There were six women among the twelve Congregationalists and Presbyterians who organized a union church that Thursday, January 22, 1852. The women cast votes of equal authority to adopt the articles of covenant by which the congregation was to be governed.
Once the congregation was established and began to function, though, the women were relegated to the roles Victorian society defined for them.
Not long after the Union Church was organized, the Ladies Sewing Society was formed for the express purpose of helping to raise money for the first meeting house. Shortly after the meeting house was completed in 1855, the Society ceased to function.
The second women’s group was the Ladies Sewing Circle, organized in January 1864 to assist in building a new church, as the meeting house on Fourth Street was becoming too small for the growing congregation. Their determination and perseverance was amazing – in two years, they raised $1200! In February 1865, the women purchased two lots on the corner of Main and Seventh Streets for $600 each. Half was paid at the time of purchase and the remainder by March 1866. This was only the beginning of an unending list of contributions made over the next century.
In 1889 a new constitution was adopted which changed the name to the Ladies Society of the First Congregational Church. The organization began to extend its interests beyond the limits of the church, becoming more involved in community projects such as providing sewing lessons and language instructions to immigrants from Norway, Germany, Poland, etc.
By the beginning of the 1900’s, there were four women’s groups with their memberships and their functions overlapping. Harriet Faville, the minister’s wife, suggested the four be united into one organization to be called the Woman’s Union. The Ladies Society didn’t like this idea, so it co-existed with the Union for another dozen years, appealing mainly to the women who wised to keep alive the old ways.
The Woman’s Union was composed of eight semi-autonomous standing committees, each with its own officers. The membership grew proportionately with the growth of the church. By 1922, the members were grouped into ten circles, which became known as guilds in 1944. In 1953, the name was changed to Women’s Fellowship to be in accord with other state and national Congregational women’s groups.
The Women’s Fellowship today (2008) has three circles. Its major fund-raising event, the fall rummage sale, dates back to 1907 when the Woman’s Union raised $190.80. The proceeds are used for kitchen items, furnishings for the Lounge, contributions to community service organizations and more.
There are various other activities for women in the church, but only the Women’s Fellowship has its own officers and treasury.
(Thanks to Patricia Muller, whose article in It Started with Twelve provided the information above.)