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History of Spouse Clubs

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

By Caitlin Ward, HUSC President 2021-2022


In May of 1780, Esther Reed and 39 other wives formed the first military wives’ club. The purpose was to raise money among citizens for the Soldiers who during the Revolutionary War were experiencing a shortage of supplies. Members of the group, which they called the Philadelphia Ladies Association, or “the Association,” distributed fliers, knocked on doors to solicit funds, made soap, knitted socks, and made shoes. Through correspondence with General George Washington, Esther understood the Soldiers’ greatest need was for shirts, so the women correspondingly redirected their efforts.


As the nation developed and expanded, wives following Soldiers West, assumed the role of maintaining normalcy and civility by meeting socially, coordinating performances, reading groups, sewing, and community planning. Military wives in the East formed societies that met regularly, kept minutes, developed organizational skills, and were dedicated to building and advancing their communities. Many wives in these societies worked for social issues such as signing the 1892 anti-Suffrage petition, obtaining adequate pensions for Army widows, and helping found Navy Relief.


Between World War I and World War II, more formally organized clubs were developed, such as the Association of Army/Navy Wives and the Air Force Service Ladies’ Club. The focus of the clubs changed during WWII from social activities to war work including sponsoring activities to boost Soldier morale, sewing, knitting sweaters, making bandages, selling war bonds and stamps, working in auxiliary military units such as the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). In the decade after WWII, clubs developed a structure wherein club officers were elected by club members and wives of senior officers took honorary and advisory roles.


In recognition of needs in the community, wives’ clubs opened thrift shops, flower shops, and gift shops; published club magazines and protocol guides; and organized and staffed the first post nurseries to provide volunteers a place to leave their kids. Noncommissioned officers’ wives’ clubs and enlisted men’s wives’ clubs also formed at this time with a synonymous dedication to supporting welfare and community activities.


When the Army transitioned to an all-volunteer force in the 1970s, more service members were married, and more quarters were built so more families lived on post. As the strict formality of clubs in earlier years was relaxed, more wives were willing to participate in club work, particularly young, educated, enthusiastic professionals. As clubs developed more significant financial assets and responsibilities, clubs were reorganized into two parts: a charitable arm that gave significant financial contributions to the community through grants and scholarships, and a social arm that focused on strengthening bonds through shared social experiences.


By the 1980s, welfare programs built by wives’ clubs such as childcare centers, Army Community Services, and youth centers had been taken over by the Army. This decade also saw increased presence and participation of Army husbands and correspondingly some clubs changed their names to “spouses clubs.” Clubs expanded their activities during this time with craft fairs, bazaars, specific interest groups, and classes.


Today some posts have separate clubs for officers’ wives, NCO wives, and enlisted Soldiers’ wives. Other posts host clubs that welcome spouses of all ranks and branches, US sponsored foreign and internationals, and DOD civilian ID cardholders. Clubs remain dedicated to educational, charitable, cultural, and social activities; provide information to members; and foster fellowship among spouses. This includes lessening the burden of the government by promoting friendship among the entire military community (including all branches of service, active-duty, retirees, spouses, and others), lessening neighborhood tensions by developing and fostering a spirit of goodwill and community responsibility, providing opportunities for social, cultural, and creative pursuits, and distribution of scholarships for individuals, grants for organizations, and support for the local community.


Spouse clubs operate in compliance with Army regulations pertaining to private organizations and the Internal Revenue Code. Spouse clubs are led by a board that includes honorary, elected, and appointed positions. Honorary positions are offered to senior spouses on base who volunteer their time to advise and provide guidance to the elected officers. Elected officers manage the club’s affairs and provide support to appointed board members, who manage specific events, activities, and tasks. Spouse clubs operate on year-long board terms, holding an election each Spring for the next board. Comprehensive and collaborative transfer of information from one board to the next supports continuity and community building.


In the Republic of Korea, the former Armed Forces Spouses Club of Yongsan, which closed its doors in 2017, supported the community at Yongsan and with the support of Oriental Press, published Seoul Survivor, a guidebook to help foreigners navigate both on and off base. In 2017, Humphreys United Spouses Club (formerly named the United Club Spouses and Civilians Association) took over publication of the guidebook and renamed the publication DMZ to the Sea. The guidebook provides information about the ins and outs of resources on US military bases across Korea, as well as resources and opportunities outside the gates.


The spouse clubs and spouse communities at US military installations across Korea have fostered supportive relationships with each other, continuing the legacy of spouses as serving the community as a united front, advancing and improving quality of life in the community. Through these clubs and communities, spouses support one another, thereby building their collective and individual resiliency, facilitating communication, strengthening bonds, and enhancing the connective tissue across our communities, which thereby enhances the readiness of our families, service members, and military.


Reference:


Biser, J. (2008). Women’s Clubs in WWII. NCpedia. Retrieved February 5, 2022, from https://www.ncpedia.org/women%E2%80%99s-clubs Crossley, A. and Keller, C. A. (2007). The Army Wife Handbook: A Complete Social Guide. (Second Edition). ABI Press.


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1 Comment


Great article and very comprehensive regarding the history of the variety of clubs created to enhance the betterment of the US military community. Thank you for providing this article to me. Good luck with the United Club's new monthly magazine. I hope to see many articles regarding the history of the people who worked, lived and or played here in South Korea at Camp Humphreys as well as other US military installations from the DMZ to the Sea. If you would like a look at the history of the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, Korea, check out the following website: yongsanlegacy.org

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