Around 1907, a group of about a dozen women in Crystal River wanted to clean up Crystal River, the river itself and the surrounding environment.
They banded together as a “village improvement society,” and once a month, in their long skirts, they would go down to the river and pull algae out of it.
As time went on, they started planting trees and flowers around town and picking up litter.
Some other women, who were more political, joined the group and together they added politics to their growing list of interests and causes.
They also added lunch, going to each other’s homes to eat together before their monthly meetings.
In 1921, with 19 members, they became what is still today the Crystal River Woman’s Club. That same year they joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC).
The club’s first meeting place was the building that’s now the Tea House 650 at 650 N. Citrus Ave. in the downtown area of Crystal River, which at times had been used as a hospital and a library, said Margaret Williams, the club’s current president.
In 1940, the club collected books for the town’s first library in its clubhouse. By 1963, the library had grown too large for the clubhouse; it was the Crystal River Woman’s Club that was instrumental in eventually building the Coastal Region Library.
On land donated by Harvey and Ada Willis, the club built its current clubhouse at 320 N. Citrus Ave. in 1971.
In 2016, flooding from Hurricane Hermine ruined all of the kitchen appliances, along with most of the flooring, the bottom half of the wall boards, about 40 card tables, much of the electrical wiring and a $2,000 piano.
Also, most of the cabinets were damaged and their contents destroyed – including all the club’s historical records.
The club’s then-president, Becky Culver, told the Chronicle in September 2016: “We are used to giving help, not receiving it. So we aren’t used to thinking that way.”
At that time, the club had several capital-improvement fundraisers planned, but instead of giving the money to their local charities and causes, money raised would have to be used for recovery.
“We earn money and we give money away,” she said, noting 90 percent of what the club brings in goes back out again. “It makes me sorry to have to fundraise for ourselves.”
Tell us about the Crystal River Woman’s Club in 2023
“We exist to support the community in any way we can,” Margaret Williams said.
The club is divided into sub-committees: arts and culture, education and libraries, environmental, health and wellness and the Florida Federation of Women’s Club (GFWC-FL) president’s project.
The club also has a civic engagement and outreach committee, led by Leslie Martineau, that, among other things, supports female veterans in the community. In 1999, they began honoring women veterans with an appreciation luncheon every November during Veterans Appreciation Week.
What charities does the club support?
Among their many charities and causes, the club supports Nature Coast Cancer Crusaders, Citrus United Basket (C.U.B.), Cayla’s Coats and Jessie’s Place.
They provide scholarships for women going back to finish or continue schooling; they help supply the “Pirates Den” at Crystal River High School with personal care items and other basic necessities for students who are homeless or in need; they collect shoes and socks for the countywide annual “Two Good Soles” collection drive; dress up as the Cat in the Hat on Dr. Seuss’ birthday March 6 and bring Dr. Seuss books to Crystal River Primary School; and they make bags out of T-shirts for Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis for kids with various medical conditions.
That’s just a fraction of what this club does.
In February 2022, the club formed a “Women Helping Women” club that’s under the umbrella of the larger club.
This group brings together club members and women from the community with special needs.
They meet on Wednesday mornings for two hours at the clubhouse where they learn life skills like cooking and crafts while building their confidence and independence.
They also play cornhole and have a lot of fun.
How can the community help the Crystal River Woman’s Club?
Williams said one of the biggest ways is for women who are interested in serving the community to join the club as an active member.
“The more members we have, the more we can do,” Williams said. “We especially would like to see younger women join. We are aging out, and that makes it challenging to do all the things we’ve been used to doing all these past years.”
The community can also help by attending club events that are open to the public, which are publicized in the Chronicle.
This summer, look for notices about game days at the clubhouse, including Wacky Bingo in June.
For more information about the Crystal River Woman’s Club, call 352-795-5488 or Leslie Martineau at 352-746-2396.