By Karthika Gupta
Organized on March 1, 1897, the Naperville Woman’s Club has been a steady presence in Naperville for 125 years. It was originally established as a literary club by nineteen women who desired knowledge, connections, and a function outside their homes and churches in this once small farm community. Philanthropic projects were quickly added on, and these have become the backbone of the club over the years. In 1903, the literary club became the Naperville Woman’s Club (NWC), and throughout its history, NWC has been dedicated to improving the community and the lives of others through its volunteer service.
Julie Cunningham, the current president of the club, has been a member for the past 13 years. She joined in 2009 when she was looking for a way to get involved in the community and was attracted to the club’s mission of supporting the arts, education, and community service. At that time, Julie was semi-retired with a flexible schedule and had been involved in leadership roles in several nonprofit professional associations prior. Another thing that attracted her to the club was the daytime club meetings. “After years of attending service club meetings in the evenings after work, it was great doing this during the day. When I joined the club, I got active immediately. I joined a couple of committees and was asked to be on the board of directors. I have now served three times as president and, over the years, on most of the club’s committees,” she says. “The thing I enjoy the most in the club is the fellowship among the women and the giving back component. The club has been a consistent presence in the community— doing good with a sense of duty and purpose.”
Many women join the club because they are attracted to one of its activities, but everyone loves the friendships that they form and the learning opportunities available for members, Julie tells us. Generally, one of the monthly meetings is reserved for educational/historical lectures, which retains an original goal of the club’s founders: attaining knowledge Most of the members are retired and those who are employed generally work in the Naperville area, so they can attend the twice monthly 11:30 am meetings. NWC’s home is the historic Gothic Revival stone church with the bright purple doors on Washington Street. NWC also rents out its landmark clubhouse—which provides additional support for their operations.
Today, there are about 65 members, and all the club’s events are centered around the local Naperville community. NWC’s signature event is the Fine Art & Artisan Fair, which is the longest running art fair in Illinois. This year will be its 63rd year! The art fair will be held at Naper Settlement on June 25–26 and will feature over 110 artists exhibiting and selling their works. Admission is free and will also include live entertainment, food, beverages, and a “Petite Picasso” art tent for children to explore their talents. Its other big event is Witches Night Out—which is referred to as the best “girls’ night out” in Naperville. On this night, Naper Settlement is transformed into a spooky village with food, drinks, music, dancing, and psychic readings, among other activities.
Other club activities include the Young Adult Art Contest for area high school students on March 11 at the NWC club; the winner receives a scholarship to a summer art camp. The club also sponsors an arts scholarship at North Central College and a scholarship toward the Collage of DuPage Foundation for a student majoring in human services. They also donate a scholarship to District 203 for a student who will major in education. In addition, the club raises money to donate to local area social service agencies and organizes several collections of goods for food pantries and homeless shelters. Over the last 20 years, the club has donated nearly $500,000 to local philanthropic organizations.
The club truly is for anyone who wants to make a difference in the community. The members bring a variety of skills to the club. But even better, club members can learn new skills by taking on something they haven’t done before, such as planning a large event, handling building rentals, or organizing collection drives. Membership to the club is $70/annually. New members are welcome. However, nonmembers can get involved with the club by attending or volunteering at events such as the Fine Art & Artisan Fair and Witches Night Out.
On March 16, the Naperville Woman’s Club is sponsoring “The Women of Cantigny” at the 95th Street Library. During this presentation, attendees will learn about the women of the Medill, McCormick, and Paterson families, whom, due to a lack of male heirs, were propelled to do amazing things. From serving in Congress, breaking flight records, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and owning their own newspapers, each woman has a fascinating story. Presented by Laurie Russell of the Robert R. McCormick Museum at Cantigny.
Naperville Woman’s Club
14 S Washington Street