Doing What Needs to Be Done
The Silver City Woman's Club celebrates a century of making things happen.
Story and photos by Richard Mahler
Lucinda Maddox is a "doer." The vivacious retiree is one of those active seniors who seem always to keep cellphone, car keys and DayRunner within arm's reach.
"My daughter-in-law calls it a 'flawed gene,'" Maddox laughs, flashing a wide grin. "My mother was a 'doer' and I always said I was not going to be like my mother. But I find that I do have that trait within me. My son is the same way."
Silver City can count itself lucky. A compact woman with the focused energy and patient (yet no-nonsense) manner of a schoolteacher — -which, in fact, she was for 33 years — Maddox began life during World War II in White Plains, NY. Her mother was a nurse and her father an officer in the US Army, which soon after Lucinda's arrival transferred him to a post in Michigan. Lucinda spent most of her formative years there before the military relocated the family once again, this time to Anthony, halfway between Las Cruces and El Paso. Determined to forge a career in the classroom, Maddox enrolled after high school in the teacher-training sequence at Western New Mexico University.
"I've been in Silver ever since," says Maddox, who clearly loves the town and its people. "I met my husband [while at WNMU] and was a teacher at middle schools and junior high schools locally. I taught mathematics for about 20 years, and when they started putting computers in classrooms I became a computer teacher. I was inquisitive, took some courses, and eventually evolved a program [of computer education] that is still being used today. I retired in 2000."
Maddox and her husband, Jim, a retired cook, have one adult child, Tom, and two grandchildren. "My husband is not a 'doer,' although he has some hobbies of his own," she says. "He will suffer to travel with me as long as we're going somewhere he likes to go."
Besides traveling to places like Hawaii and Spain, Lucinda Maddox loves to paint oil landscapes and is an enthusiastic line dancer. So expert, in fact, that she teaches dancing. Did I mention that Lucinda is a retired schoolteacher?
"You know," she says, with a shake of her head, "I simply don't understand people who complain that there's nothing to do around here. If anything, there are too many things to do — and too many scheduled at the same time."
Six years ago, Maddox piled her own full plate a little higher by joining the Silver City Woman's Club, a venerable institution housed in an historic building on Hwy. 180, near its intersection with Hwy. 90. Maddox assumed a two-year term as president of the group in May 2008.
On this particular morning, she's seated in the club building's spacious main room, which has sheltered hundreds of gatherings since its grand opening in 1936. I've prompted Maddox to clear up any misconceptions about the organization, which turns 100 on April 29.
"We're trying to change our image," she allows. "At one time everybody thought, 'The Woman's Club? They just go to tea and play bridge and that's all they do.' I had a friend who came here from Wisconsin and I suggested she come to the Woman's Club with me. She asked, 'Isn't that like the yacht club?' I said, 'No, we're not like that. We've always been more than that. We're not a social organization. We work.'"
Maddox suggests the current 58 dues-paying members prefer community activism to long, fancy lunches. They're not the type of ladies who idly wile away afternoons playing cards and nibbling cucumber sandwiches. And apparently it's always been this way.
Launched in 1909 as The Mother's Club, the organization's first big project was a civic housecleaning. Literally. Disgusted by Silver City's unkempt appearance, the club founders were determined to rid the streets of unsightly trash and the town of as many pesky insects as possible. "They felt there were too many flies and bugs," recalls Maddox. "It was just plain nasty."
Each member was assigned a district and asked to collect a nominal fee from residents in order to provide every neighborhood with garbage cans and pick-up service. Dead flies were collected, reportedly, by the pound. "Sanitation was a very serious issue to [Silver City women] back then," says Maddox. Think horses, mules, donkeys, chickens, pigs and assorted other livestock. The little mining town probably smelled as bad as it looked, too.
According to Maddox, the Woman's Club "started out as a group of women — they were mostly well-to-do, comparatively speaking — who really wanted to do something for their community. They wanted to work toward bettering things locally by identifying problems and solving them."
Much of the Club's early emphasis was in the realm once labeled "domestic science," better known today as "home economics." These determined women, still lacking the right to vote, successfully lobbied the State Board of Education to have this subject added to school curricula. Students, perhaps for the first time, learned the benefits of washing hands and sneezing into handkerchiefs.
In 1911, the emergent group joined the nationwide General Federation of Women's Clubs and adopted its present name. It is now one of 17 federation-affiliated clubs in New Mexico, the nearest others situated in Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences.
The Silver City chapter is not limited to females of a particular age group, career orientation, neighborhood or ethnicity. On the contrary, Maddox points out, it is open to any and all women. "You don't even have to live in town," she says. "We have members in Hurley, the Mimbres and as far away as Catron County." A couple of active members based in Arizona are "summer-only" residents. Maddox concedes that the current club membership is composed primarily of women over age 50, most of whom have no small children underfoot. Some have jobs outside the home; others do not. A few are students.
"We recently started a 'Juniorette' group here," she says, for interested high-school teens. "In some clubs, like the one in Truth or Consequences, there are 'Junior' groups that serve the needs and interests of young women."
Whatever its prevailing profile, the Silver City Woman's Club has always provided services for females (and many males) of all ages and backgrounds. For instance, various members volunteer at Gila Regional Medical Center, help out at the Silver City Museum, sponsor Girl Scouts, conduct hearing and eye tests each year for Head Start, raise funds for college scholarships, collect non-perishable food for needy families, and contribute to El Refugio, the local "refuge" for women and children seeking relief from domestic violence.
"My personal goal here is to help provide for the children's program at El Refugio," says Maddox, "so we contribute to that. Besides working against domestic violence, equal pay for women is a big goal of our group." Improving literacy rates is another.
"As times change, so do the needs of a community," Maddox points out. "Over the years the General Federation has been instrumental in the conservation and beautification movements as well as family health and the arts. During the World Wars its members made bandages and did other work to support the troops." Elizabeth Warren, whose enlightened advocacy helped secure Silver City's hospital, university and cement sidewalks, was a typically activist member of a bygone era, when club dues were a mere $1 per year.
Then, as now, "members can do as much or as little as they like," explains Maddox. But all are expected to volunteer. In addition, a portion of each Silver City member's current $50 annual dues goes to support the state and international women's club federations. Volunteer-hour totals are forwarded from here each year and added to nationwide tallies.