“The State at present thinks it cannot afford to educate its girls. Our question is: Can it afford not to do so?” - Emalea Pusey Warner
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Background/ The Gateway to the Political Sphere: The Wilmington New Century Club (NCC) was formed by Emalea Pusey Warner in 1889 (1). The NCC was the founding member of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Delaware (2). Both the NCC and the Delaware State Federation focused on all levels of education than putting their time into other areas of community involvement (3). The NCC and federation started off small by offering their support to get sewing and cooking classes into the public schools and getting professors to lecture to the club women on “literary subjects” (4). “The State Federation was determined to press for concrete actions that would improve the whole society, not just improve the women in the clubs”; this concrete action included a state library board and more in depth school programs (5)
Community Impacts: The Federation in 1899 organized a “traveling library committee” which successfully convinced the state legislatures to authorize a state library board in 1901. The federation also pushed for getting nurses installed into the public schools (6).
Continuing on their path to reforming education the NCC backed the Compulsory Education Bill that would acquire children to attend school (7). Going up against the interests of the Delaware farmers who relied on child labor to help on the farms, the NCC original lost (8). Not taking no for an answer the club continued to push for change but this time they decided to attempt to make changes to the state constitution. The club members campaigned statewide for the constitutional provisions, but again failed. Despite the second failure, the NCC stayed committed and turned their attention to campaigning more locally than statewide (9). Finally in 1907 the clubs efforts proved successful when the state finally passed a compulsory education law (10). Along the lines of compulsory education the federation also pushed “improved collection of school taxes and a stronger child labor law to make it possible for more children to attend school on a regular basis.” They also wanted to provide scholarships regarding training for teachers and that women could be on the school boards “to ensure school improvements” (11). After taking care of the public primary and secondary schools, the club women turned back towards higher education for themselves. Mrs. Warner at a meeting regarding the need for women colleges in 1910 said “the State at present thinks it cannot afford to educate it’s girls. Our question is: Can it afford not to do so” (12). The NCC and the State Federation from 1911 to 1913 held a variety of meetings and devoted a lot of their time to the issue of colleges for women (13). The NCC often traveled to Dover to lobby individual state legislators for legislation that would create a college network for women (14). The lobbying paid off when on February 10, 1913 Representative King from Wilmington introduced a bill that was written by the State Board of Education to “establish and maintain an Affiliated College for Women at Newark” (15). The bill was passed by the House on February 28th but ran into complications between the House and Senate when it came to how to finance it (16). Not to be dismayed the clubwomen flooded the representatives with telegrams pushing for the passage of the bill (17). Once again the clubwomen found their perseverance to pay off as on March 20th the House and Senate compromised and the bill was signed by the Governor the next day (18). Shortly after the legislature authorized a women’s college commission to oversee the construction of the college buildings (19). Although the head of the commission was the Governor, representatives and senators, State Board of Education members, Delaware College Trustees the commission also included women from the State Federation including Mrs. Emalea Warner (20).
While the club was not always successful, the Delaware women found that their clubs still provided them a political outlet to promote their say about issues. The Delaware clubs decided that education was their forte and they stuck with it, creating laws that helped keep students in school and establishing women’s colleges.
.Footnotes: 1. Taggart, Robert. "WOMEN’S CLUBS AS EDUCATIVE AGENCIES Wilmington, Delaware New Century Club, 1889-1920." American Educational History Journal, 33, no. 1 (2006): 58-59. 2. Ibid, 59. 3. Ibid. 4.Ibid. 5.Ibid. 6.Ibid. 7.Ibid. 8.Ibid. 9.Ibid. 10.Ibid, 60. 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid, 61. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid, 62. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid. Note: The header photo is courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives from the Milford Photo Graph Collection