Cookin', Critters and Chillun

Women celebrate 90 years of making Roanoke County better

Ninety years ago, Annie Barna Whitner had an idea that made Roanoke County better. She was the leader of a group of women who founded the Roanoke County Woman’s Club. A few weeks ago, today’s members got together to celebrate Whitner, the women from those early days and what Roanoke County women accomplished over all these years.

Starting the Roanoke County library system was among the most notable. It’s fitting that next week, on July 1, the new Glenvar Branch of the Roanoke County Public Library will open with a ceremony at 10 a.m.

Members of the Roanoke County Woman's gather in front of their club house in this undated photo from the early 1930s. Photo courtesy Roanoke County Woman's Club
Members of the Roanoke County Woman’s gather in front of their club house in this undated photo from the early 1930s. Photo courtesy Roanoke County Woman’s Club
Member Marie Miller researched and presented “A Tribute to Annie B. Whitner” at the club’s birthday luncheon at the Salem Museum on June 7. Afterwards, many members went to East Hill Cemetery to lay fresh flowers on her grave.

When the organization started, it was only 10 years after women had gotten the right to vote, with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Ladies were just beginning to glimpse the possibilities of their own strength in 1923, when 28 future members met at the home of Mrs. J.H. Whitner.

Their interest in forming what they referred to as a “Country Club” (as opposed to an organization of city women) grew out of the Civics division of the Chamber of Commerce of Roanoke.

According to Mrs. R.K. Temple’s “Memories and Profiles,” “I recall how with almost terror in my heart someone raised at the organization meeting…to the point that perhaps the time was not yet right for organizing a Country Club.”

They ultimately decided that the county women “had a perspective which women of the city had not understood, and which it would be difficult for them to recognize.”

That same year, the Roanoke County Woman’s club joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

The following year the women first began talking about pledging money to build a club house, and each member contributed $5 to start the fund-raising.

They broke ground on Oct. 5, 1928, for the club house with the rock wall at the top of the hill across from the former Conehurst Elementary School, now American National University (National College). The club used the building for its meetings, started the county library in the back room, rented out the facility for hundreds of weddings, tea parties, anniversary celebrations and other happy gatherings until March 31, 2006, when it was sold for $500,000.

It wasn’t feasible to continue maintaining the club house with declining membership over the years as women went into the full-time work force, maintenance costs increased and with the building’s need for a new roof.

At the last meeting, President Marie Miller locked the front door, and Dot Eller, chairman of the house and property, locked the back door. The club continues meeting monthly at Miller’s home, and members foresee a continuing bright future.

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