Hello, again History Lovers,
When the church burned to the ground, the social life of rural farm women in West Virginia came to an abrupt end until an enterprising woman of the Alum Creek community began a farm woman’s club. It wasn’t long before one club branched out into three clubs. After four years with no sign of the church being rebuilt, the farm woman’s club took the initiative to begin fundraising for a new place of worship. Through their hard work and dedication, the building project was finally brought to fruition.
The Women Got Together, Ate Together And Then They Built A Church
When the Baptist church at Alum Creek, West Virginia burned, the social life of the women in this locality—and a remote one it is—appeared to be swept away by the flames. The women had always depended upon seeing each other at meetings, ice cream festivals, and singing school, all held in the church house. A year slipped away, during which time the women had become lonely and lonelier in their little homes in the hills and there was no sign of the church being rebuilt.
At the end of the year, Mrs. Emma Gillispie, one of the well-known women of Alum Creek, began to consider seriously a suggestion for a farm women’s club. She took into her confidence a close friend and after debating the subject for two months, they started a campaign.
This self-appointed committee invited all the womenfolk within a radius of four to six miles to spend an entire day at the home of Mrs. Gillispie. Such a thing had never been heard of before on Alum Creek except for quilting bees and apple peelings and then the husbands were always included for mealtime on such occasions. Nearly all accepted the invitation.
During the noon dinner, the subject of recipes came up for discussion, prompted by two entirely new dishes which Mrs. Gillispie had prepared–with some fear and trembling. It takes courage sometimes, to introduce new recipes after all the women in a certain locality have cooked the way their great grandmothers did all their lives. But the fifteen guests were interested in the new dishes and every one of them sought all the minute details as to their preparation. If anything, the hill-folk of West Virginia are hospitable. The stranger and friend alike are always welcome at the board, be there little or much upon it. But the women never before had thought of extending their hospitality just this way. All of them at this particular party, however, enjoyed the day so thoroughly that when it was time to return to their homes, they each extended an invitation to all of the others for an all-day’s visit again soon and date and place for the next get-together were settled then and there.
A few days before the next party, Mrs. Gillispie asked the prospective hostess for the privilege of preparing the cakes. Her request was granted with the result that in these two beautifully baked prizes, there were two more sought for and found recipes. This plan continued from month to month until one day Mrs. Gillispie mentioned in a casual way something about government-approved recipes and standard methods of cooking. This aroused much interest and demand for standard recipes.
The club, although it was not yet called a club, was growing slowly, with one or two members a month. Also, the fame of the good times and excellent cookery were beginning to permeate other remote sections, for by this time there had developed a keen though healthy rivalry in cookery. Another competition was going on brought about by the suggestion of Mrs. Gillispie’s teammate, in the promotion of quilt patterns. Following the noon dinners now at the monthly meetings, the women would engage in piecing their quilts and as always happens when women sew together, patterns, and ideas were exchanged.
It was just about this stage of affairs that a woman’s magazine made its appearance at the home of one of the members. It was a sample copy and none of the club women could recall ever having seen one before. This magazine discussed constructively such things as plain dressmaking, gardening, and other matters of interest to women and provided food for much valuable discussion at one of the meetings.
Nearby communities, two of them, caught the club contagion and in little more than a year following that first memorable get-together, two other organizations were started. By the close of the second year, the three clubs were competing and within another six months, they all three came together for a picnic and simple exhibit.
No longer were the women of Alum Creek and her neighboring sisters lonely. No longer did they have to wait for their special club days to get together if they wished—however, the club day was always observed. Occasionally, the entire families were brought together for picnic affairs and upon such occasions, the men were ofttimes appalled at what the women had learned (from magazine reading).
Naturally, there came times of slump in interest but the organization was kept intact. And it was at one of these family events on Alum Creek four years later that the women said: “Why can’t we have a church?” The men looked stumped and also failed to answer the question. Each wife then began to “hammer home” the question to her husband in private. The club agreed to hold a fair and sell food and quilts to start the building fund. They realized $50 from that sale. They kept on working. The new Alum Creek church is just completed and the women now have both spiritual and social. After all, women usually get what they want. –Nora B. Ragsdale
The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, April 1923, Page 407; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.