiewicz, the treasurer of the Brookfield Woman’s Club. “Years ago women would stay home with children and they didn’t work, and they were able to have meetings during the day.”
The Brookfield club’s other two members are Joi Zuccarello and Carol Kasnicka.
Many fraternal and civic organizations have also suffered steep declines in membership over the last few decades. The Riverside Woman’s Club disbanded decades ago, although the Riverside Junior Woman’s Charity is going strong and celebrating its 80th anniversary with 49 current members. The LaGrange Park Woman’s Club also disbanded this year and the LaGrange Woman’s Club disbanded years ago.
Like other clubs, the Brookfield Woman’s Club just could not attract new members and the aging remaining members say they just can’t do all the work they used to do.
“We have lost a lot of members, because they were getting older and a number of them have in fact passed away,” said Moskiewicz. “Two of our members are barely able to walk. Holding our functions takes a lot of effort and none of us are 20 years old. We just couldn’t do it anymore. We were sad that we had to shut down, but we couldn’t handle it anymore.”
The Brookfield Woman’s Club played a key role in the creation of the Brookfield Public Library in 1914 and have been supporters of the library ever since. The club has supported many other local causes and charities over the years. Club members helped out at the annual Christmas party for children that the Brookfield Recreation Department held at village hall.
The club is donating the last $1,000 in its treasury by giving $200 each to five groups: the Brookfield Public Library, the Taste of Brookfield, the Saint Barbara’s Food Pantry, the Wellness House, a Hinsdale based organization that provided psycho/social support to those living with cancer, and the Illinois 6th District of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Over the years the Brookfield Woman’s Club has supported the Hines Veteran Hospital and many village activities and programs.
It was much more than a social club. Back in the day it had committees that would deliver reports on books, health, gardening and a host of other subjects.
“It will be a loss to the community also, because we do a lot for the community,” Gauthier said. “It’s rather sad.”
When Bazata joined the club in 1980 it had about 40 members and a few committees. She liked the club because it was more than a social club.
“I want to contribute something, make some money [for charity] or learn something, or accomplish something,” Bazata said, distinguishing the Woman’s Club from purely social organizations like the Red Hats.
A Bunco night in November was the Brookfield Woman’s Club’s annual fundraiser.
Although the club traditionally met on the first Wednesday of the month at 1 p.m. in the basement of the Brookfield Village Hall, a few years ago the club tried holding some meetings in the evening to entice working women to join. But the change didn’t attract new members and was hard on members who didn’t like to drive at night.
Bazata said that she will miss the Woman’s Club.
“I really cherish the memories I’ve had of the Brookfield Woman’s Club,” Bazata said.
She is hoping that the Brookfield Historical Society preserves the club’s records.
“I think it’s very important that we have some records kept of our final meeting,” Bazata said.