WAYNE — The thread that unites all the generations of Wayne women who have been members of the Friday Club is the sense of community it fosters among its members and its ability to connect them with the world around them.

Although the circumstances of women’s lives have changed since six young mothers founded it in 1892, the goal of the Friday Club has not changed in the nearly 125 years since: It brings its members together for mutual improvement — to themselves, their homes and their communities.

“We are expected to improve ourselves but also give assistance to others who want to improve themselves,” Grace Burleigh said.

At 97, Burleigh is the club’s oldest member and the one who has belonged to it the longest. She no longer attends meetings, but she maintains her connection to the club and its members.

When the Friday Club started, it was part of a movement both in Maine and across the country to create women’s organizations for civic improvement.

“If you look into other communities, you would find similar clubs,” Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth said.

At the end of the 19th century and into the first part of the 20th century, organizations like the Friday Club proliferated. The club’s history details meetings with the Thursday Club in East Winthrop and the Literary Club of Winthrop.

“In the broader context,” Shettleworth said, “it fits into a period in history parallel to the time when women were actively seeking the vote.”

Women in the middle and upper classes were starting to have a role beyond the household, thanks to the economics of the time. These clubs would be both a social outlet for women of the time and an opportunity for civic improvement.

The Civil War may have been the turning point. Before that time, women’s aid groups were often tied to churches or existed for specific purposes, such as the Widow’s Wood Society, Shettleworth said. It provided money to widows to pay for winter fuel.

Next year the club will celebrate its 125th anniversary. To celebrate the event, the club traveled in October to the Blaine House in Augusta for a tour and a tea; members had done the same for the 100th anniversary.

When it started in the fall of 1892, weekly club meetings were held year-round at the homes of members until 1935. After that, meetings were held twice a month from October to May. More recently, the club meets once a month from September through May.

It’s not clear what has kept this club going when so many have petered out of existence.

“I think what it is is companionship and a sense of belonging,” Elsie Dragonetti said. “It’s a sharing of things the town does and the women do together.”

Dragonetti came to Wayne, where she and her family spent summers for 50 years, when she and her husband retired. She found her way into the club the same way all the other do — by invitation.

When she joined, she said, membership had waned a little.

“We did a study on Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Civil War, and that revitalized the group,” said Dragonetti, who has served twice as president. “It’s been stronger than ever.”

For Burleigh, the Collect, which is recited by all members at the start of each meeting, explains what the club stands for and who they are.

At its Nov. 18 meeting, Cynthia Pelliccia and Kate Ballou gave a joint program on two world-renowned 19th-century opera singers with local ties — Annie Louise Cary, who spent some of her childhood in the house next to the Williams House, where the club now meets; and Lillian Nordica, who was born in Farmington.

Wayne’s library is named for Cary, and its collections includes some of her belongings, which Pelliccia and Ballou showed to the nearly two dozen members gathered that day.

Pelliccia said Burleigh kept after her to join, but she wasn’t able to do so until she retired.

“I was 62, and she wanted to get younger members,” Pelliccia said.

That’s one of the changes that Burleigh has noted. “We’re all old ladies now,” she said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.