Debe Edden’s fingers are busy typing stories from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. She is volunteering for the Woman’s Club of Olympia and is energized and committed to archive and digitize the rich history of this local service organization.
Since 1883, local women gathered for self-improvement and volunteerism. They wrote articles, essays, and short plays that provide insight into early settlement life and mores of the time – all of this being specific to Olympia.
Current President Gail O’Sullivan realized that the plethora of documents was crumbling. She recognized the intrinsic value of the collection and refused to allow this part of Olympia’s history to turn to dust. Hence, a huge archiving project is underway.
You’ve probably driven by the large blue building on Washington Street near the downtown Olympia Timberland library branch. If so, then you’ve seen the Abigail Stuart house built in 1908. The Woman’s Club of Olympia meetings are still held there. Early members of the Woman’s Club bought the building and have maintained it ever since. Restorations and remodels due to fire, age and earthquake damage are part of its history. For fascinating details, you can read about the clubhouse history.
These early residents of Olympia who became WCO members were women of means who wanted to expand their knowledge and to do outreach to the poor and sick. The members were required to complete homework assignments, including written reports on topics with titles such as Microbes and the Prevention of Disease and the Dual Nature of Humans. Women wrote about friendship and the use of words. The earliest papers were handwritten, but in 1910, someone with access to a typewriter took the time to type many of the pieces. There are literally stacks of papers along with photographs to archive.
Descriptions of life at the turn of the century can be found in the pages. For example, Mrs. Percival wrote about the swivel canon on the corner of 4th and Capitol Way. It was in place to keep Indians from coming ashore. Ponder that a moment… that’s not the location of the current shoreline. Aren’t we fortunate to get glimpses into Olympia’s early history? It was this club that donated the books to the first library in town. O’Sullivan (of Fertile Ground) loves connecting stories to the many photographs on the walls of the Stuart House. Now a talented team with support from The Evergreen State College is in place to sort, edit, categorize, arrange and scan both papers and photos into forms that can be downloaded for anyone to enjoy.
The club has boxes of typed essays. Edden, Artistic and Managing Director of Heartsparkle Players, sees the importance of and value of preserving Olympia’s history. She’s been part of the Olympia community for 42 years and loves making connections with people. “I believe in looking at our past – looking at it, honoring it and moving forward.” Volunteering as a typist is a way for her to help out.
There are two original one-act plays. The first, by Goldie Funk, depicts the first regular meeting of the club. The second is called Shoot the Moon, Shoot the Stars, Even Send a Rocket to Mars, but Not Soon by Allene H. Kearns. Used for entertainment and fundraising, I’m wondering if either will be brought back for a revival. Imagine the reactions to hearing that people of the time thought women who became club members would be ‘unsexed.’
The Woman’s Club of Olympia is connected with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Meetings are held on a monthly basis and the club is actively seeking new members. For more information about current projects and service opportunities, please contact the Woman’s Club at email@example.com or 360-753-9921.
Typists are needed to keep the archiving project moving forward. One need not be a member to help out. You can easily volunteer online. Walk on part of local history if you choose to rent out spaces in the Abigail Stuart House for receptions and other special events. The Stuart House and the Woman’s Club of Olympia are two of our local treasures.