By Mike McClure

The Laurel New Century Club recently held the final meeting of its 115 years. Citing lack of new members and the loss of past members the club, which started the Laurel Public Library, has decided to close its doors. 

“It breaks your heart to see a club disband,” said GFWC (General Federation of Women’s Clubs) Delaware President Trish Rodriguez.

Shown (l to r) are members of Laurel New Century Club: Bonnie Stone Fischer (President), Emily Abbott, Triss Holland, Marlene Collins, Nancy Schlicker, and Joanne Czernik. The club held its last meeting earlier this month, bringing a close to the 115 year-old organization. Submitted photo

In addition to losing members, Laurel New Century Club President Bonnie Stone Fisher is moving and none of the other members wanted to fill the role. Most of the members are past presidents.

“Unfortunately the civic clubs are just failing. It seems like they’re going by the wayside. It’s sad because they’re such an important institution in our community,” Fisher said, adding that it is hard to find new members.

“This club has meant a great deal to this community,” Rodriguez added.

Fisher, a member since 2015-16, moved to Laurel and took her mom, Juanita Stone, to the club before deciding to join. Rodriguez has been a GFWC member since 1961.

“We have a great history. The last meeting was very bittersweet,” said Fisher.

During the last meeting, the club made the following donations: Hope House ($5,000), Laurel Library ($1,000), Boys and Girls Club ($1,000), Hugh O’Brian Youth Scholarship at Laurel High for four seniors, and Good Samaritan ($500). The money left over will go to GFWC Delaware. Laurel New Century Club also donated $500 to the U.S. Coast Guard Museum to purchase a brick for GFWC Delaware.

GFWC Delaware started in Wilmington. The organization purchased a clubhouse on Delaware Avenue 127 years ago. The origins of the club began in New York with an educational and professional organization for women called Sirosis, which still meets in New York. Delaware was one of the first states to start a club, during the women’s suffrage movement (the Wilmington New Century Club). Many other clubs followed suit in the state.

Mrs. Harry “Nan” Fooks started the Laurel organization in 1909. The club had 27 women in the beginning. Members had to be voted in.

According to Fisher, the club was made up mostly of women who lived in town because rural women couldn’t easily get to town. The women called their clubs books clubs so their husbands wouldn’t object to them, but they talked about the issues of the day. Many suffragettes were part of these clubs.

Like the Wilmington club, the Laurel New Century Club purchased a building on Mechanic Street which it held meetings in from 1951 to 1981.

“These women took a chance on each other for it to be such a strong club,” Rodriguez said of the purchasing of these buildings.

The clubs serve as community service organizations with donations made to libraries, schools, domestic violence programs, and programs to fight human trafficking. Rodriguez said 75 percent of U.S. libraries were started and maintained by the clubs.