This article first appeared in the March/April 2023 edition of Home & Harvest magazine.
By Kaitlynn Anderson, Museum Curator
While trying to determine what topic to write about, I thought it would be a good idea to look within the LCHS archival collection. I discovered an archival box titled “LC Eromatheon Circle.” Having never heard of the organization, off to search digitized newspapers I went. The newspapers proved to be a wonderful source to explain what the club was and what it did during the early 1900s. After the realization that it was a local women’s group, inspiration finally struck - women’s groups within Moscow. With this topic, I figured what a great way to celebrate Women’s History Month through the contributions and accomplishments of women on the local level. Although popular women who come to mind for Women’s History Month might include Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg for their work that placed them in the national spotlight, most often forgotten are the women who contributed on a local level.
During the 19th and 20th Centuries, society and laws forced the concept of the cult of domesticity, which reinforced the notion that women needed to uphold true womanhood by maintaining the house and taking care of children. The ideology, consisting of four pillars - purity, piety, submission, and domesticity, was inherently rooted in sexism and the belief that women are inferior to men. However, not every woman in society was meant to participate in the cult of domesticity, as it primarily aimed toward white women within the middle and upper class. Most women abided by this concept, but some eventually began to rebel against needlework, house chores, and societal norms. The nonconformity to the ideology was an influence towards a larger movement for women’s rights at the time, which is now viewed as the first wave of feminism. That’s a topic for another time.
The defiant women formed organizations, groups, and clubs to fight for community involvement, civic reform, and political action. All these groups served as a way for women to utilize their current skillset while developing new ones outside of the home. As smaller towns and cities throughout the country began to form their own women’s groups, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs was developed by 1890 to provide guidance to the groups and for the groups to exchange information about their successful projects. The number of women’s groups continued to grow over time, and by 1910 there were over 800,000 women actively participating within one, with the number continuing to rise over the years. By this point, the groups were gradually becoming more inclusive as women in the excluded populations, primarily religious, racial, money-earning, and ethnic minorities became involved.
Moscow was no exception when it came to having strong-minded women who wanted to serve their community. The city was the home to several women’s groups, including the Eromatheon Club, Pleiades Club, Moscow Historical Club, Women’s Faculty Club, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Although these groups had varying beliefs, sometimes opposing ones, their end goal was the same: to improve the lives of those within the community.
One of Moscow’s first women’s groups was the Pleiades Club. The club originated in 1892 when seven faculty wives met at the home of Jennie Gault, wife of University of Idaho President Franklin B. Gault, to form a book review club. The primary objective of the group was to read and study Shakespeare. The women were unsure of what to name their group until Mr. Gault suggested Pleiades, based on the seven star cluster part of the Taurus constellation. The following year, the club produced the Silver and Gold book to be displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The book, made of Idaho metals and semi-precious stones, was placed in the Administration Building at the University of Idaho upon its return, where it was almost destroyed in the 1906 fire. It is said that the book is now back on display in the President’s office at the University of Idaho.
It was not unheard of for the groups to work together on larger projects that required wider outreach. One of the well-known projects two of Moscow’s women’s groups collaborated on was the construction of the Moscow Public Library. It began when the Moscow Free Library and Reading Room was established in 1901 and held meetings on the second floor of the Brown Building. The organization held an extensive library that continued to grow. Two of the local women’s groups, Pleiades Club and Moscow Historical Club, took notice of the lack of space and that there was a need for a public library in a central location. Three members from each organization, along with a city council member, formed the library board and set their sights on fundraising. Although the community was donating to the cause, there were not enough funds for the new building. To reach the fundraising needs, the Carnegie Library Endowment Fund was contacted in 1903. After a building site was purchased, as suggested in the reply, Carnegie provided $10,000 as promised. In 1905 the city voted in favor of a permanent tax to support the library by at least $1,000 per year. Construction began the same year, reaching its completion in 1906 for under $10,000. Plans to move into the new library were thrown awry when the University of Idaho’s Administration Building burned down and the University needed to utilize the new library space for the 1906-1907 school year. Over the years, the library has been through a few renovations, but the original Mission Revival-style building still stands today. The work that the two groups began 120 years ago has benefited thousands of individuals within the community and will continue to in the future.
The collaboration described above is not the only moment the women’s groups within the community joined forces. In early 1917 Professor H.T. Lewis provided a lecture to the Moscow Historical Club on delinquent children and noted that Moscow was in dire need of a recreation center so children would not become misguided. After the lecture the Moscow Historical Club decided to create a unique fundraiser for a youth recreation center. Not too long after, the other women’s groups in town heard about this project and decided to assist. Five groups, the Eromatheon Club, Pleiades Club, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Moscow Historical Club, and the Women’s Faculty Club, organized a fundraiser that would entail the community donating scraps of paper within their home, which then would be sold. The community had one week to find any unwanted paper and bring it to the local schools that served as drop-off sites. It is unknown how much money was raised through the fundraiser, or if the recreation center was ever built.
The push for the recreation center could have potentially been linked to two movements on the national level: the War Camp Community Service and the Playground Movement, both of which were led by the Playground and Recreation Association. The goal of the War Camp Community Service was to provide a social and recreational environment for soldiers to engage in during their time of service. Additionally, it was a way for the community to give thanks to soldiers during World War I. In terms of the Playground Movement, its goal was to target children who were poor, immigrants, or homeless in hopes to remove them from the close quarters living of tenement housing. By 1918 the Playground Movement worked to assist the War Camp Community Service to provide a well-rounded community experience.
These civic acts by a few of the women’s groups barely scratch the surface of the work that has been accomplished on the local and national levels. Looking back, it’s amazing to see what these groups were able to accomplish while openly challenging social norms and knowing the potential risks involved. Many of these Moscow’s women’s groups have since dissolved; however, the Pleiades Club still holds meetings in the McConnell Mansion, and the Moscow Historical Club combined with other local groups to form the Latah County Historical Society. As the weather warms up and you start to get out and about, make sure to visit the Moscow Public Library to admire the hard work put in by the women’s groups.