It’s hard to imagine that Miami was a treacherous swamp of land before the region’s famous beaches and pastel buildings drew visitors like magnets.
For settlers and homesteaders, laying a foundation of the city was the task at hand, and leading that effort were the women pioneers who helped build Miami.
The Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove served as a religious, academic and social space for pioneer women to gather and discuss ideas on community development. This is its 125th year of service.
In celebration of its anniversary, Sandra Riley, a member of the club’s archive team, wrote Footprints, a story about the loving partnership between husband and wife Kirk and Mary Munroe and early settler life. It also acknowledges the Bahamian community as the early settlers of Coconut Grove. Riley, who has a background in theater for more than 30 years, began writing it five years ago, and with the directional help of artistic director Ricky J. Martinez from New Theatre, she was able to bring it to life.
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“I feel very strongly that to know the history of a place gives it that special energy, that we are part of the community, [the history] they created comes down, it doesn’t get lost, it comes down to all of us in some way,” Riley said. “The audience is not coming to see a history lesson. They are coming to see a play about two married people, 35 years of their life, their ups, downs and conflicts, but they support each other so beautifully in what they do and their passion to create and service the community, and I think that’s important.”
Originally, the group was known as the Housekeeper’s Club, founded by Flora McFarlane, a homesteader and teacher, and six other members. The club’s name changed in 1957. Projects have ranged from fundraising for a Sunday school chapel to engaging members in environmental conservation. With funds from the club, members joined in an effort to aggressively challenge development and preserve Royal Palm State Park, which decades later would become part of Everglades National Park.
Charity Johnson, the program chair, credits the club’s relevance to its ability to stay on top of the times. The club is now made up of mostly retired and working businesswomen with backgrounds in art, law, academia and entrepreneurship.
“We have been very inclusive with our demographics, and we have some very active members who are lesbians and are totally accepted and have been, always. That to me is very refreshing because you wouldn’t think that necessarily of a club that’s been around for 125 years. The reason we’re still existence is because we’ve been able to adapt to the needs and interests of women and our community. We’re not stuck in the 1960s, and we’ve been willing to make changes.”
Agnes Morrell agrees.
A native of England and a transplant from Georgia, Morrell joined the club three years ago, and said it allowed her to make more friends and serve the community.
“One of the friends I made, since I got to Miami, introduced me to the club and, at first, I found it a little slow, but we’ve had a change of chairman that’s really turned it around with more community activity which I enjoy,” Morrell said. “I didn’t just want to go for a lunch on the first Thursday of every month. I wanted to do something for the community.”
With the club, she is also excited to assist in the growing initiative against human trafficking. Recently the club brought Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to discuss the topic with members.
“The Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove may be known as the community’s oldest civic group, but the outlook and civic involvement of its membership has always been forward looking,” Fernandez Rundle said. “That’s why I wanted to discuss the problem of human trafficking and its local impact with this group of public-minded women. The club’s three-word motto of “Lend a Hand” is best displayed in the projects these women actively support. The Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove makes things happen.”
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▪ What: Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove
▪ Where: 2985 S. Bayshore Dr.
▪ Price: Annual membership $50
▪ When: Club meets the first Thursday of every month at noon.
▪ For more information, visit: http://womansclubofcoconutgrove.com