The Woman’s Club of Panama City became a club on January 30, 1913. Upon return from a General Federation of Woman’s Club International Convention, Mrs. Chandlee was determined that a local woman’s club was needed.
The first action of the Woman’s Club of Panama City was to influence an ordinance that required livestock be fenced. It was said that a stroll down Harrison Ave. was a much more enjoyable experience once the cows and razorback hogs were behind fences. The next action that was needed at the time was to have the expectorating stopped on the sidewalks.
With these accomplishments behind them, the Woman’s Club then purchased a building on Beach Drive. It would later be sold to the Elks Club. Currently, it is a vacant lot across from the Federal Courthouse. It was inside this building that the Woman’s Club formed the Library Association. The first library was open a few days per week. Fifteen hundred books were donated from Mrs. West’s personal library. Members donated $3500.00 to purchase the Chamber of Commerce Building for Bay County’s first library. Members continued to volunteer their time. As the years passed and the needs of the library changed, the Woman’s Club commitment did not as they gave money yet again to have a new library on the Marina. The move to the 11th Street Fabulous Facility was supported and members were more than happy to celebrate the grand opening. The Woman’s Club has continued their support by being on the board and members of the Friends of the Library. Seventy-five percent of all this country’s libraries were started by GFWC Woman’s Club members.
Health issues have always been a priority. The first Tuberculosis Clinic was set up by the Woman’s Club. Members were trained by the Red Cross to weigh and measure school age children. Later, it was realized that this job was larger than could be managed by members. Bay County’s first school nurse, Mrs. Fred Bennett, was paid by the Woman’s Club of Panama City. Because of this action, Bay County started the Bay County Health Department. During the Great Depression, a milk fund was created for children so they wouldn’t go without an important nutrient in their diet. Woman’s Club members funded this with bake sales.
Sponsoring younger organizations has proven to be a success of the Woman’s Club. In 1942, the Junior Woman’s Club was organized under the leadership of Mrs. S. A. Daffin. This group worked side by side with the Woman’s Club in support of projects that were meaningful to the local citizens as well as the world. Together, the clubs sold over $500,000.00 of war bonds, during Mrs. George Davenport’s presidency. This was enough to purchase an entire bomber and half of another. The club was recognized nationally with a bomber being named “Panama City Jr. Woman’s Club”. A “flying fortress” was named for the Woman’s Club as club members around the state sold enough war bonds to purchase 26 planes for the United States Air Force.
In the 1950’ and 1960’s “The Little Women of Panama City” of Bay High were engaged in community improvement projects. In 2008, under Mrs. George Gainer’s leadership, the Mosley Dolphin Juniorettes, became a volunteer organization at Mosley High School. On an early, rainy summer morning, seventy-two well dressed, well behaved girls descended upon the Woman’s Club. They were all interested in community service. They immediately went to work with projects that run alongside their mother club. Whether it was adapting boxer shorts for the wounded military, donating to heavenly hats, giving socks to foster care centers, or bringing an awareness to adoptable pets at Bay Animal Control, these girls brought a breath of fresh air to doing good deeds.
Working with other community organizations has allowed the club to reach beyond itself in the community. Partnering with the Chamber of Commerce, the Panama City Kiwanis Club, the three organizations were able to raise enough funds for paying teachers and keeping the schools open during the Great Depression. The concept of a Junior Museum was floating around Bay County, so the Club and the Junior Club organized a speaker’s bureau to carry the message to other civic clubs. Mrs. Eleanor Lewis envisioned the community joining forces to educate children through the museum. Twenty-five civic organizations also bought into the idea. In 1967 the Junior Museum was created. During 2000, in Joan Parker’s administration, the Children’s Advocacy Center received its first contribution of $1500.00. In total the Woman’s Club contributed over $18,000.00. The community went on to support the idea of a much needed organization to help abused children. It was not long before a member of the Woman’s Club partnered with Pam Smoak in a capital campaign that raised near two million dollars. The Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center s was referred to as the “crown jewel” by the club historian Helen Schrenker. Over the years the club supported the establishment of the McKelvie Home, Anchorage Children’s Home and the Salvation Army.
Promoting Bay County as a great place to live was always top priority with its members. Tourism in the 1920’s was certain. The beach was a welcomed respite to many who found the sand fascinating. During President Adelaide Ware’s term as president and during the end of Nancy Pritchard’s term, came the opportunity to showcase Panama City to the world as an environmental paradise. Partnering with the St. Joe Company and the Southern Living Magazine, the Woman’s Club showcased the pristine area known locally as West Bay, but to the world as Northwest Florida and River Camps. This was just prior to the new airport that was built near the “Idea House”. An entire summer was spent being hostesses. Our area, no doubt, was the winner as the world discovered the best kept secret.
A commitment to the community through the power of God was the highlight of Mrs. Sarah Haney’s administration. Between 1976 and 1978, the annual prayer coffee was started to pray for the community. This event was attended by Mayors, Commissioners, Ministers and citizens of the Panama City area. The event was always elegant, peaceful and serene as those who attended are comfortable with their personal religions and recognize the power in prayer.
The Woman’s Club appreciates government as an important part of life; however, it has remained non-partisan and non-political. This was a tight rope to walk since influencing ordinances that range on issues from environmental to education were supported. During Mrs. Bill Beem’s tenure, an anti-texting and driving resolution was drafted along with a sister club (Gulf Coast) and adopted at a state level. The Woman’s Club continues to support an anti-texting and driving ban.
The Woman’s Club of Panama City was started due to the impact that attending a convention had on one of the founding members. Today the General Federation continues to connect the world with the local community. The President’s Project for 2012 – 2014 is, “ Schools, Scholars and Scholarships”. The Woman’s Club of Panama City is committed to keeping our money local. Since the inception of Gulf Coast Community College, the club has awarded yearly scholarships.
What started as a group of concerned women still exists one hundred years later. The Woman’s Club of Panama City has grown up with Bay County. We are the oldest civic organization in existence. The original paperwork of the Woman’s Club was filed with Washington County. The ladies used to meet once per week with their knitting needles. Now they meet with i-pads and cell phones. Still there are kids hungry and in need of health care. Somewhere there still wonders an occasional pig in the cove. And, no doubt, there is still someone spitting on the streets. While we may not have solved the world’s problems, we have surely tried to make a difference by being united in our diversity. The spark that lit the flame still burns brightly in the hearts of those who are still with us in 2013. We will never forget those who came, worked and left the legacy of service. So many individual ladies have given generously of their time and influence. They shall never be forgotten.
The work to be done is great as we look toward the next 100 years with great memories of a job well done, in a community that is well loved!