Successful club marks a century

Southland Women's Club president Lorraine Stevens looks through some of the club's minute books. The carved marble head of a young girl behind Mrs Stevens is affectionately known as Rebecca by club members. The club will be holding its centenary dinner in October.

BEHIND the discreet doors of a nondescript building in Esk St, is the welcoming clubrooms of the Southland Women’s Club.

Twenty-eight years after women in New Zealand gained the right to vote in parliamentary elections in 1893, the club was established in 1921.

As well as an opportunity for the public to view the clubrooms during its annual Celebrating Spring this weekend, a Centenary Dinner would be held on October 27 to celebrate its 100th.

Club president Lorraine Stevens said the centennial was a celebration of a successful club.

The club was established ‘by women, for women and run by women.

Open to all women, today’s membership numbered 155.

As well as being ‘‘a place for women to meet’’, the club with its expansive main lounge
— the Lady Anderson Lounge — and stage also provided a relaxing space for performers to entertain and the audience to enjoy various musical events, entertainments and play  reading.

With its inviting, elegant and warm social environment, the club also provided many opportunities for women to fellowship, interact and join in various activities.

Mrs Stevens said many women had commented on how welcoming and relaxing it was for them, especially when many were living alone or widowed.

Although most of its activities and traditions had continued as it was when set up in 1921, the fashionable wearing of matching hats and gloves has gone, as have the long formal frocks and furs which were the social expectation of the day in the early years. However, its circles (various social events) and fellowship were still strong traditions which have
continued throughout the past century.

Today’s circles, which were normally held in the afternoon, were much the same as 100 years ago, with an arts and crafts circle, books and travel, games, garden, music and play-reading, as well as a Monday circle held in the evening.

‘‘Every circle has its monthly function and also hosts a lunch once a year, as well as run a sales table.’’

There were also evening functions held throughout the year, including dinner functions,
music gatherings and members’ and guest nights.

To mark the club’s founding meeting on September 16, 1921, a special Celebrating Spring was planned.

Before the last Covid-19 lockdown, the committee had arranged to host the event on September 16, however, the date had since been changed to Friday, October 1, with an  open day for the public on Saturday, October 2, 11am-3pm, to view the rooms, flower arrangements and a display of garments through the decades.

Entry is by gold coin with the proceeds to the Hawthorndale Care Village.

In the coming weeks, each of the circles will incorporate a special acknowledgement in recognition of the centenary, culminating in a Centenary Dinner, which was fully  subscribed, and would be held on October 27, to mark 100 years to the day the club was officially opened.

As part of the celebrations, the fully restored heritage Bechstein Grand Piano would be returned.

Originally belonging to Sir Robert and Lady Anderson, of Anderson Park (formerly Victoria
Park), the club acquired the Bechstein, which was estimated to be more than 100 years old, in the early 1950s, and had pride of place in the club’s Lady Anderson Lounge, named in memory of the club’s first patroness.

The Bechstein was restored and refurbished by Timaru piano tuner and technician John Gray, and will be returned for the club’s celebrations.

Mr Gray, who had serviced the piano for many years, noticed during its last tuning it needed restoration including replacing the strings and hammer felt, general overhaul and adjustment of all the parts, and up to 16 coats of French polish.

It is so large, it had to be partly dismantled to get it out of the clubroom’s doors.

Club members and community-focused organisations including the Southland Heritage
Committee, Southland Masonic Charitable Trust and Community Trust South had raised $15,000 towards the restoration. A Grand Soiree featuring international concert performer Sherry Shelton, of Bluff, also contributed to the funds, Mrs Stevens said.

A glimpse into history
Historic photographs lining some of the walls at the Southland Women’s Club give a glimpse into the social history of Invercargill over the past century.

Some of the presidents are only known by their husband’s name, such as the first president Mrs W T Hazlett 1921-1934. The women’s first names are not recorded.

That was during the early years of the club.

As the decades rolled on, the more formal black and white photographs give way to coloured photos showing presidents in a more relaxed and informal way, with their personal names beneath.

On Friday, September 16, 1921, a meeting of women was held in Allens Hall, in the inner city, for the purpose of forming a women’s club.

Considering the population of Invercargill at that time, the turnout of 70 women present and more than 140 women who had indicated interest as members, was impressive.

A selection of office bearers and the committee was voted in, with Mrs Hazlett voted in unanimously as president, and a set of rules agreed upon, including bicycles having to be left in the driveway.

Several venues were inspected, before suitable rooms were found in Spey St.

The grand opening was on a Thursday afternoon, October 27. Two hundred invitation cards were printed and sent to each member.

Club president Lorraine Stevens, who had worked as the secretary/hostess at the club for 13 years in the 1990s and early 2000s, said the rooms were originally open for members from 10am to 10pm, with a provision for a secretary /hostess during that time to make cups of tea, among other duties.

There was a fee to join the various circles (groups) such as the library circle which was 2 and 6 for membership, with threepence to loan each book.

The cost to play a game at the games circle was sixpence.

London’s Punch and the Otago Witness were ordered for the reading room and Mrs Gilmour
undertook to supply The Southland Times.

Furniture was bought from the popular department store of its time, Broad Small Ltd, and
a piano was bought from a Mr Gleeson.

As the membership increased, more space was needed, with a number of moves including to Trent House, opposite H&J Smith in Tay St, with the club eventually settling upstairs in the former Southland Building Society (SBS) building, Tay St near The Troopers Memorial.

New rooms needed to be found when SBS bank announced it needed more space, so the decision was made to purpose-build clubrooms.

A committee was formed, ideas flowed and people were co-opted for the project.

Things then moved quickly with land bought at 194 Esk St, an architect employed, plans agreed and debentures sold among the members.

The clubrooms were opened over two days, September 13 and 14, 49 years ago in 1972.

As well as the Lady Anderson Lounge, the committee lounge was named in the memory of the first president, Mrs Hazlet (1921-1934), and the Gilmour foyer after Mrs R J Gilmour, the club’s second president (1934-37).

The memory of Mrs J D Gilmour, the fourth president (1941-45) is treasured in the form of a marble statue, known as Rebecca, which Mr Gilmour gave to the club after his wife’s death.

Named Alone by the sculptor, the carved marble head of a young girl has a tear on one carved cheek and was bought by the Gilmours while travelling in Italy.