The Kearney Woman’s Club has seen many changes over the decades, but their commitment to the community has not ceased.
The clubhouse of the Kearney Woman’s Club has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980 as the Hanson-Downing House. The State Historic Preservation Office is working with the current members of the Kearney Woman’s Club to update the nomination to reflect the club’s extensive use of the home and immense contributions to the community.
“Interdependence, not independence”
The all-female social group now called the Kearney Woman’s Club coined this motto in 1900 to capture the new sentiment of the era. The mid-19th century gave rise to a new social movement that encouraged middle-class American women to rise up against their societal restraints and assemble voluntary organizations in order to undertake serious study of intellectual topics and current events, and advocate for social reform at local, state, and national levels.
With the popularity of women’s clubs on the rise across the nation, the nineteenth century marked the dawn of female empowerment. The Kearney Woman’s Club chose to deny the typical attitudes of other progressive women’s rights groups of the era, and instead emphasized the balance and interconnectedness that rises from people, regardless of gender, working together harmoniously.
The Kearney Woman’s Club’s humble beginnings date back as early as 1887 when Kearney, Nebraska resident, Nora Jones, exchanged talk on local and world news and discussed scripture with her closest friends. Originally called the Clio Club, the ladies renamed their group the “The Nineteenth Century Club” at the turn of the century, until they finally decided in 1921 to change it to its current appellation.
At first, participation in the club was scarce, consisting of three or four members in regular attendance. With an increase in local population growth and subsequent club membership, the Woman’s Club saw a large number of attendees at the state meeting of the Woman Suffrage Association which they successfully hosted in 1889. Ten years later in 1899, the club was officially federated.
The Kearney Woman’s Club contributed community support and raised monetary resources through the annual sale of Christmas seals, though the women also acquired funds through participation in a variety of neighborhood fundraising campaigns. The funds raised were then used for community services, including funding dental and medical work for underprivileged children.
The Club’s members frequently rose to the occasion in other community matters, advocating for women to be put on the school board, females as physicians, and even played a crucial role in establishing school nurses through activism and the allocation of club funds. They passionately advocated for female participation in topics such as prohibition and suffrage.
Though most women could own property by the beginning of the early 20th century, female property ownership was a rarity, as women’s property rights were slow to progress and develop. That being said, despite years worth of accomplishments, for more than 50 years the Kearney Woman’s Club had no meeting place to call their own. That is, until 1930 when Maren Downing Morrison, daughter of the once prominent Kearneyite, W. A. Downing, gifted her childhood home at 723 West 22nd Street to the club in honor of her parents. The Club jubilantly acknowledged the terms and conditions of the offer, and held their first meeting in their new club home in April of 1931. It has remained their meeting place for over 92 years.
The Kearney Woman’s Club has seen many changes over the decades, but their commitment to the community has not ceased. The club, today made up of 40 active members, meets on occasion for guest speakers, events, and monthly meetings. They participate in a variety of community service projects, including several projects for the Veterans’ Home, supporting numerous non-profit groups, and volunteering for various organizations across Kearney.