Baileys Harbor Woman’s Club: Supporting the Town and Its People for 100 years

In 1913, cows were grazing in the Baileys Harbor Cemetery. The grass and weeds rejected by the cows went unmowed, and tombstones had fallen over or were leaning at perilous angles. The woman of the village thought it was disgraceful and decided to do something about it.

Ten of those ladies – Lucy Eatough, Nell Robertson, Eve Gattie, Anne Freize, Elizabeth Panter, Caroline Hanson, Luke Burns, Lena and Louisa Brann and Anna McArdle – met on Feb. 13, 1913, at the Eatough home (the former Globe Hotel and one of the six Baileys Harbor buildings now on the National Historic Register).

Members of the Baileys Harbor Woman’s Club are shown in a meeting at Maxwelton Braes on June 12, 1934. Ironically, though the group was founded by and for women, many were identified only by their husbands’ names, as was customary at that time. Seated, from left: Mrs. Fred Bhirdo, Mrs. Andrew Brann, Mrs. Frank Blakefield, Mea. Hugo Kalms, Mrs. Ferdie Jorns and Mrs. Paul Feustel; standing, from left: Mrs. August Brann, Mrs. William Oldenburg, Mrs. Ross Wright, Mrs. Gene Heald, Mrs. Charles Panter, Mrs. Ernald Viste, Mrs. John Wasserbach, Mrs. E. W. John, Mrs. Bernard Boettcher, Mrs. Art Anderson, Mrs. James McNeely, Mrs. James McArdle, Mrs. Art Wilson, Mrs. Mary Kalms Schneider, Mrs. Clarence Mann and Mrs. Frank Scholl.

They formed the Cemetery Club and established dues of 10 cents for their twice-a-month meetings. By summer, they had amassed enough to pay William Appel $12.50 for grass cutting and other work at the graveyard. The next year they purchased a tub and wheelbarrow, paid for repairs on the tool house and had the grass cut again. In 1916 they made $140 on a bazaar at the schoolhouse and used the money to purchase gates and fencing for the cemetery and a new lawnmower.

During World War I, club funds were invested in Savings Stamps, and the women knitted items for the Red Cross. By 1918, the club’s name had been changed to the Ladies’ Improvement Club and membership had grown to 18. Many of the winter meetings involved sleigh rides.

Husbands and children were invited to the lunches of sandwiches, cheese, pickles, coffee and two kinds of cake that were served after the business meetings. Adults paid 15 cents and children a dime. On Feb. 11, 1920, 75 cents admission was charged for a masked ball at Schram’s Hall (now Harbor Fish Market & Grille) that benefited the improvement club.

Along with paying for cemetery maintenance and improvements, club members often went there as a group to work. With their original project in good shape, they turned to other civic needs. In 1919, the club paid $79.56 for oil to control dust on the dirt road through town, a practice that continued until the town board took over responsibility for the roads several years later. In the early 1920s they contributed to the construction of a grandstand at the baseball field, purchased a Victrola for the school, planted trees in the schoolyard and paid for welcome signs on the highway leading into town.

In 1926 they pledged $300 a year for three years to install the first street lights in town and the electricity to operate them.

Also in 1926, the club paid for the publication of a brochure advertising the attractions Baileys Harbor offered and $300 to include the town in a larger Land of Lakes publication. They took in $300 from a rummage sale, $80 from a “hard times” dance and additional money from a quilt raffle and “home talent” shows.

The club observed the 100th anniversary of its founding with a celebration on July 25 at the Baileys Harbor Town Hall, with a cake baked by Bill Fairchild.

In 1930, the club contributed $200 to the construction of a boathouse at the town beach and sponsored the town’s first Paint Up and Clean Up campaign. They worked for installation of playground equipment at the elementary school, sponsored a Boy Scout troop and sponsored health and dental clinics for children. In 1934, the club bought benches and picnic tables for the beach. They contributed $200 toward the purchase of a fire engine.

Also in the 1930s, the club paid for other improvements at the bathing beach at Anclam Park – an attendant to run the concession stand – and, in cooperation with the Men’s Club and town board, floodlights and a raft. The club was also instrumental in the formation of The Ridges Sanctuary.

Nellie Fisher, a long-ago club member, recorded that the women decided the children in Baileys Harbor should have an ice skating rink and wanted the aid of the Men’s Club in creating it. Each of the women went home and talked about the idea with their husbands. “So,” she wrote, “when we approached the Men’s Club about it, they thought it was their own idea and went right ahead with the work. Our children had a nice rink all winter, with no more effort on our part!” Perhaps the only effort of the club that was unsuccessful was its plea to Congress to keep the Coast Guard station open. (If only they could have approached the congressmen individually over a nice pot roast!)

When the town hall and McArdle Library were built in 1938 with money from Michael McArdle’s will, the Ladies’ Improvement Club purchased the draperies, dishes and silverware to serve 100 people, six tables and 24 chairs and the portrait of McArdle that still hangs in the auditorium. Members of the improvement club were involved in planning the dedication ceremony on Aug. 21, 1938, and served supper afterward in the basement dining room. McArdle had recognized the important work of the club, of which his mother was a charter member, with a $500 bequest in his will.

After World War II, the organization’s name was changed to Baileys Harbor Woman’s Club, but their passion for contributing to the welfare of the town and county has continued unabated. They have supported a variety of worthwhile projects, including the expansion of the Ministry Door County Medical Center and the Northern Door County YMCA. They continue the practice of donating books to the McArdle Library in memory of deceased club members and their spouses.

Appropriately, in September 2002, the club provided refreshments following the history walking tour sponsored by the Baileys Harbor Historic Research Society (now the Baileys Harbor Historical Society) in the cemetery that club members had “rescued” 89 years earlier. Baileys Harbor resident Bill Fairchild made the cake for that occasion. Mary Ann Johnson, a member of the Woman’s Club since 1978, created the design for the top of the cake, based on a photo of tombstones, including those of the Eatough family.

Another of the Fairchild cakes was provided by Johnson when the Woman’s Club served refreshments at the rededication of the restored town hall and new McArdle Library on June 24, 2005, as they had done for the original town hall dedication in 1938.

Yet another Fairchild cake was on hand on July 25, when members of the Woman’s Club met to celebrate their 100th anniversary at the town hall. They talked of a century of accomplishments and service, as well as plans for the future. For 55 years, their strawberry shortcake festival on July 4 has been the club’s primary money-making activity. This year, they think, was one of the most successful ever. The proceeds are used for college scholarships for Baileys Harbor graduates. They expect to provide three more this year.

Baileys Harbor has seen dozens of social and civic clubs come and go in the past 100 years, but the Woman’s Club that began with a small group of ladies who thought the condition of the town cemetery was a disgrace continues to see needs and meet them. We hope they continue to celebrate their achievements over coffee and Bill Fairchild’s cakes for years to come!

Thanks to Mary Ann Johnson for extensive notes and clippings.