In 1891, a group of prominent Seattle women founded the Woman's Century Club, a club designed for the cultural and intellectual development of its members and for social service. The club's name referred to the nineteenth century, which many women active in the suffrage movement called the Woman's Century because during that century women had made such great strides.
Meetings at Yesler Mansion
In the early days, the club met at the Yesler Mansion, which was the home of Seattle's first permanent library. After a fire at the Yesler Mansion, they met at the homes of members. At its start, the Club was educational as well as social. Early members were required to research and give a paper at one of the Club's meetings; topics from the first year included co-education and divorce. In 1896, the club hosted Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, who conducted two days of workshops and public lectures.
Charter members of the club were:
- Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947), who is credited with founding the club and was elected the first president. She went on to gain international prominence in the suffrage movement as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900-9014 and 1915-1920.
- Mrs. Alice Jordan Blake, the first woman to graduate in law from Yale University.
- Mrs. Annie M. Brown, who came to Washington from New York on the SS Continental, which carried a group of Mercer Girls, in 1866.
- Miss Mary Bell Cochrane.
- Mrs. Alsora Hayner Fry, who successfully campaigned to make the coast rhododendron Washington's state flower.
- Miss Sarah Kendall, M.D., one of Seattle's first female physicians.
- Marmora DeVoe Moody, M.D., another early physician.
- Miss Julia E. Kennedy, who served as Seattle's first woman superintendent of schools, from 1887 to 1890.
- Mrs. Elizabeth Mackintosh, who served as an enrolling and engrossing clerk in the Washington Territorial Legislature beginning in 1868, the first woman in the country to hold such a position; and who came to Washington with her sister, fellow charter member Annie M. Brown, on the SS Continental.
- Mrs. Harriet E. Parkhurst, a schoolteacher and president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Seattle in 1888-1889.
- Mrs. Celeste Langley Slauson, founder and director of the Seattle Conservatory of Arts.
The club paid the salary of the city's first librarian, helped found the Martha Washington School for Girls (a reform school), led the fight to raise the age of consent from 12 to 18; and, in 1907, successfully lobbied the city council to pass a law prohibiting spitting in public, which was believed to spread germs and disease.
During the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909, the Club sponsored an arts and crafts exhibit, and many participated in the Woman Suffrage Day in July and attended the 41st Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association held during the Exposition.
Members participated in one or more of eight departments, which were (in 1911), Literature and Travel, Music, Art, French, German, Social Service, Parliamentary Law, and Child Study. The women met in their departments "fortnightly" and each department contributed an annual afternoon program for the entire membership. These events were reported in women's newspapers and in the society sections of Seattle's dailies. For example, in 1912 the Western Women's Outlook reported that a Mrs. Vincent, chair of the Music Department was "beloved and admired by all her co-workers, she being able to get the very best work from each." That year Music Department members had studied German and Italian opera. The program given for the entire club was a reading of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Enoch Arden" accompanied by piano. "Nothing more beautiful has ever been given. This followed by a tea with its attendant hospitality is something long to be remembered" (Western Women's World Vol. 28).
The Social Service Department studied issues concerning women and children. They then devised action plans to change laws, provide needed services, and bring about improvements.
In 1925, the Woman's Century Club built its stately clubhouse at Harvard Avenue and Roy Street on Capitol Hill. The new clubhouse, a 3-story brick building, contained a main parlour, dining room, theater, and storage, as well as rooms that could be rented out for meetings. It was situated in a neighborhood that was a center for women's activities. Cornish School, founded by Nellie Cornish (1876-1956), sat cattycorner from the building, and the Daughters of the American Revolution House was under construction across the street. Prior to raising funds for its own building, the Century Club had helped fund a new clubhouse for the State Federation of Women's Clubs, located three blocks south on Harvard Avenue (this building no longer exists).
The club's political activism peaked in the mid-1920s when its 350 members helped elect a former president of the club, Bertha Knight Landes (1868-1943) for the 1926-1928 term as Seattle's first woman mayor and the first woman mayor of a major American city. In 1933 the clubhouse was the site of a reception honoring Amelia Earhart, who visited Seattle under the auspices of the club and gave two well-attended public lectures at the Civic Auditorium.
In 1941 the club held a gala celebration of its Jubilee (50th anniversary) and invited Carrie Chapman Catt, at the age of 82 the only charter member still living, to attend. She declined, travel having become difficult, but congratulated the group on the club's longevity and building the clubhouse.
Victim of its Own Success
From its heyday as a bastion of women's social and cultural life, the Woman's Century Club gradually fell victim to its own success. As women gained access to government and to the workplace, it no longer served as their primary power base. Faced with a declining membership and increasing maintenance costs, members voted to sell their building in 1967. In 1968 they sold the building, with a provision in the new owner's contract that required maintenance of the parlor in its original state as a meeting place for the club. Members continued to meet bi-monthly in the velvet-curtained parlor of the former clubhouse that became the home to the Harvard Exit movie theater. These leisurely meetings were reminiscent of a bygone era, complete with luncheons served on delicate bone china.
In 2015, the Harvard Exit Theater was sold to Eagle Rock Ventures. The furnishings, artwork, and Steinway piano from the clubhouse were sold. The Woman's Century Club found a new home for meetings at the Dearborn House, which houses the offices of Historic Seattle. Their original clubhouse/Harvard Exit Theater was renovated and now the main tenant is the Mexican Consulate of Seattle. The building is a contributing structure in the Harvard-Belmont Historic District.
Today  the club is still active. A new generation of members meets monthly in the living room at Dearborn House on First Hill and meetings include a buffet lunch and a featured speaker program mainly focused on history, arts, and woman's issues. During most of 2020, the club meetings with a monthly program, were held virtually.
The club still fosters ways for members to engage in community service together, they have several special events each year, and publish a yearbook every other year. A scholarship to an outstanding female student entering her senior year in college is awarded each year. The Woman's Century Club archives have been donated to the University of Washington Special Collections. A website and Facebook page keep them connected to the community as they enter their 130th year of continuous operation in 2021.