luella frances smith mcwhirter along with 10 other women organized the Woman’s Department Club in 1912 (established January 22, 1912, organized February 29, 1912, and incorporated June 6, 1912) to stimulate spiritual, ethical, artistic, and educational growth among Indianapolis women through study and community work. Club members aimed to also have a direct impact on the city’s growth and character, adopting the creed “Service means growth; growth means life; let us live!”

A large group of women sit around a dining table.
Woman’s Department Club Lilac Day meeting, April 30, 1941 Credit: Martin Collection View Source

The club first met at the roof garden of the Hume-Mansur Building and had six departments—art, drama, music, education, literature, and home, civic, and social welfare. Over time, the club organized new departments to accommodate the changing needs of women and the community, such as the new section for blind women that was organized in July 1920.

The Woman’s Department Club began to undertake community projects soon after incorporating. In 1913, members aided in flood relief. They began a nutritional emphasis in the Indianapolis Public Schools by furnishing school lunches, primarily for children of immigrants. In 1917, the club purchased a house at 1702 North Meridian Street to remodel for meetings and work. During World War II, rooms in the clubhouse were donated to help the Red Cross two days a week. The club also sponsored first aid and home nursing.

Women are seated at a table selling cloth purses and clothespin bags. The table is decorated with patriotic fabric.
Woman’s Department Club Street Fair Booth, 1941 Credit: Martin Collection View Source

During the 1950s, members counseled and provided clothing to women being released from the Indiana Women’s Prison. The Art Department provided space for local artists to exhibit their work, and the clubhouse became the first gallery for one-person art shows in Indianapolis.

After the sale of the Club’s house in 1964, meetings were moved to the Krannert Room of Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus and have been held at various locations since.

A large multi-story home sitting on a corner lot.
Woman’s Department Club of Indianapolis Clubhouse at the corner of 17th and Meridian streets, 1917 Credit: The Indiana Album: Evan Finch Collection View Source

Through the 1990s and 2000s, the club continued its history of giving to the community. A 1990s project was the production of an audiotape of James Whitcomb Riley poems read by radio and TV personality, Jim Gerard, with one read by Riley himself. Copies were distributed to Riley properties, libraries, and schools to use as a teaching tool.

The club also began giving yearly endowments to the Hoosier Salon. Scholarships given in this time period included Music Merit awards (Butler University), Educational Scholarships (Indiana University), Nursing Scholarships (Ivy Tech and Indiana University), a college scholarship to a graduating senior from Indiana School for the Blind, and a Saturday School scholarship to Herron School of Art. Additionally, the club has given endowments to Indiana School for the Blind for Summer Camp and Herron School of Art for an art therapy program.

Revised February 2021

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