State College

Penn State’s founding fathers left lasting contributions to Centre County. So did their wives

The State College Woman’s Club was founded in 1894. Beginning in March, the club is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Members past and present are proud of our legacy of education for women, giving back to one’s community and socialization opportunities for members.

State College was a unique town and gown community right from the beginning, and College Avenue divides the campus from the town. The SCWC is actually older than our town, which became a borough in 1896. We have shared growing pains together and are partners in this community.

The club was founded by Frances Atherton in 1894. She was the wife of George Atherton, president of what is now Penn State University. Then, it was known as Farmer’s High School.

Frances Atherton is listed in the university archives as Fannie Washburne Atherton. A framed photograph of her is proudly displayed in the SCWC clubhouse. All of the club’s early founding paperwork was donated to the Penn State archives, along with early scrapbooks and memorabilia.

The early club met in members’ homes to socialize, to learn and enjoy piano music and the arts. After the club became part of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1896, attention on giving back to one’s community joined the other interests of the club.

It’s incredible what one may find in the archives at Penn State. On a recent exploration to Pattee-Paterno Libraries, I was able to locate actual programs of the first meetings of the club listed under Frances Atherton. The programs outlined the monthly topics for 1894-1895.

One can not overlook the original 35 ladies that gathered for their first meeting. Among those listed with ladies with last names that local streets are named today: Atherton, Buckhout, Butz, Dale, Foster, Gill, Hamilton and more. Along with the founding fathers of the university, their wives were also making meaningful contributions and history to Centre County.

The SCWC owns its clubhouse at 902 S. Allen St. The building include the Thrift Shop, which is operated by volunteer club members and open to the public year-round on Thursdays. All money from the sale of used items goes back into the community. Some organizations supported by the club include Schlow Centre Region Library, Meals on Wheels, Centre Safe and more.

Service clubs, volunteer fire companies and supporting organizations in general are finding it hard to maintain membership in the 21st century. The SCWC is no exception. Club membership over the years is experiencing a decline in volunteer involvement. In the heyday of the SCWC in the 1950s and ‘60s, membership reached 400 members. Today’s membership roster numbers are under 50 members. We need women to continue our good work for today and the future.

Milestones are something to celebrate. The club is celebrating this year by having an open house at the Thrift Shop from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday. The executive board and trustees thought an open house would be appropriate, as the Thrift Shop makes the monies that are given back to the State College community. This is an opportunity for anyone not familiar with the clubhouse building at 902 S. Allen St. to feel welcome, to come stay and say hello to your neighbors and shop. Scrapbooks will be on display.

We look forward to greeting you, answering any questions about our organization and to share in this historic moment.

Deanna Nardozzo is a 31-year member of the SCWC and is a trustee.