History of the Royal Oak Woman's Club

The following history of the ROWC was written in 2002.

On November 8, 1902, fourteen Royal Oak women gathered together at the home of Mrs. Frances Lathrup Martin for the purpose of forming a study club to be named the Royal Oak Woman’s Club. A Constitution and Bylaws were drawn up and Mrs. Martin was elected the first president. (Mrs. Martin was in office only 3 months when she was tragically killed by a train at the railroad crossing at Fourth Street).

The club continued as a study club and by 1907 had expanded their horizons and became members of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), the Michigan Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC MI), the Detroit Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Oakland County Federation of Women’s Clubs. As members of these larger groups, they became more civic-minded and got involved with important issues facing their community. They proposed a curfew ordinance that was enacted into law. Other early reforms instituted by the club were sanitary drinking fountains in the public schools and fire escapes in the high school building. The women joined the campaign for equal rights and started in philanthropic work. They were particularly interested in the welfare of children. They did the first clean-up of the city streets, organized for free home mail delivery, re-organized the library and help provide for its maintenance – and in 1917, placed a bronze plaque to mark the spot of the tree, “The Royal Oak” after which the town of Royal Oak had been named by Governor Cass.

Their volunteer efforts continued as they donated their support to the Red Cross, the Detroit USO, the Crippled Children’s Fund, Oakland County Tuberculosis Society, Goodfellows, the Oakland County Daughter’s fund and they pressed hard for the Volunteer Fire Department. Later on, they worked with the American Field Service student exchange program, participated in the schools “Right to Read” program and supported nursing programs. Their slogan became “The greatest good for the greatest number.”

This year, to celebrate the fact that Royal Oak is 100 years old, a centennial celebration was planned. Under the auspices of the Royal Oak Woman’s Club, a magnificent pageant and parade took place. The spectacular parade was led by the first Royal Oak Mayor, George Dondero (husband of Adele Dondero). He rode in on a white horse portraying General Cass. People came from everywhere to be a part of the celebration.

In 1922, the women of the Royal Oak Woman's Club who had been meeting in various locations decided they needed a larger, more permanent place to meet. After looking into this matter, the women accepted an offer to acquire one of the oldest buildings in town with the understanding that it be used as a clubhouse and to preserve the building as an important part of Royal Oak history. The catch was it had to be moved immediately.

The building, built in 1839 as the first Baptist church, then used by various other church organizations, was the first village town hall and at the time was the current city town hall. The stucture was moved in 1923 to its first clubhouse site on Lafayette Street on land donated by George Martin in honor of his wife, the first club president. (The 100 foot frontage was also an historical spot for it was here a blockhouse stood guarding a portion of the old Indian Trail from Detroit to Saginaw.)

Five years later, the building was moved again to its present location at Pleasant and Fourth Street. At the time, a $20,00 mortgage was obtained (and paid off ten years later). The building was remodeled as a Tudor-style structure and a cobblestone fireplace was installed. The old hand-hewn beams in the dining room are a reminder of its historical significance. In 1979, the building was designated a Michigan Registered Historical Site and marked in 1985 as such. In 1999, it was designated a Royal Oak Historic District. It is the jewel of the city of Royal Oak as it is the oldest building in the city and it is the pride and joy of the Royal Oak Woman’s Club. Much effort has been made over the years to keep the “charge” given so long ago. To this day, the city, the public and many organizations use the clubhouse for their meetings.

The club has remained an involved member of the Royal Oak Community. Working under the six departments set up by GFWC, ROWC participates in the Arts, Conservation, Education, Home life, International Affairs and Public Affairs. They give of their time, talent and financial support to many worthwhile causes within the community such as the neo-natal unit at Beaumont Hospital, the Royal Oak Library, Hospice, Veterans, Salvation Army Mobile Meals, Haven, Gilda’s Club, the Boys and Girls Club, Give-a Christmas and the South Oakland Shelter. Under the category of education, they give three Health Related Scholarships as well as three HOBY Scholarships. They also support the all-night graduation parties for the three local high schools and give a general scholarship on a rotating basis to each high school. Through their affiliation with GFWC and GFWC MI, they support Girlstown, Bay Cliff Health Camp, Interlochen, Operation Smile, Canine Companions for Independence and the Community Improvement Program.

The club volunteers for the Community Service Luncheon, the annual Salvation Army Toy Luncheon and they sponsor the Royal Oak Community Awards banquet. The club is a member of the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce, the Royal Oak Arts Council, Friends of the Library and the Inter-Club Council. They even sponsor a girls softball team. Many club members serve as government officials, on local and state boards and commissions and hold leadership positions in many other organizations.

To continue their philanthropic efforts, ROWC has traditional fund-raisers, which not only raise money, but also bring the Royal Oak community together. During the sixties and seventies, the club held a Lecture Series at the Main (later renamed Town Hall and held at the Royal Oak Theatre) and brought in famous speakers such as Robert Q. Lewis, Betty Furness, Bennett Cerf, Erma Bombeck, Meredith Wilson, Dear Abby and Vincent Price to name just a few. These events were well attended by the citizens of Royal Oak. The annual Spaghetti Dinner and the St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner, as well as the Home and Garden Tour are time-honored events, but card parties, bake sales, and garage sales also help the club to raise funds. Funds raised also help to preserve the historical building.

The Royal Oak Woman’s Club is not just a building. Today, it is a group of 120 remarkable women who continue to make a difference through volunteering and friendship. As the club moves into its next century of service, they will continue the legacy of goodwill, good friendship and good works.