The lasting impact of the spinsters

Published 6:45 am Sunday, March 12, 2023

BY CLARK CURTIS, For the Washington Daily News

Editors Note: During Women’s History Month, Clark Curtis will be taking a look at some of the women, past and present, whose stories and lives have contributed in some way to the deep and rich history of Washington. 

On November 10, 1941, under the guidance of Carlotta Waters, a group of ten unmarried women from Washington formed the Spinsters Club. The founding members created their own set of by- laws, a constitution, and met monthly. They were structured like any other group with officers, which included a club historian who was in charge of the clubs’ scrapbook. Their mission was to promote civic duty throughout the community. 

But little did they know of the significant role they would play then and in the future of Washington. “With the bombing of Pearl Harbor less than a month away this cvic minded group would soon be transformed into an organization focused on the war effort,” said Stephen Farrell, historian at the Brown Library. “In support of the USO they would hold charity and Red Cross drives, as well as dances. They were held at the city’s first recreation center located on West Main Street, just a short distance from the county bridge. They were open to members of the Army, Navy, Marines, and their families.”

But as the war progressed, so did the Spinsters’ work in supporting the growing needs of the USO and its support of the ongoing war effort. Red Cross events and dances would be held at different locations all around town which included the Firemans’ Hall on North Market Street and various other venues. At the time Washington didn’t have a dedicated recreation center. That, said Farrell, would soon change. “The Bug House Laboratory and Washington Field Museum, which housed the largest collection of animal species in a private museum in the United States had been closed as the majority of the founders had been drafted and gone off to war. As a result, the city removed all of the contents into storage, which left the building vacant and unused. As the war continued, city leaders saw a need for the USO and The Spinsters to have a place where they could hold events to support the war efforts.”

Together the Spinsters and the USO worked tirelessly to create a recreation center. The club was able to secure funds from a national USO grant to pay for the renovations of the museum building. This included a snack bar, kitchen facilities, and a large dance hall that was added to the museum building and appropriately named Spinsters Hall. A building, following the war, that would become Washingtons’ park and recreation facility.

Dances and fundraisers were held for the soldiers and their families who had not shipped out yet or had returned from the war. They came from as far away as Cherry Point and Fort Bragg. “The Spinsters and the USO also hosted an exclusive VJ victory dance on August 25, 1945, for active military and retirees,” said Farrell. “The event was held at Spinsters Hall or the USO Social Hall as it was commonly referred to during the war.”

Following the war, the Spinsters remained in civic service to the community until the 1960s, totally focused on Washington and the desire to build a better community. They did so by promoting leadership roles and events to empower young women. At one point they created a special scholarship for members of the Boys and Girls Scouts. It was awarded to the Boy or Girl Scout who attained the highest recognition in citizenship, which included leading activities in the scouts, church, school, and community. “The efforts of the Spinsters over the years has had a lasting impact on the town of Washington,” said Farrell. “I’m personally amazed at how much they were able to accomplish during the war and after. Remembering and celebrating these women is a duty that we all have.”

Farrell is an advocate of creating a cultural and heritage museum to preserve and promote stories such as this, of which there are many more.