As the Lancaster Woman’s Club is nearing 100 years since its creation, we wanted to bring attention to the role of community organizations such as this and the impact that the people who run them can bring.
The Lancaster Woman’s Club was founded in 1922 when Lancaster’s population numbered only several thousand and became officially incorporated in 1930, 91 years ago. The organization was conceptualized as a way to bring together the local women in a way that would benefit their community. They worked hard to shape and reform schooling, arts, conservation, and family activities as well as engage in local politics. At the time of its creation, downtown Lancaster stretched from Sierra Highway (then called Antelope Avenue) to Date Avenue.
Starting out, there were thirty women led by Molly Bloom Flagg, a former school teacher and ardent member of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs. At its inception, annual dues were set at $3.00. Local women appearing on the earliest rosters for the Woman’s Club include the likes of Myrtie Webber, Mrs. E.E. Cummings, Marjorie Duntley, Anna “Mom” Evert, “Susie” Oldham, Jane Reynolds, and Mildred Settle, among dozens of other women.
During historic periods, clubs like this would host communal events including community quilting parties which gave women the opportunity to socialize; the social life of pioneer women was relatively limited, so such group activities allowed women and children the chance to meet and engage with one another regularly. Sewing was seen as the common link through which strangers could bridge the gap between them to create a shared sense of community. Even women without sewing skills were invited to these parties, often contributing by using their cooking talents at the end-of-the-day feast that frequently followed such events. The Lancaster Woman’s Club was no exception with regard to such community events, and members often gathered together to engage in large sewing and quilting parties, some even hosted at the Western Hotel.
The Lancaster Woman’s Club was instrumental in Lancaster’s early history, engaging extensively in matters of children, the arts, and local life in general. The group actively sought to help the community as well as families and people that were in need; they even had water fountains for dogs installed in downtown Lancaster in the 1920s because dogs couldn’t quite reach the horses troughs. The group also at one time sold small bricks painted gold on street corners to raise money to buy land for the city’s first library, which was built in 1923.
In 1946, the club was asked by the Antelope Valley Fair to start the home economics department. Two years later, they started the fair’s art department which led to the start of the local Allied Arts Association. Membership of the club peaked in the mid-1950s when it had about 350 members. Since the early 1960s, members of the Lancaster Woman’s Club have volunteered as hostesses in the clothing and textiles division of the Antelope Valley Fair.
From 1948-59 the club was led by Jane Pinheiro, a local self-taught artist, activist and conservationist. She and other club members formed a committee that raised money toward buying land for the poppy reserve which was dedicated in 1976. The city’s annual California Poppy Festival grew out of the city’s co-sponsorship of an annual Wildflower Information Center with the club, which provided information on wildflowers and gave visitors maps to areas with the best blooms. More recently, in the 2000s, club members have raised money for student scholarships, to help abused women and children and to support places like Saddle Up, where disabled children learn to ride horses, and The Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Hughes, part of a series of camps started by actor Paul Newman to serve children with medical problems.
As within the Lancaster Woman’s Club and other groups alike, the practice of community quilting is still very much alive today and local dedicated quilting groups still exist in the Antelope Valley. One such group is the Antelope Valley Quilt Association, which was officially founded in 1978. The goal at the time of the group's formation was to earn money for programs and education within the community.
Previous community quilting projects have been highlighted at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH), such as with the 2020 #CountMeIn exhibition in which portrait-embedded crocheted squares were compiled into large wall-hangings. Led by artist-in-residence at the time Robin Rosenthal, this quilt was created in partnership with needle-crafters living at the Antelope Valley Senior Center and three Housing Corporation of America locations.
The product of another communal quilting project, the We Are Home project by Shelley Heffler, is currently on display at MOAH from June 5 through September 5. An elaborate quilted work of art stitched by the hands of Los Angeles community members, this project is popularly referred to as the ‘Community Quilt Project,’ and consists of over 100 individual textile squares from various members of the Southern California community. Through this recent work, Heffler highlights the humanist aspect of her repertoire while utilizing her artistic process in quilt-making. The end product of these individually compiled quilted squares addresses the feeling of isolation during quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing the thoughts of what home means to oneself and the community as a whole.