“Ladies, Attention! All of the ladies in St. Helena and vicinity are earnestly requested to assemble at the town hall next Wednesday afternoon at 3 o’clock for the purpose of organizing a Ladies’ Improvement Club. All ladies interested in the growth and future of our town are cordially invited to be present.”
Forty women attended the first meeting on Feb. 8, 1905 and a week later 88 had joined. They met once a week, charged 25 cents to join, and elected Hannah Weinberger as the first president. Meetings were held in city hall with permission of the town trustees. The janitor was told to keep a fire going in the stove in winter for the ladies’ comfort.
Thus began the long history of women in St. Helena organizing for change at a time when they could not vote. The issues they lobbied the city council about were people spitting on the streets and preventing cattle from “running at large upon the streets.” They were sure there were ordinances against such practices and they wanted them enforced. The club urged upgrading the streets and roads, a new library, a water fountain for horses and dogs (now in Lyman Park), and a sidewalk with shade leading to the cemetery. The new club planned to place resting benches throughout town for pedestrians. They paid to furnish and landscape the new Carnegie Library in 1908. The ladies raised the money to build the gazebo in Lyman Park and planted Deodar Cedar trees there in 1937.
The Woman’s Improvement Club joined the General Federation of Women’ Clubs in 1910. In 1995 the name changed to Federated Women of Upper Napa Valley (FWUNV) to include new members from Calistoga.
The club is as active as ever in causes which help St. Helena and the wider world. To raise money, FWUNV runs the famous pie booth at the St. Helena Harvest Festival. In assembly line fashion, the ladies can create 72 pies in one day! Some pies are sold quickly by special order. The booth is one of the most popular at the festival and always sells out early.
The club also sponsors a bingo fundraiser every year. Their bingo night will be Friday, April 3, at Grace Episcopal Church. Doors open at 6 p.m. Calling out the numbers will be Mayor Geoff Ellsworth.
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Members donate to the “Community Matters” fund at every meeting, supporting a variety of causes. A cookbook was published in 2013 and sales from this continue to help fund various projects. Packages of lovely notecards featuring art by members are sold at all functions to support their budget. Grants help fund the club’s Scholarship Program and Reading is Fun Program.
Reading is Fun (RIF)Led by club member Donna Kelley, this program applies for grants to the Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Community Foundation, Give Guide and others to purchase books for our youth. The books are given away at Hunt’s Grove, Stonebridge Apartments, La Pradera, and the Boys & Girls Clubs in St. Helena, Calistoga and Howell Mountain. With a budget of $5,000 per year, RIF serves 900 children in grades from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Children’s librarian Leslie Stanton reads to the children and the members give out delicious homemade cookies. Each child receives a new book of his/her own.
FWUNV ScholarshipsThe club selects St. Helena High School students who are the first in their family to attend community college or trade school. Two $1,000 scholarships will be given this year.
VOICESA group that supports foster children who age out of the foster care system with job training and housing is also supported by the St. Helena club. Voices exists to empower underserved youth ages 16-24. The group utilizes holistic services to empower foster youth throughout their transition to independent adulthood.
Alpha K-9Trainer Kevin Cameron rescues dogs from shelters and trains them as emotional support companions for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to their website, PTSD service dogs are carefully selected by their skilled staff and paired with clients, helping them to return to a more independent life. With the generous support of sponsors and donors Alpha K9 is able to provide service dogs at little to no cost.
Other causes that the club supports are Upvalley Family Centers, Rianda House, We Care Animal Rescue, St. Helena Pre-School For All, Edge Youth Leadership Conference, Pennies for Pines, Yountville Veterans Home, and St. Helena Library Friends and Foundation.
Federated Women of Upper Napa Valley meets at 1 p.m., the first Wednesday of the month from September to June at St. Helena Presbyterian Church. New members are always welcome to join. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call President Annette Smith at 707-963-3241.
Mariam Hansen is the research director for the St. Helena Historical Society.