April is National Volunteer Month. Throughout the month we will share articles about the history of service organizations in Osceola County.
American Woman’s League
Edward Gardner Lewis, the publisher of two prominent women’s magazines, established the American Woman’s League (A.W.L.) in 1907 after the U.S. Postal Service told him the magazines didn’t qualify for lower postal rates due to being mostly advertising. The A.W.L. served as a subscription gathering organization for his magazines and newspapers. Women who sold $52 in magazine subscriptions qualified for membership in the A.W.L. The funds were paid to the A.W.L. and could be used to provide benefits the women wanted – education, a foundation for social organizations in their communities, and security for their old age, among other things.
The Kissimmee Chapter of the A.W.L. was formed in April of 1909. The first order of business was to obtain a building which would house not only their organization, but could also be used by other local groups. It should have music and books available to citizens and provide a place for lectures and musical performances to be enjoyed free of charge. A lot was donated by Miss Campbell, sister to Mrs. Catherine E. Hart, former postmistress of Kissimmee and wife of former Florida Governor Ossian B. Hart. The building was named in Mrs. Hart’s honor and known as the Hart Memorial Chapter House, later to become Hart Memorial Library.
Seven hundred A.W.L. chapters were formed across the country, but when financial difficulties arose, a parallel organization, the American Woman’s Republic was formed in 1911. In 1912, the League folded and the Republic remained.
Around 1915, the A.W.L. became the Kissimmee Woman’s Club, continuing its interest in civic and community projects. Plans began in 1940 to build a new building in which to hold meetings and finally became a reality when ground was broken in November of 1961.
The club donates annually to the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Osceola Daily Bread, Help Now of Osceola and the Osceola County Animal Shelter. Scholarships are also available for students. The Clubhouse on Oak Street in Kissimmee is available for rent to groups or individuals for special events.
Written by Anza Bast.
Sources: “Kissimmee Valley Gazette” April 9, 1909, April 22, 1910; “Kissimmee Gazette” November 9, 1961; Bertha Pence, Club member; photo from Osceola County Historical Society archives