The founding of the Sausalito Woman’s Club was set in motion in 1911 when Ella Wood witnessed workers cutting down a row of mature cypress trees on Bulkley Avenue. It seems that a horse-drawn surrey that served as the town’s public transport system had recently rolled over on one of the town’s steep streets, killing its driver. The tree cutting was being done to widen the road to accommodate the replacement vehicle, Sausalito’s first automobile: a Model T Ford taxicab.
Ella Wood raced home and recruited nine neighbors to join hands with her around the lone cypress tree remaining to prevent further cutting. Other women sought out town clerk, William Tiffany, who ordered the tree spared. That cypress tree became known as “The Founders’ Tree.”
While it is true that the tree cutting was the catalyst for Elizabeth Shoobert, Lydia Sperry and Nellie Story to enlist other women in forming “a club of civic force to save the beauty of our hillsides,” the spark of activism was already well underway before the tree incident took place.
The Club founders were keenly aware of the need to empower Sausalito’s women, having been repeatedly rebuffed in their efforts to raise concerns to thetown’s elected officialsabout the “blight” of saloons and gambling establishments. The Sausalito town “fathers” at the time reputedly conducted the town meetings in whispers and adjourned to secret meeting locations whenever the women approached. So uniting and organizing the town’s women provided an avenue for building their voice in community matters.
Ten women banded together as the founders: Josephine Beedy, Martha Hanify, Brooks Jones, Irma Pierson, Rose Poultney, Elizabeth Shoobert, Fanny Shoobert, Lydia Sperry, Nellie Story and Ella Wood. Criteria for club membership was based upon, “character and intelligence without regard to religion or politics.” The mission statement the founders created remains today:
“The purpose of the Sausalito Woman’s Club shall be to preserve the beauty of Sausalito and to aid, through organized effort, such worthy causes as may enlist its sympathies and to create a center of thought and action among the people for the promotion of whatever tends for the best interest of this town and of the state.”
The founders sent letters inviting Sausalito women they thought might be interested in joining the Club. An organizational meeting was held March 11, 1913 and election of officers took place on April 3, 1913.
Thirty-two women signed the constitution and bylaws as inaugural members. Fanny Shoobert (daughter of founder Elizabeth Shoobert and one of the 32 inaugural members) later reported that the founders were surprised by the number of women responding who had “an acute eye on local politics.”
Despite the positive response, the organizational effort progressed slowly at first. With the eruption of World War I, formation of a women’s organization was overshadowed by more pressing national concerns.
Shoobert added, “Our next trouble was [selecting a Club] president, for we had to choose one in no way involved in our bloody battles of a few years back, whose smoke had not cleared and the traces of which were still faintly red. We were in luck. Susan Loosely, from San Francisco…consented to become the first president.” Loosely was a recent transplant to Sausalito, but had connections in the community, including a sister who was married to Town Clerk William Tiffany.
Susan Loosley led the Club over the next four years, managing the formation, advancing the Club’s civic agenda and launching the drive for a new clubhouse. Loosely’s legacy to the club also includes her oil painting of redwood trees that hangs in the entry hall. This cherished painting was her gift to the newly opened clubhouse.
The Club’s work was initially organized into four sections: Civics, Outdoor Art, Music, and Literature. However, it was clear from the outset that the founders had more than a social club in mind. The Club’s first program was an address by Florence Locke of Oakland—known for her speeches at suffrage events– on the “Power of Organizations by Women.”
The Club members delved immediately into pressing issues of the day, including child welfare, immigration and red light abatement, to name just a few. They also quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the local political front.
The Board of Directors had the foresight to file for the incorporation of the Club with the State of California on March 10, 1916 for a 50 year period. In 1966, when that initial corporation expired, the Club was established as a permanent 501(c)4 corporation, keeping it exempt from income taxes.