Self-improvement, community improvement : North Carolina Sorosis and the women's club movement in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1895-1950

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jennifer R. Lang (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
Web Site:
Kathleen Berkeley

Abstract: The Progressive Era ushered in a new importance for women’s associations with an increase in municipal housekeeping that centered on education, health, social services and other civic concerns. Prior to the Progressive Era, women’s clubs across America focused on the self-improvement of their members through the study of art, literature, and other cultural pastimes. North Carolina Sorosis was part of the nationwide emergence of women’s clubs during the Progressive Era. Organized womanhood provided a safe location to break down traditional roles of women and expanded women’s influence in the public sphere. The women’s club movement established the idea that women had a moral duty and responsibility to improve society. Clubs provided them with the vehicle to enter the public sphere and to transform, define, and shape public policy. North Carolina Sorosis contributed to Wilmington’s social and cultural infrastructure by creating parks, museums, libraries, and schools. For the women of Sorosis, the club provided an opportunity to become a powerful source of change in Wilmington. Members developed political skills by working with city officials even before women gained the right to vote. Sorosis members also acquired leadership experience and developed financial skills by sponsoring fund-raisers and by creating and maintaining museums, libraries and other civic institutions. These changes in women’s clubs during the Progressive Era were exemplified with the clubhouse boom. The last chapter of this thesis focuses on the North Carolina Sorosis Clubhouse. The Sorosis clubhouse, like so many clubhouses across America, was established through the hard work, talent, and efficacy of women willing to undertake financial, managerial, organizational, and bureaucratic responsibilities on levels unprecedented prior to the Progressive Era. The women of Sorosis and thousands of clubwomen across the nation demonstrated, to themselves and to their communities, women’s potential at these tasks. The clubhouse was recognized across the nation as an expression of pride and power for clubwomen. To build, design, and purchase clubhouses represented the effort of women’s clubs to combine civic responsibilities with more traditional social roles. Clubwomen believed the city could become homelike and as domestic housekeepers they attempted to blur the lines between public and private space. This act enabled them to cross these lines and enter into the city’s public spaces. The very success of the clubwomen contributed to a decline in the power and influence of the clubwoman. Sorosis was no longer the driving force of change in Wilmington after World War II. Much of the work Sorosis had accomplished including the founding of the first free public library, establishing Greenfield Lake Park, organizing a night school for Delgado Mill Workers, sponsoring milk stations and baby clinics was turned over to the city for upkeep. With the professionalization of libraries, museums, social work, and other public institutions, the clubwomen lost their control and influence on the social and cultural growth and direction of Wilmington. As a result, North Carolina Sorosis reverted to once again functioning as a social club for women. Nevertheless, the institutions that Sorosis created remain central to the social and cultural vibrancy of present-day Wilmington.

Additional Information

A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
Language: English
Date: 2009
North Carolina--Societies and clubs--19th century, North Carolina--Societies and clubs--20th century, North Carolina Sorosis--History, Wilmington (N.C.)--Societies and clubs--19th century, Wilmington (N.C.)--Societies and clubs--20th century, Women--Societies and clubs--North Carolina--Wilmington
North Carolina Sorosis -- History
Wilmington (N.C.) -- Societies and clubs -- 19th century
Wilmington (N.C.) -- Societies and clubs -- 20th century
North Carolina -- Societies and clubs -- 19th century
North Carolina -- Societies and clubs -- 20th century
Women -- Societies and clubs -- North Carolina -- Wilmington

Email this document to