Pandemic! Florence D. Wilmarth and the Glens Falls Club of College Women
Updated: Aug 21
Before the pandemic hit, I was in the throws of curating two sister exhibitions. I did manage to get both of them up right before NY shutdown for four months, but because both exhibitions are on display in Phase 4 organizations (one in a museum, one here in the Folklife Center) very few people have seen them. Therefore with my first few blog posts, I will be discussing & sharing my exhibitions with you.
"Beyond Suffrage: Women’s Clubs in Greater Glens Falls, NY" uses collections, documents, records, books, objects, and ephemera held in the archives and special collections in the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY to touch on the women's club movement locally (but more on that next time). When I went searching through our collections to figure out what to use to create my exhibit, I was hoping to find a tidbit about voting or the local suffrage movement. But what I found was something very timely, hidden in the first few pages of the 1918-1927 meeting book of The Glens Falls Club of College Women.
According to Patricia V. Leonard in her 1992 paper, Traditions of the Glens Falls Club of College Women, "the Glens Falls Club of College Women was established November 25, 1907 in Glens Falls, N.Y. to promote the interests of college women, maintain a spirit of fellowship, and to extend educational interests. The charter members were alumna of Vassar, Syracuse, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Wellesley, and Oberlin." Like many of the study groups they met monthly at alternating members homes from September to June. One of the charter members was Smith College alumnae Florence D. Wilmarth.
Florence Durgin was born around 1879 to John Cooper Durgin and Alice Maynard Porter. The 1905 census shows her living with her father and two brothers, Allan (30) and William (21) in Kingsbury, NY. She married Martin L.C. Wilmarth on October 4, 1905 in Sandy Hill (now Hudson Falls), NY and raised two children Clarence Martin and Katherine. Florence was also a suffragist active in the Political Equality Club of Glens Falls (1914-1917), as well as a member of the Tuesday Club, and the Women's Civic Club.
Martin ran Wilmarth & Son which, according to the 1918 Glens Falls city directory, sold "artistic furnishings for your home at the lowest prices, consistent with quality". They also handled embalming and funeral services at 15-17 Ridge Street (pre-renumbering). Florence died June 2, 1968 and is buried in Glens Falls Cemetery.
But in 1918 Florence was Secretary of the Glens Falls Club of College Women, and this is what she wrote in her annual report for the club.
1919 Annual Secretary's Report
The College Club opened the year 1918-19 September 26th, with a meeting on Mt McGregor at the home of Mrs. Howk- The Club membered 42 members, added 5 new ones, welcomed our former members back, and lost 2 more who were leaving town making a total of 46. It held no October meeting on account of the wide spread influenza epidemic. The club gave an afternoon meeting at the home of Mrs. Loomis in November to give people an opportunity to hear Miss Leavens one of the Smith College _____ for relief works in France. Miss Leavens was pleased to have the sum of $50 given her for the work. Sewing November and December members met and sewed for a Christmas Doll Sale and the sum of $100.00 was realized, and put into the Ruth Ratelle Fund. This means of raising money was so successful that plans were made to repeat next year.
As a club we underwent the hardships incident to the year of the war and influenza, and we also reaped some of the rewards. For work, we took part in a parade, a war lecture, a sale- for reward, we have had one of our members appointed a class leader to spread the gospel of the League of Nations, one to lead the Woman's Committee for all Liberty Loans, two who headed the Women's Food Conservation Committee, and our scholarship girl Ruth Ratelle was made a member of Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cornell
F.D. Wilmarth, Sec.
The club's October meeting was postponed because of the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919! And they weren't the only club to do so. The disease reached the US in spring 1918 via soldiers returning home from fighting the Great War in Europe. With a second wave in late September, the virus hit locally. By early October, a public meeting ban was in place to limit the spread since there was no other way to contain the virus. Schools, churches, and libraries were closed and would remain so into November though the disease would linger locally into January 1919.
From The Post-Star (Glens Falls, NY), October 26, 1918
Hudson Falls News
CLOSING BAN WILL BE LIFTED MONDAY
But Churches and Schools Will Be Closed Another Week
Owing to the steady decrease in the number of new cases of Spanish Influenza, Health Officer Dr. R.A. Heenan and the members of the Board of Health will lift the ban on hotels, soda fountains and the moving picture theatre on Monday morning next. The 15 day period will have then expired and it is believed that it is not necessary to extend the time as the epidemic is well under control. The health officer as well as Superintendent of Schools George A. Ingalls believes that school should not be opened until Monday, November 4, a week from next Monday, and accordingly the teachers and scholars will have another week's vacation. The churches will also remain closed until Sunday, November 3.
The situation as regards the epidemic is most encouraging and with every resident using caution and observing health rules, Spanish influenza should remain in town only as a memory within a very few days.
As you can see, the restrictions in 1918 were very similar to the restrictions in 2020 with COVID-19. They even had Red Cross volunteers making masks, along with rolling bandages and knitting socks for soldiers. And who were these Red Cross volunteers? They were club women like Florence Durgin Wilmarth.
From The Post-Star (Glens Falls, NY), October 8, 1918
RED CROSS AIDS INFLUENZA FIGHT
Makes Gauze Masks For Nurses and Workers in Crowds
Every effort is being made by the Glens Falls chapter of American Red Cross to help the city and hospital in the present epidemic of Spanish influenza. Workers are now at work making quantities of gauze masks to be worn by those caring for sick or in contact with many people. A large number of the masks were made yesterday morning for the shipyard workers at Fort Edward.
Members of the Hudson Falls branch and the Fort Edward Auxiliary were put to work on this order yesterday and last night a large supply was on hand to provide for any calls that may come in today. In any home where there is influenza those caring for the patients are urged to wear masks to prevent the spread of the disease. They will be furnished free of charge at the local work rooms.
Everything possible is also being done to provide assistance for those who are ill in the Glens Falls hospital. Volunteer workers are doing much to help in the checking of this epidemic. Any who can give any time are urged to leave word at the Red Cross rooms, stating what they would do. Among other assistance that is needed at the hospital is a laundress, and members of the chapter were looking yesterday for someone to help in this capacity.
Records of the Glens Falls Club of College Women held in the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library consist of its constitution and by-laws; minutes, membership books, and other material including papers presented to the Club, lists, and information about reading resources.
Tisha Dolton is Librarian/Historian at The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY. Her areas of interest are suffrage music, suffragists of Warren and Washington Counties, local women and minority populations, and embroidery.