The History: Coweta Women at Work Exhibit now at McRitchie-Hollis Museum

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Pictured above: The Junior Welfare League hosts a free community dental clinic in 1950.

By EMILY KIMBELL, Newnan-Coweta Historical Society

Charitable organizations and non-profits represent some of the best of the United States. These organizations exist solely for the purpose of bettering those around them and giving back to their communities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly to those who work or volunteer in the non-profit world, this charge is typically led by women. Of the 12.29 million non-profit workforce, women make up 75%, totaling approximately 9.2 million American women that work in the nonprofit sector. From a volunteer perspective, women across all age, demographic, and educational levels volunteer at a higher rate than men. On average, the rate of women who volunteer is higher than the rate of men who volunteer by about 6%. 

Much of women’s history with volunteering can be traced back to the American women’s social club movement which began during the mid-19th century. Before this time, most women’s groups were auxiliaries of men’s groups or church-sponsored groups. The movement provided women with a social space to engage in education, community service, and civic work. 

Coweta County has been home to several all-women’s clubs and volunteer groups throughout its history, and the impact of these ladies is far reaching from hosting free healthcare drives to raising funds for monuments and markers to leading educational movements and programs. It is only fitting that during Women’s History Month in March, we recognize just a few of the many women’s organizations that make a difference in our community. 

Kiwanis Club of Coweta County

The Kiwanis Club of Coweta County holds the distinction for being the first and only Kiwanis Club in the United States with an exclusively female membership. The Kiwanis Club of Coweta County is part of the global organization that is dedicated to “improving the world one child and one community at a time.”

In 1994, Lieutenant Governor Bill Loftin, a member of the White Oak Golden Kiwanis Club, developed the idea for the all-women’s chapter alongside his wife Sue Loftin. The club was chartered in October of the same year with twenty-five original members. Now, after 27 years of service, the Kiwanis Club of Coweta County is still serving the community with a particular focus on students and seniors.

The club sponsors the K-Kids and Builder Clubs in Coweta Schools, hosts the local annual Kiwanis Art Showcase, reads to children in their classrooms, provides other learning opportunities for students, and hosts birthday parties at local senior centers. In addition, the club supports non-profits around Coweta County through monetary funds raised through special projects and fundraising efforts. 

Newnan Junior Service League

For over 95 years, the Newnan Junior Service League has served as a collaborative type organization that raises funds for local non-profits and produces a volunteer workforce for the community.

Originally, organized on February 7, 1928 as the Junior Welfare League, the club sought to “cooperate with other charitable organizations in the County to better the conditions of the needy.” The club started with 15 charter members and Mary Glover Nixon serving as the first president. The first fundraiser held by the League was a tearoom held at the balcony of Kersey-Prather store.

In their first few decades, the League hosted a venereal disease clinic, a dental clinic, prenatal clinic, sight and hearing program for school children, fluoride program in schools, and assistance for the elderly. The League became known for their presentation of the Follies, a benefit show staged about every four years.

Today, the Service League hosts Can-A-Thons, Christmas support programs, scholarship programs, and grant programs. To support their programming and the recipient of their yearly grant, they hold four major events:  Sporting Clay Shoot, ShamRock Run, Legends of the League Golf Tournament, and Big Event. The Newnan Junior Service League is locally known for their A Taste of Georgia cookbook, originally printed in 1994 and used to raise funds for their scholarship program. 

Driftwood Garden Club

The Driftwood Garden Club organized in 1959 with Mrs. Alice Kirby as the first president. The club is made up of 30 active members and several inactive and sustaining members. These women are dedicated to creating a beautiful city in which to live and grow.

The club meets the 2nd Wednesday of each month in a different members’ home where a speaker discusses a new aspect of gardening or floral design. The Driftwood Garden Club has been responsible for many beautification efforts throughout the city in the past and today is responsible for creating the hanging flower baskets that adorn downtown Newnan and upkeeping the gardens at Angel House. The local chapter is part of the Garden Club of Georgia. 

The new CoWEta Women at Work permanent exhibit on display at the McRitchie-Hollis Museum pays tribute to the beneficial club and volunteer work conducted throughout this community along with women who have served at the forefront of these efforts. Visit the exhibit at the McRitchie-Hollis Museum at 74 Jackson Street on Monday through Friday from 9am to 4:30pm or Saturday or Sunday by appointment. 

Newnan-native, Emily Kimbell is the director of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society and McRitchie-Hollis Museum. Emily is currently finishing her doctoral studies at Georgia State University, where she also teaches English Composition courses and is an active member of her community often seen on stage in local theatre productions and writing for local media outlets.  

Kevin Yearwood from Newnan Utilities, Pat Odom (Driftwood Garden Club Basket Chairperson), James Kee of Newnan Utilities, and Pam Giles (Driftwood Garden Club Basket Co-Chair) hang floral baskets in downtown Newnan in 2001.

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