THE WOMAN’S CLUB OF LEESBURG
HIGHLIGHTS OF OVER 100 YEARS OF COMMUNITY SERVICE
Our History: Serving the Leesburg Community since 1909 our Club owes its start to a man named H.S. Budd and we don’t even know what his initials stand for! Lake County Biographies tell us this man was born and educated in England and came to Florida with one of the first English Colonies to settle in Fruitland Park around 1885. He was well known in the banking business and his biography says, “He was very public spirited and helped every good cause”. Legend tells us it was this man who put out a call to local women to band together “for the purpose of aiding, improving, and beautifying the town”. Eighteen women answered the call at the Town Hall on October 20, 1909. Mr. Budd’s wife was apparently pressed into this service because records show Mrs. H. S. Budd was one of the first vice-presidents! This must have been a dynamic group of 18 women because by the next month, they had grown their membership to 84!
They wanted members who would participate in efforts to change Leesburg for the better, and they charged themselves dues for the privilege to belong to this elite group of self-starters! At 25 cents each, they had an initial investment of over $20. We can only imagine what they did with that money. It must have been obvious to them that it was worth their investment to better their town because by June 1911, less than two years later, they voted to raise their own dues by 300% to $1.00.
These early members took up Mr. Budd’s challenge to improve and beautify the town in a big way. In 1910 they were successful in petitioning the Town Council to pass an ordinance prohibiting cattle from running wild on the streets. By 1914 the town livestock were once again allowed to roam through town and the women took charge of the situation! They met with city officials and insisted the town be cleaned up from roving cows and crackling chickens! They demanded action to clean up the livery stables to reduce the pesky fly population. The women wanted a city park and started the effort by taking action to have fences built to hide the public privies. They worked to have the wooden sidewalks “cleaned up on Saturday nights”.
In the early years, the Club met anywhere they could find an available space: the Town Hall, the Library, the First National Bank, the Magnolia Hotel, the Armory, and the First Baptist Church. In 1919 the Club decided to buy a lot on 6th Street for their clubhouse. They awarded the construction contract at a cost of $16,270. The Club held its first meeting in the new building on October 9, 1922, and hosted a grand reception in December the same year.
Here are more of the milestones and accomplishments in those early years…
On April 10, 1910, the Club was granted membership in the Florida Federation of Woman’s Clubs and in the same year, the Bignonia (Flame) vine was adopted as the Club flower.
In 1923, the Club organized a Child Welfare and Educational Committee, later named the Mother’s Club which evolved into the Leesburg PTA.
In 1924, the Club organized Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.
In 1926, member Fran Hanford was appointed as a representative on the committee to select the site for the new Leesburg High School.
In 1928, the Club passed a proposal to support the public library and the Club has continued that effort to this day.
The Club hosted the first Leesburg Flower Show at the clubhouse on March 29, 1930.
In 1933, the debt on the building was reduced to $2,600.
In 1939-40, the Club sponsored the development of a Junior Woman’s Club.
In 1942, the Women traded the right to use one of their meeting rooms to the American Legion in exchange for assuming the balance of the mortgage--$1,200.
In 1943-44, the Women sold savings bonds and netted $32,000 in profit for the Club! In 1944-45, they held a second sale and raised another $80,000! That’s $112,000…IN 1945!
In 1946, the clubhouse was sold for $18,000. It appears the Club was “homeless” again for a few years. In 1947-48, the Club adopted the theme “Together We Build” for a new clubhouse. We know they borrowed up to $15,000 to complete the project at 700 S. 9th Street which was completed for the first meeting held there on October 10, 1949.
On December 27, 1949, the Club sponsored the inaugural Poinsettia Debutante Ball held in the new clubhouse with 29 young ladies presented. This beautiful event became an annual highlight of the Christmas season that continued for 31 years, ending in 1980.
The 1950’s was a decade of fun with the Club participating in our Leesburg antique car shows, Christmas Bazaars, the 1958 Leesburg Centennial Celebration, and the Club’s 50th Golden Anniversary Tea celebration where 19 past presidents were honored by a group of 175 members and special guests in attendance.
Over the years, the Club was supporting the concept of a public hospital in town and after several fundraisers the Women proudly donated $6,500 to the project in 1963. Together with the Junior Woman’s Club, the Women helped organize the Pink Lady Auxiliary at the hospital that same year.
In the 70’s, the Club continued its civic outreach in the community. Funds were donated to the Lake Sumter Community College for a nursing scholarship. The Club sponsored the Lake County League of Women Voters. By 1976, the year of our nation’s bicentennial, the Club had 294 members! The Club hosted a public “Americana” exhibit on July 4th and 5th to celebrate the 200th birthday of our country and fundraising continued for various causes.
In 1981, on May 11, the Club enjoyed a “mortgage burning ceremony” after the final payment had been made on the clubhouse mortgage, and the Club made a $1,000 contribution to the city to help fund the road paving around the clubhouse.
Also in the early 80’s, Club member Lillie Mathews was the State Director of the Special Olympics and she helped organize a Lake County Special Olympics Chapter. The Club then sponsored an art poster contest for the new Special Olympics organization and awarded cash prizes and ribbons to the winners. The Club continued fundraising efforts to benefit the Leesburg Library, local teachers and education projects including a student newspaper called “Kind News” that fostered the value of kindness towards people, animals, and the Earth.
The highlight of the 90’s for our Club came in 1995 when we hosted a Centennial Tea to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of GFWC District 7. The event required “hat and white gloves”.
On to the new century and a major milestone in our Club’s history, in 2001 we received approval for federal non-profit organization 501(c)3 status. This important recognition helps us in our fundraising efforts, especially with businesses that donate goods and services so they are able to use our tax ID to deduct their contributions from their tax liability.
Also in 2001, we worked with the City of Leesburg to revitalize our downtown area by starting a litter pick-up project that continued for many years.
In those early years of the 21st Century, we were busy also with funding and accomplishing many repairs and upgrades to our clubhouse that would prove to be worthwhile in enhancing the value of the building.
In 2005-06, an Evening Auxiliary Group was formed to accommodate working women and young mothers in the community who wished to become members.
Around 2008, the Club developed a relationship with the Leesburg Center for the Arts with a $250 donation. That partnership continues to serve us well, especially when we need a place for our members to work on our art projects or event programs!
On October 9, 2009, at our clubhouse, we hosted a lavish Centennial Celebration Open House, with City, County, and State officials who came to acknowledge our relatively small but powerful band of women who have contributed so much to the development of Leesburg over our rich 100-year history.
Over the next few years, so many projects and fundraising events were held to benefit our charities, many of which we continue today, such as the annual Fashion Show, our continuing major Club effort. Others worth mentioning were a Mother’s Day Luncheon, the Pecan sale, Mother’s Day jewelry collection for students at the Leesburg Elementary School to “shop” for their mothers. Other projects with our schools included a Dr. Seuss Day, filled Easter eggs, reading programs, book drives, donated school supplies, box top collections, and Thanksgiving food baskets.
2015 marked the beginning of our social media Facebook page. That avenue of communication will become a driving force in the future development of our membership and will provide a great way for us to communicate our programs to the Leesburg community.
In 2016, the membership voted to sell the clubhouse building. We sold it and continue to hold the proceeds in investments for the purpose of fostering our mission of community service. The freedom from owning and maintaining a building has freed our members of time, responsibility, and financial worry. Renting space for our meetings has proven to be far more practical.
2018-2019 proved to be a time of adjustment as we moved our general meetings over to the new Salvation Army building Their beautiful facility was an excellent space for us and we appreciated their hospitality as we awaited the completion of the Leesburg Community Building at Venetian Gardens.
The Venetian Center became our new meeting place in January 2020. The years 2020 and 2021 proved to be a challenge for all. A world-wide pandemic changed the way we communicated by bringing “zoom video conferencing” into our lives. The Club rose to the challenge and remained healthy in their donations, largely due to a $10,000 grant to keep the Club viable. We were able, with social distancing and masks, to continue art projects and meet for smaller fundraisers. 2021 brought a new avenue of revenue called Smile Amazon, where Amazon gives our club a percentage of the proceeds of Amazon orders purchased by our family and friends. We found that arts and crafts were a stress reducer and a great way to bond as a club. We are grateful to the city of Leesburg for providing us with a meeting location at Rogers Park Building for free during these interesting times.
The Club advertises and promotes events and membership in the Melon Patch Playbill, Daily Commercial Calendar of Events, local radio stations, and Facebook page.
The greater our membership, the greater our impact on our beautiful Lakefront City!