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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Woman’s Department Club

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Organization celebrates centennial of empowering women

The Women’s Department Club of Shreveport celebrates a historic milestone: 100 years of empowering area women.

The Women’s Department Club is (WDC) one of Louisiana’s oldest continuously functioning women’s clubs and was founded in 1919 when there were limited educational opportunities for women. In May, the club will laud its longevity and contributions to the community with its “A Century of Women” centennial celebration. Attendees can walk through the organization’s past and a look ahead to the future as they explore the building’s auditorium and second floor levels.

“We are excited and honored to still be here after 100 years,” said new WDC Manager Donna Philiips. “It’s amazing some of the things the women accomplished ... the women back then bought two airplanes for Barksdale Air Force Base during World War II.”

Originally a book club, the WDC evolved into a place where women could come together to educate and learn from one another about topics ranging from art and music to life skills such as cooking. Construction on the historic building was complete in 1925 with the costs of land and construction completely funded by founding members through donations and fundraisers such as bazaars, silver teas and dances. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The club’s 400-seat auditorium has hosted its share a visitors and events. Notably, silver screen legend Katharine Hepburn performed in the original “Philadelphia Story” in the 1940s. A host of concerts and speakers, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost, also graced the stage.

Members have always prided themselves on their service to the community as well. Those airplanes the club gifted to Barksdale Air Force Base during WWII? Members sold U.S. Savings Bonds to finance the purchase of the aircrafts, and club members fashioned pieces of their fur coats into vests for pilots to wear under their flight gear in the unheated planes.

During the 1920s through 1940s, club membership was in high demand. Phillips says a waiting list was established once membership numbers reached 1,600. The club’s current membership stands at 120 women, with members ranging from 28 to 92 years of age.

Currently, the women’s organization offers weekly programs and monthly book reviews. Art, education, entertainment and home enhancement programs for 2018-2019 include a Gabriel Balderas cooking demonstration, violin performance by Mary- Eileen Grant, and an art demonstration by Marilyn Crouch.

Featured speakers at the centennial program, including folk musician Elizabeth DiSavino, will honor Women’s Department Club founder Dr. Katherine French, as well as past presidents and lifetime members. The centennial celebration will also feature performances by local actress Seva May, soprano Gail Odom and the Shreveport-Bossier Choir. Guests will also enjoy heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine and a cash bar. Emcee Liz Swaine will host the event.

The Women’s Department Club “A Century of Women Celebration” will be held Saturday, May 18, from 6 to 9 p.m. at 802 Margaret Place in Shreveport. Dress is era cocktail from the past century. Call (318) 222-4186 for more information.

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