VISIT TO THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY BY MEMBERS OF THE MIAMI BEACH WOMEN’S CLUB
Towards the end of September, the Wolfsonian hosted a visit by a small delegation of Miami Beach Women’s Club members.
The visitors were invited into our rare book library to see a display of some loose photographs, photograph albums, scrapbooks, membership rosters, plaques, and other items held in our extensive archive of the clubs’ records and activities.
The Miami Beach Women’s Club was founded on December 15, 1926 to serve—what was at the time—a town still in its infancy and that was still very much a seasonally transient tourist destination. The club was organized just two months after the eye of a powerful hurricane had passed directly over the barrier island, killing hundreds and injuring thousands of visitors and residents who, being unfamiliar with hurricanes, had emerged from their places of refuge during the thirty minute lull before the second wall of wind and water swept through. Damages to property in Miami-Dade were estimated at $105 million dollars—a colossal figure for that period—and news of the deaths and destruction brought an abrupt end to South Florida’s land boom. (See my earlier blog posts about this killer storm.)
GIFT OF MICHAEL HUGHES
In the wake of the devastating storm, some of Miami Beach’s most renowned and influential women—including distinguished novelist Mrs. Clayton Sedgwick Cooper (ie., Elizabeth [Goodnow] Cooper)—established the club with the intent of fostering neighborly friendship and community. The “book shower” they organized at the Pancoast Hotel, for example, resulted in the donation of 899 volumes and the creation of the Miami Beach Public Library (present-day Bass Museum) in Collins Park.
The members originally met at the home of the founding president, but Miami Beach real estate promoter Carl G. Fisher (1874-1939) so appreciated the women’s efforts to create a culturally rich atmosphere and contribute to a thriving winter season that in March, 1927, he donated a site on which the ladies could build their very own club house. Though damaged by a fire, that historic structure still stands today.
Other early and prominent Women’s Club presidents included Katherine Pancoast. Katherine was the daughter of the Miami Beach land developer John Stiles Collins (1837-1928), who, with the backing of Carl Fisher built the 2.5 mile-long Collins Bridge linking Miami Beach to the mainland in 1913. She married Thomas J. Pancoast, the famous Miami Beach developer who served the city as mayor between 1918 and 1920.
Ruby Dixon served as Miami Beach Women’s Club president between 1949 and 1950. Her husband, Lawrence Murray Dixon was an architect who had worked in New York with Schultze and Weaver—(the firm’s archive also resides in the Wolfsonian). L. Murray moved to South Florida in 1929 where he made his mark as one of Miami Beach’s most prolific Art Deco architects, responsible for designing The Tides, The Victor, The Tiffany, The Marlin, The Ritz Plaza, The Senator, and The Raleigh, and Haddon Hall hotels, as well as many other apartments here on the beach.
GIFT OF H. LAWRENCE WIGGINS III
Among those MBWC members visiting the Wolfsonian last month were Betty Wilcox, June Wood, Frances Griffith, Violet Storer, Nancy Smith, and Maria Valiente. All of them had the opportunity to flip through some of the photographs albums, scrapbooks, yearbooks, and other memorabilia preserved and housed in our rare book and special collections library, hunting for pictures of themselves and their friends.
While these archival items are available to the public by appointment, I thought that I would share with my readers a small sampling of those materials.
A special thanks to Dawn Hugh, Becky Smith, and the other staff at HistoryMiami Archives & Research Center for looking through the Social Register and ferreting out the first names of the early Miami Beach Women’s Club presidents. As was typical of the era, all of the portraits in our collection merely appended the title “Mrs.” to their husband’s names.