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Historic Service Organization Improves, Connects Community

By Allison Wilson

The San Jose Woman's Club, one of California's oldest organizations, was born in 1894, a time when women across America were forming groups to address issues that were impacting them. Founding members of the Woman's Club wrote in their minutes that they were interested in more than just suffrage and temperance - they wanted to establish kindergartens, save the redwoods, and help women find jobs.

Today, the San Jose Woman's club is no longer a same-sex organization, but it continues to focus on doing important work in the community, such as providing scholarships for local students and funding local and women's charitable organizations.

"I feel San Jose still has many social issues that need attention," says Betty Sleeth, President of San Jose Woman's Club. "Being a member of the San Jose Woman's Club allows me to join with others to make community improvements that I could never make on my own. And since our organization supports so many other local nonprofits, it allows me to keep in touch with my community."

One of the most popular events held at the San Jose Woman's Club building is the annual LUNAFEST, a traveling film festival that features food and short films written, directed or produced by women. The event benefits The Breast Cancer Fund and area charities such as the Sempervirens Fund, San Jose Day Nursery, and Next Door Solutions.

The annual Opera with the Stars Luncheon is also one of the Club's "star" events, featuring a catered luncheon, a silent auction, and, of course- opera! Arias and popular songs are performed by Opera San Jose, with proceeds going to the San Jose Woman's Club Scholarship Program, supporting students at San Jose State University. It's about people in San Jose getting together to give back to the San Jose community - and to appreciate the talent within it.

"We also focus on helping women enjoy and improve their lives," says Sleeth. "This spring, we will initiate a new women's speaker series: 'Words from Women of Wisdom,' featuring notable women of Silicon Valley and highlighting the achievements of women."

Activity Sections allow members of the Woman's Club to bond over shared interests and include Walking for Health, Mahjong, Needle Arts, and Besse Book Group, among others. Activity Sections can be social or philanthropic. "Through our Be a Dear Section we support the Women's Gathering Place, a downtown respite center for women at risk, by providing lunch and activities once per month," says Sleeth. "This Section also provides new and gently used bras and new undergarments to women in transition. To date, they have distributed more than 15,000 bras."

The San Jose Woman's Club operates out of a large and comfortable historic building with a stage and ballroom as well as kitchen facilities. The landmark structure was built by San Jose women in 1929 as their clubhouse. The building was designed by the notable architectural firm of Wolfe & Higgins in the California Mission Revival style. It has many tiled features created by ceramicist Albert Solon. The original landscaping was designed by Willa Cloys Carmack, the first woman to graduate from UC-Berkeley in landscape design. The clubhouse's functionality and obvious aesthetic beauty make it appealing to community groups who need a venue to host meetings and events.

"In general we host three types of events for other organizations," Sleeth says. "First, we are very attractive to other nonprofits who need a place to hold their own fund-raising events. Second, we host groups who need performance space; our ballroom and stage are very popular with local singers and dancers. And third, we have many weddings and other parties for families who simply cannot host a large event at their home."

"People love our venue because it speaks to our California heritage and because it is a place that they want to share with their friends," Sleeth says. "We are an extremely popular venue so it is important that potential clients contact our booking agent early if they are interested in holding their event in our lovely space."

The clubhouse is located at 75 South 11th Street, San Jose, CA. To to book it for an event, please call 408-294-6919. Visit the San Jose Woman's Club at sjwomansclub.org.

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Allison Wilson is an award-winning writer and communications professional whose...

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