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Saint Louis Woman's Club Has Called Lindell Mansion Home For Past Century

From left, Saint Louis Woman’s Club members Harriet Switzer, Carolyn Farrell (club president) and Kathy Fulstone. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
October 06, 2011
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Item: A "sock hop" where the gals' cut- and glue-it-yourself poodle skirts are made from round tablecloths. Item: A dinner with a university professor who explores "myths and misconceptions guiding U.S. foreign politics."

At the Saint Louis Woman's Club, where such events – along with French conversation, book club discussions and a prospective members' cocktail party — appear regularly on the monthly calendar, members have long maintained a past/present/future outlook.

Which, at a time when change has become the new normal, seems to make all the more special the club's upcoming celebration of 100 years at the same location.

The Saint Louis Woman's Club, owner since 1911 of the mansion at 4600 Lindell Blvd., sees its centennial as yet another history-making opportunity.

Winston Churchill and Mrs. Oscar Johnson sit in the center of the head table during Churchill’s 1932 visit to the Saint Louis Woman’s Club. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
"I think our foremothers would be thrilled," said Carolyn Farrell, club president.

Mostly to provide gracious hospitality to the wives of royalty and of visiting heads of state when they attended the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, the woman's club was established the previous year.

At a time when married women gained stature, in large part from their husbands' accomplishments, club founders included Mrs. James L. Blair, whose spouse was the fair's general counsel, and Mrs. David R. Francis. A past St. Louis mayor and future Missouri governor, David Francis was president of the fair.

The woman's club's first home, to which members added a $13,500 ballroom and collectively paid $160 monthly in rent, was located at 3611 Washington Ave., next to fashionable Vandeventer Place in what is now Grand Center.

In the club's first year of operation, members reportedly entertained 7,000 guests, ranging from Mrs. Nellie Grant Sartoris, the only daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant, to the lemonade-sipping members of the General Federation of Women's Club of America.

The Saint Louis Woman’s Club was established in 1903, and moved into this mansion at 4600 Lindell Blvd. in 1912, buying the 1895 home for $40,000. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
But by 1911, the club's future was already a concern. Despite what current member Kathy Fulstone calls the club's enduring focus on friendship and education, early 20th-century members feared that if they remained at their current location, rent might increase faster than their membership roster.

Not surprisingly, the women scouted Lindell Boulevard. Considered the city's premier thoroughfare, the street was notable for its stately mansions and its still-in-progress New Cathedral, whose seven-year construction would conclude in 1914.

In 1912, the woman's club moved to 4600 Lindell Blvd., buying the 1895 home for $40,000.

Ten years later, member Kate Howard retired the debt, plus interest charges, by donating $48,500. Her portrait, with her hair in a bun, her bangs clipped short across her forehead, remains in one of the club's parlors. Since 1930, members have observed Kate Howard Day at their semi-annual November meeting.

Over the years, the women have not only contributed furnishings from their own homes, points out current member Harriet Switzer, but have more than doubled the physical size of their club, adding a ballroom, new dining room, grand staircase, elevator and kitchen.

That kitchen is now under the command of Russian-born executive chef Leon Dubinovskiy, whose specialties, from Russian Pumpkin Soup Laced with Vodka to Mississippi Mud Pie, often have members clamoring for his "working lunches" during their committee meetings.

In honor of the club's centennial of residency, the women are planning a large dinner dance at the house on April 28, 2012.

Members, however, remain mindful of potential hurdles ahead. Not only is "our beautiful 1895 clubhouse … a continual challenge to maintain," writes Farrell in this month's club newsletter, but the organization has thus far rejected the path of some other woman's clubs nationally, which have moved to the suburbs and broadened their missions to include repairing the nation with a political agenda.

Still, the club here is making certain changes. The marketing committee, for example, intends to more publicly promote the club as a venue for daytime meetings and evening events.

And after generations with only an address on their building and no outdoor sign, other than the mat at the front door that reads "Saint Louis Woman's Club," Farrell has vowed to add a clearly visible sign.

Make it discreet, some members have instructed. "It will be beautiful," Farrell promises, and leaves it at that.

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