To celebrate Women’s History Month, Natalie Kahler, vice-president of the Brooksville Woman’s Club gave an interesting presentation at their monthly luncheon meeting on Wednesday, March 2nd. She spoke about the early days of the club and some of the prominent local women who were members.
In 1910, a group of Brooksville women dedicated to community spirit organized the club. It’s affiliated with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), an international women’s organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service.
Lena Culver Hawkins, a past club president, was the architect who drew the sketch for the building that houses the club and also oversaw construction of the building. In 1928 she became the first female mayor of Brooksville, as well as one of the earliest women mayors in Florida and even in the United States. Alfred McKethan, a prominent local businessman, called Hawkins a “natural leader among women,” and she was named a Great Floridian in 2000. Her home “The Hawkins House,” is an historic site and now houses Mallie Kylas, a local eatery, the Pearl Porch and Westover Florist.
One of Hawkins’ other accomplishments included heading a campaign to start a chamber of commerce here. She and other community members raised more than $25,000 in thirty minutes towards this effort−a record at this time−and this was before Kickstarter! Considering this was during the depression, also, it was an amazing feat. They signed up 1,700 members at a time when the entire population of Brooksville was only about 1,700 people, so virtually every adult in Brooksville and the outlying area became a member. The Chamber elected Hawkins’ its first executive secretary at a time when women were not supposed to be officers in the chamber.
Another prominent member of the club was Bertha Ashbrook who helped establish the first library in the county. At first it was a traveling library that went around the area in a wagon. The library then found a room in the back of one of the downtown buildings. It was later moved to a building on Saxon Street close to Rogers Christmas House and eventually found a home at its present location on Howell Avenue.
Margaret Dreier Robins, a charter member of the Brooksville Woman’s Club was a suffragette and president of the National Women’s Trade Union League. This organization helped establish better and safer working conditions for women and children. Dreier also advocated before Congress for the eight-hour work day. She moved to the area after she married Raymond Robins, the last owner of the Chinsegut Hill Estate. Another of her contributions to the community was starting a daycare in Brooksville. She also paid for a traveling nurse to bring healthcare to the rural areas of Hernando County. To find out more about Margaret Dreier Robins you can go to https://www.hernandosun.com/2021/11/10/the-luminaries-of-chinsegut-hill/ to read an article about the Robins family.
Alice Spencer Rogers was also a club member. She was a composer and the mother of Margaret “Weenie” Rogers who founded Rogers Christmas House, a landmark business and tourist attraction for more than forty years.
Mary Alice Hale McKethan, born in 1885, was another prominent member of the club. The Hales go back to the early days of Brooksville and she married into the McKethan family, another noted family in the area. They were the founders of Hernando State Bank, which became SunTrust and was recently purchased by Truist Bank. During her lifetime, Mary Alice served on the board of Hernando State Bank.
Several other local women were trailblazers in the political field. Annie Joe Law was the first female county attorney and her sister was the first female supervisor of elections. More recently, Mary Ann Hogan was the first woman school board member and June Ester, the first woman county commissioner.
A local author, Linda Welker, has written about these and other local women leaders in a fascinating book entitled “Untethered Women: Untold Stories of Historic Women in Hernando County, Florida.” It’s available at the May Stringer House (the Hernando Historical Museum) and on Amazon.
In summing up her talk, Ms. Kahler commented, “I think it’s important for us to understand the kinds of things the club has been doing because it helps us keep focused on the importance of what we’re doing today. It’s up to every club to figure out what it is that is most valuable to the community at this point in time and to make sure that we keep doing what we’ve always done, which is to make our community better.”
For more information on the Brooksville Woman’s Club log onto www.gfwcbrooksvillewomansclub.org.