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General Federation of Women's Clubs of South Dakota Records

General Federation of Women's Clubs of South Dakota Records Finding Aid

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Collection Summary


MA 28


General Federation of Women's Clubs of South Dakota Records


General Federation of Women's Clubs of South Dakota




6.26 linear feet [5 record boxes, 3 document cases]



Access note

This collection is open to researchers without restrictions. The materials in the Archives do not circulate and may be used in-house only.

Preferred Citation

Name of item . General Federation of Women's Clubs of South Dakota records. MA 28. South Dakota State University Archives and Special Collections, Hilton M. Briggs Library, Brookings, South Dakota.


The General Federation of Women's Club is a non-profit, non-sectarian, non-partisan women's organization with a focus on community service through active volunteer and altruistic pursuits. The collection is composed of administrative material, District V material, including GFWC Brookings and Brookings Civic League, and campaign material for the creation of the South Dakota Memorial Art Center.

Historical Note

General Federation of Women's Clubs of South Dakota

The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) was founded by Jane Cunningham Croly in 1868 when she began the Sorosis club of New York City. In 1889, she initiated the founding of the Federation by bringing existing clubs together to form a national, mutually supportive organization.

It was through the efforts of Miss Clara D. Coe, founder of the Round Table Club of Deadwood in 1887, that the Black Hills Federation of Women’s Clubs was organized in Deadwood in 1897. This organization joined the General Federation in 1898. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs chose Miss Coe to serve as a Federation organizer for the State of South Dakota. A meeting was called to order on December 8, 1899, at Deadwood and Clara D. Coe was elected chairman of the session. This meeting was adjourned to January 15, 1890, in the Old Syndicate Block in Deadwood, where the South Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs (now known as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of South Dakota or GFWC of SD) was organized. The GFWC of SD joined the national GFWC on March 1, 1890. The first annual meeting was held June 14-15, 1890, in Aberdeen and Mrs. Winona Axtell Lyon of the Ladies History Club of Sioux Falls was elected the first President. Thirteen member clubs were reported.

The purpose of this organization is to bring into communication the various non-partisan, non-political and non-sectarian women’s clubs and organizations in the state of South Dakota, to compare methods of work, to insure unity of action and to promote the improvement of moral, intellectual and social conditions. Any women’s club or organization that met these criteria is eligible to join GFWC of SD. The state of South Dakota is divided into six Federation Districts.

Conventions are held annually. This governing body of GFWC of SD consists of the elected officers, the District Presidents, the Editor of the South Dakota Clubwoman, the Historian-Custodian, the Director of Junior Clubs and the Immediate Past President.

The Departments of Work and Standing Committees are arranged to conform to those of the GFWC as far as possible. These committees include the arts, conservation, education, home life, international and public affairs.

Brookings Civic League

The Brookings Civic League was organized on April 12, 1912, when forty women of Brookings met to organize a Civic League. Its purpose was "the consideration and discussion of civic and community problems with a view toward active participation in uplifting, improving and beautifying the city of Brookings, and to cooperate as an auxiliary with the Commercial Club in these matters." This club was organized largely through the efforts of Dr. A. A. Harris, the president of the Commercial Club and then Mayor of Brookings. The club went to work right away on improvement issues in Brookings. Garbage collection was its first milestone. The group arranged to have refuse cans placed at accessible locations on Main Street of Brookings by July 1912.

In 1914, the Women's Suffrage campaign was becoming an issue across the nation. The Brookings Civic League affiliated itself with the South Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs in February of that year to help in "the progress of all things pertaining to the welfare of women."

World War I broke out in Europe in 1916. By 1917, American men were called upon to serve their country. The Civic League did their part by organizing the Brookings Chapter of the American Red Cross. By 1919, many women's clubs were active in Brookings, each doing its own work with no cooperation between the groups. The Civic League called these clubs together and organized a City Federation. All women's organizations in the city of Brookings were eligible to join the City Federation, provided they had an organizational constitution.

Over the years, the Brookings Civic League has worked on many projects. In the 1920's, the Civic League worked diligently on cleaning up the city of Brookings. An anti-fly campaign was organized to alleviate the town of its persistent fly problem and an Annual Clean Up Week was begun in 1922. Some other projects include park beautification, tree conservation, bicycle safety, a swimming pool, public health, and a school milk program. The League sponsored the Farmers Ladies Lounge, a women's rest room that featured an attendant. It also helped in locating and establishing the South Dakota Art Museum on the South Dakota State University campus.

In recent years, the city of Brookings has taken over city improvement issues. Because of this, the Civic League has become less of a civic action group and more social in nature. Today, the Brookings Civic League still meets on a regular basis but with a new focus. Each year, the group sponsors a Craft & Collectibles Fair and donates the funds to the South Dakota Art Museum.

GFWC Brookings

GFWC Brookings was organized on March 24, 1977 as Community Federation Women. Community Federated Women changed its name to GFWC Brookings in 1983 to be more closely identified with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The club was first organized because its four charter members served as representatives of Brookings County women’s organizations to the City Federation of Women’s Clubs. GFWC has standing committees for each of the six GFWC departments and several special committee appointments such as Public Relations/ Communications, Legislation, Membership, Community Improvement Program, Awards, University Week for Women, SD Clubwoman, Historian and Brookings Youth Community Improvement Programs. GFWC Brookings has been active in many programs including the Brookings Youth Community Improvement Programs, Walking Challenge, and South Dakota Public Broadcasting Telethon.

South Dakota Memorial Art Center

The idea of an art center for South Dakota originated with the South Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs when Mrs. Herbert Kenyon of Yankton was state president (1947-1949). At the state convention in 1950, a resolution was approved asking that a suitable building be erected, to be known as the South Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs Memorial Art Center.

For fifty years the Federation had been influential in movements for the cultural development of this members and the state in which they live. The women had collected fine reproduction of painting, some originals, and art objects to be circulated and used for study by clubs. This collection was kept in Pierre in the home of Mrs. S.C. Polley, who, with several others, was active in developing the work. The Free Library Commission took over the storage when the collection became too large and had to be moved. As interest grew in these art treasures, the need for establishing a Memorial Art Center became apparent.

In December, 1948, the Pierre Women’s Club presented a resolution to the official board asking that the Federation sponsor the erection of a building, as “a memorial to the determined women who pioneered the women’s club movement in the state.” The resolution to establish such a memorial passed at the convention in Rapid City in October 1950, and a fund for the purpose was started.

To select a location, cities and institutions were asked to extend an invitation to the Federation. Five cities responded: Pierre, Huron, Spearfish, Vermillion, and Brookings. It was announced in April, 1955, that Brookings had been chosen as the site. The Regents of Education for South Dakota approved the placing of the Memorial Art Center on the State College campus on June 23, 1955. A fundraising campaign was launched and was successful in raising nearly $350,000. A federal grant of $166,666 was also obtained with the Federation contribution nearly $55,000.

Construction began in 1969 on the South Dakota State University campus and the building was dedicated in May 1970

Contents Note

The Administration series is composed directories, programs, a constitution and by-laws and the South Dakota Clubwoman newsletters. The South Dakota Clubwoman newsletters make up the bulk of this series.

The General Federation of Women’s Clubs of South Dakota has divided the state into six Federation Districts. District V includes the counties of Marshall, Day, Clark, Kingsbury, Roberts, Grant, Codington, Hamlin, Deuel, and Brookings.

Material in this series is arranged into sub-series: General, GFWC Brookings, and Brookings Civic League.

The General sub-series composed of minutes, reports, programs, club reports, correspondence, clippings, and constitutions and by-laws. The club reports are reports sent to the District V president describing the clubs activities for the year. These are arranged alphabetically by town with all clubs for a town filed in one folder. The minutes, reports, and programs are filed together and consist of minutes from board meeting of GFWC, District V and deal mainly with preparations for annual meetings and conventions. The reports are mainly reports from conventions and the programs are from annual conventions.

The Brookings Civic League sub-series is composed mainly of minutes of the Brookings Civic League. The minutes are dispersed throughout seven ledgers and include meeting minutes, annual reports, treasurer's reports and some correspondence. Also included are an account book and two scrapbooks from the 1970's. One of the scrapbooks is historical in nature and consists of programs from annual conventions of the General Federation of Women's Clubs of South Dakota, clippings, and other memorabilia.

The GFWC Brookings sub-series is composed of minutes, scrapbooks, reports, and photographs and slides.

The Memorial Art Center Campaign Records are composed of correspondence, minutes, financial records, agreements, clippings, and architectural renderings and blueprints.

Key Words


  • ·         General Federation of Women’s Clubs of South Dakota

  • ·         Civic improvement – Societies, etc.

  • ·         Clubs – South Dakota – Brookings

  • ·         South Dakota Memorial Art Center

  • ·         Women – South Dakota – Societies and clubs

  • ·         Women – South Dakota – Brookings – Societies and clubs


Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers without restrictions. The materials in the Archives do not circulate and may be used in-house only.

Researchers conducting extensive research are asked to make an advance appointment to access archival material. Please call or e-mail prior to visiting the collection and indicate as much detail as possible about a particular topic and intended use.

South Dakota State University supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted as a result of their fragile condition or by contractual agreements with donors.

Copyright note

Copyright restrictions apply in different ways to different materials. Many of the documents and other historical materials in the Archives are in the public domain and may be reproduced and used in any way. There are other materials in the Archive carrying a copyright interest and must be used according to the provisions of Title 17 of the U.S. Code. The Archive issues a warning concerning copyright restrictions to every researcher who requests copies of documents. Although the copyright law is under constant redefinition in the courts, it is ultimately the responsibility of the researcher to properly use copyrighted material.

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