March 8 was International Women’s Day and a wonderful day to celebrate the 109th anniversary of the Jefferson Woman’s Club . Club members reflected on their strength to stay supportive of each other throughout the pandemic and on their continued efforts to make a positive difference in this community. A “buddy system” was implemented to keep members informed and connected through a network of phone calls, e-mails, and small in-person meetings.
During the 2020-21 Club year, several new projects were initiated, led by small working groups under the umbrella designation “Glenda’s Graces”, in honor of longtime member Glenda Blackstock.
These projects include:
•Assembly and delivery of 50 “care bags” for distribution to cancer patients through the Cancer Foundation of Northeast Georgia;
•Hosted a luncheon in November honoring local female veterans;
•Collected and delivered after-school snacks for the Boys and Girls Club;
•Collected toys in December for the Jackson County Family Connection;
•Collected children’s books for an ongoing project featuring baskets of books placed in area locations where books may be selected for children, at no charge for parents;
•Collected books for future installation of “A Little Free Library”; and
•Collected and assembled “goodie bags” for Jackson County Senior Center. Women’s Clubs in America started in 1868, and the word “Club” was used to mean “Renaissance”.
Women could not vote and had no voice in community affairs, so these clubs met in members’ homes and started active involvement in their communities with home life, education, literacy, arts, and social issues.
Founded in 1912 as The Civic Improvement Club, and changing the name in 1915 to the Jefferson Woman’s Club, the stated mission of this Club was to promote the welfare of the community, assisting in worthy projects. The organizational meeting was held at the Jackson County Courthouse with 32 charter members present.
Over the years, the club has contributed funds for projects including school playground equipment, landscaping for the city square and courthouse, girls camp scholarships, gifts for those at the county “poorhouse”, construction of the Jefferson city pool, restoration of the Gainesville Midland engine, and many others.
From its inception, the Jefferson Woman’s Club strongly supported the establishment of a community library. An article from The Jackson Herald references a Woman’s Club Library as early as 1936, open only one hour a week. In 1955, the club officially organized the Jefferson Public Library, first housed in the Martin Institute’s former home economics building.
As the library has grown and relocated into successively larger modernized facilities, the club continues to offer support each year through fund raising, personal donations, and volunteering opportunities.
Future projects the club has planned include hosting an appreciation breakfast for Jefferson High School teachers in May, awarding a club scholarship to a qualified area female student, and awarding monetary donations to several organizations in May.
The program for International Women’s Day was presented by Traci Bledsoe, Executive Director of Peace Place, a shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence.
Bledsloe stated “we all know that we can’t care for anyone else until we take care of ourselves. It is also important that we take care of each other, supporting each other and lifting each other up in times of trouble. That is what we do at Peace Place. We empower the women who come to us so that they can live independent lives free from violence. We help them destroy the barriers that prevent them from leaving an abusive relationship."
She added, "Our goal is to eliminate every reason that a woman has to return to her abuser. We provide therapy services to address the psychological and emotional trauma in order to break the cycle of thinking of herself as a victim. We also address the practical concerns because if a woman doesn’t have a roof over her head or food to eat, she will return to her abusive home. We provide safe shelter and emergency housing to women and children who are fleeing abusive homes. Statistics say a woman will return 7 times before she finally leaves for good or ends up dead."
She said Peace Place also help them access resources they need to be independent and help them secure employment and housing.
"Domestic violence is a silent epidemic because no one talks about it," Bledsloe said "One in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lives. 1 in 5 teenagers experience teen dating violence."
During 2019, Peace Place served 420 adults and 72 children. In 2020, Peace Place answered 3,756 crisis line calls and provided 41,000 total services. (The hotline number is 706-387-0100)
Bledsloe ended her presentation by asking Woman’s Club members to pay attention to the warning signs and reach out to help the women around them by sharing her message. She stated, “we believe that strong women empower other women. We can rise together to end domestic violence.”
Ending the meeting, President Cindy Crane stated the Jefferson Woman’s Club is not a distinctively philanthropic nor social group, yet is one of our community’s most generous organizations, being a group of like-minded women supporting one another, connecting and implementing ways to assist our city and area.