TEA & TOIL At The Woman’s Club

The historic Martin Mansion, owned by the Woman’s Club of Norfolk since 1925, is facing neglect and bankruptcy after a century of hosting teas, cocktail parties, wedding receptions, college lectures, bridge tournaments, and charity drives. And the club itself has shrunk significantly, almost to extinction with only a small handful of members. Located in a unique semi-circle neighborhood called The Hague, the Martin Mansion is known as “The Woman’s Club” and watches itself intertwined in the histories of the Woman’s Club of Norfolk, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), the city of Norfolk, and even America for the past 115 years. Since its establishment in 1890, GFWC has improved the world by founding the National Park Service, advocating streetlights and seatbelts, producing 75% of public libraries, funding 431 WWII warplanes for the U.S. military, protecting endangered species, and many more. Overall, this umbrella organization, once boasting 16,000 affiliated clubs and 12,000,000 members in America and 60 countries, shows the power of women as a team fighting for human rights and global improvements.

The author, a lifelong resident of Norfolk, regales her stories growing up in the rented auditorium of The Woman’s Club by performing in elementary school skits, practicing Christmas carols, and attending debutante parties. And she later attends Thanksgiving gatherings at the mansion with her aunt Frances, a descendant of Alvah Martin who built this beautiful home in 1910. Finally, in 2014, the Martin Mansion, on the verge of collapsing, is rescued by three resilient women who face overwhelming costs of repairs and improvements in a 10,000-square-foot mansion. However, these women manage to bring the mansion back to its glory days as a popular event venue – and their Woman’s Club back to community service.

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