Mrs. Jonathan Spencer Willis founded the Milford New Century Club in February of 1898 with twenty-five women of Milford, Delaware. By the end of the year membership rose to eight-five and the organization joined the Delaware State Federation of Women’s Clubs. The following year the Milford New Century Club rented the building once used as the Classical Academy to hold their weekly meetings, and in 1905 they purchased it to use as their club house, in which capacity it continues today. In 1904 the club incorporated.
The members of the Milford New Century Club stated as their purpose the “intellectual growth of its members and the uplift of humanity.” From its inception the club pursued civic projects beginning with the installation of public water fountains in 1898, and continuing with various outreach programs over the ensuing decades. Temperance, prison reform, child welfare and education ranked high among the collective causes of the early years. The club gave its support to the creation of the Women’s College at the University of Delaware, and the interest in education continues. Over the years the club maintained connections to the local school board, sponsored students to study abroad, funded scholarships for higher education, and recognized the work of outstanding teachers. Through volunteerism and donations the club supported health initiatives including cancer research (as early as the 1930s), diabetes and tuberculosis screening, the American Red Cross, etc. They also encouraged the arts by holding exhibits in the club house, allowing art classes to be held in the building, and sponsoring dance classes for children. As with many individuals and groups, the Milford New Century Club offered support for American troops during military engagements beginning with the Spanish American War, usually by donating money and time to the American Red Cross. From the opening of the twentieth century, the club also supported conservation of their surrounding ecology.
The Milford New Century Club supported a strong involvement in political life beginning before women obtained the right to vote. Early meeting minutes recorded discussions and lectures on women’s suffrage. Subjects in later meetings, after women obtained the vote, included the encouragement to exercise that right, to stay educated about legislation, and to write to political leaders. In at least one instance the club wrote to their political leaders as a single entity after voting on their stance. Meeting minutes and scrapbooks reference the Women’s Legislation Committee, an organization which promoted the rights of women.
While the intellectual pursuits of the club often involved the community at large, the members of the club benefited from a philosophy of continued education. Art, drama, history, literature and music were components of the club program. At each meeting members have performed musical pieces, given papers on historical subjects and current events, shared travel experiences, reported on literature and motion pictures, written and performed plays, and more. On various occasions members created art and history exhibits in the clubhouse, which were then opened to the public. The Milford New Century Club also invited speakers to their meetings to give lectures on a variety of subjects that ranged from suffrage to interior design to mental health to traffic safety and to education. Members pursued the arts and literature through the state and national women’s club organizations as well and often earned awards for their work.
The Milford New Century Club continues to function today.
Information derived from by-laws, meeting minutes, and club histories from the Milford New Century Club records.
The Milford New Century Club Archives consist of material from 1900 to 2005, comprising minute books, club histories, awards, correspondence, annual programs, bylaws, photographs, membership lists, receipts, bank statements, scrapbooks, speeches, a ballot box, a plaque, and an embossing tool. The collection came to the University of Delaware in 2006 from the Milford New Century Club.
The first series contains the meeting minutes of the general meetings and the board of directors. Though the records of the first twelve years are missing, the remaining books offer a complete overview of the general meetings from 1911 through 1968. These minutes record the names of club members and officers, the organization of the meetings, the yearly and weekly themes, speakers, and club concerns. Club members took on both local and national concerns with lectures and projects relating to traffic safety and support of local schools and to suffrage, war relief, and current events. The club connected with other women’s organizations through reciprocity days and by sending delegates to the conventions of the Delaware State Federation of Women’s Clubs (DSFWC) and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC). The meeting minutes reveal both continuity – particularly in the purpose of the club – and change over time – such as the number of meetings held per year. Membership details include the process of electing new members and the qualifications of membership.
The board of directors meeting minutes cover 1929 to 1966 with a two year gap before 1950, and include business details associated with the running of the club.
Series two incorporates club histories, yearly programs, correspondents, legal documents and financial documents into the administrative papers. The year range is sporadic covering 1900 to 2005 with gaps particularly in the last three decades of the twentieth century. As with the meeting minutes these papers are useful in constructing the history of the club especially in reference to the activities. Booklets are included with multiple editions of the constitution and bylaws from 1911 to 1949, allowing for a comparison of the revisions made throughout that time period. Important details on membership including – the process of becoming a member, names of the charter members and names of the presidents, and a list of members and dues paid (1967-1976) – can be found within the collection of administrative papers. Series two also includes an early photograph of the clubhouse.
Series three consists of club scrapbooks, which include much of the same information as the meeting minutes from 1932 to 1968 with gaps between: 1943 and 1946, 1950 and 1955, and 1958 and 1964. The 1948 to 1950 scrapbook in the archives is a bound copy of the original. The early scrapbooks of the 1930s include weekly newspaper columns on the activities of the club, printed in the Milford newspaper. Each scrapbook covers one or two club years (a year ran from October through April), and incorporates mostly newspaper clippings. Event and yearly programs, invitations for reciprocity meetings, photographs, and various other pieces of ephemera were used in putting together the scrapbooks. Besides the Milford New Century Club, two scrapbooks document the DSFWC between 1964-1966, the years in which Mrs. Jonathan Willis, Jr., member of the Milford New Century Club and daughter-in-law of the founder, served as the president of the DSFWC. The largest of the two, entitled “Status of Delaware Women,” records the current officers and articles of interest on each of the women’s clubs of Delaware belonging to the DSFWC, as well as articles on successful women of Delaware. The final Scrapbook documents the “Delaware High School Student International Aware” from the DSFW.
Series four includes three artifacts – a plaque for the club from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, a seal embosser, and a ballot box with white and black marbles. References to the use of the ballot box can be found in the general meeting minutes of the 1950s.