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The Boise Columbian Club

October 30, 2022, marked 129 years since the closing day of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Exposition, a name chosen to recognize the 400th anniversary of explorer Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the western hemisphere. While the distance between Chicago, Illinois, and Boise, Idaho is as far today as it was in 1893 (a nearly 1,700-mile-journey by car if you travel along I-80), Idaho’s ties to the Windy City, and indeed the role that Chicago played in sparking opportunity for Idaho women were certainly stronger thirteen decades ago than they are now. The legacy of these historic connections between the Windy City and the City of Trees is the Boise Columbian Club, the oldest federated women’s club in Idaho, and an organization still in existence and doing service work today. We know more about the history of this organization’s founding and early years, and its impact, because of a collaborative graduate internship project that transpired in the spring of 2022 between the Idaho State Historical Society’s Office of the State Historian, the Idaho State Archives, the Boise Columbian Club, Boise State University’s Department of History, and Donors Carol Hoidal and her late husband, Ernie Hoidal. The body of this month’s Illuminating Idaho, taken from the internship’s major deliverable, a new entry in the agency’s Reference Series, a resource which features nearly 1,200 entries on a vast array of topics related to Idaho history, describes the club’s history with the Columbian Exposition of 1893.  

Women’s clubs of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century supported various issues, including suffrage, prohibition, literacy, public health, city beautification, and more. In addition, women organized community projects and fundraisers, contemplated reforms needed in the community, and conversed in study groups. The Boise Columbian Club Reference Series (#1171) provides researchers a jumping-off point for exploring women’s history as it relates to the following movements in Idaho and in the West: Populism of the 1890s, the Progressive Era, and the New Deal of the 1930s.1 During these eras, club women took the first steps toward self-improvement and social reform.  

In 1892, Governor Norman B. Willey of Idaho asked Alice Straughn, a prominent Boise woman, to form an organization to assist in creating an Idaho exhibition for the Chicago World’s Fair. The exhibition’s goal was to represent Idaho as a new state since Idaho had only recently achieved statehood in 1890. Accordingly, Straughn formed the Boise Columbian Club. She and Mrs. Carrie Logan held the Club’s first meeting on May 2, 1892, at the Idaho Statehouse in the Hall of Representatives. Straughn, acting as Lady Manager for Idaho, presented the outline of work as planned by the Fair’s Board of Lady Managers. Mrs. Logan, acting as the State Lady Commissioner, presented a plan of work to be carried on by the local Columbian Club2. 

The Boise Columbian Club began its philanthropic work to furnish the Idaho Building at the 1893 World’s Fair, which ran from May 1, 1893, to October 30, 1893. The fair, composed of buildings and exhibitions, saw people from all over come to Chicago to experience diverse cultural scenes, new knowledge, and entertainment. Importantly, the Chicago World’s Fair brought opportunities for women in 1893 because it provided a space where women publicly advocated for women’s suffrage and women’s rights more generally. The World’s Fair or Columbian Exposition was just the beginning for women’s clubs as they progressed toward community and educational reform. In addition, the Chicago World’s Fair encouraged the idea of the city beautification movement nationally and inspired Boise women to become more involved in political and economic spheres to impact civic life. 

With perseverance and public influence, the women of the Boise Columbian Club exceeded their goals, funding the furnishings for a two-story Idaho-inspired chalet cabin. The women’s fundraising efforts for the Chicago World’s Fair involved selling cottage cheese, holding promenade concerts at the Boise Capitol grounds, and even asking children from each county to provide a few cents for the Children’s Building at the fair.3 Club Member Mary Ridenbaugh became famous for her charitable works and church service while serving as Chair for the Idaho Board of the World’s Columbian Exposition. 

The 1893 Columbian Exposition influenced the rise of the City Beatification Movement with the introduction of heavy sanitation works and beautification changes, and women’s clubs soon picked up this work as part of their charge.4 The City Beautiful Movement refashioned public works projects for middle- to upper-class citizens to create aesthetically pleasing and functioning cities in the early twentieth century. After its foundational work, the Club’s founders decided to continue its organized civic work by supplying Idaho’s first traveling library and successfully securing a grant proposal for a public library from Andrew Carnegie in 1905.  

Reference Series Entry #1171 describes how the Boise Columbian Club organized or participated in community and educational improvement projects relevant to Boise’s history from 1892 to the 1970s. The Reference Series is organized by projects related to the issues of national or local issues that may have inspired civic action. Early Boise Columbian Club projects were foundational to the fabric of Boise. However, more modern projects, including those from the mid-to-late 20th century and early 21st century, including support for the restoration of the O’Farrell Cabin and Bishop Rhea House to the placement of park benches along the Boise River greenbelt. In addition, the Boise Columbian Club is credited for conducting Boise’s earliest examples of educational and civic foundations. The Boise Columbian Club Reference Series #1171 is available through the online resources of the Idaho State Archives and at the Merle W. Wells Research Center in Boise.  

Written by State Historian HannaLore Hein & Graduate Intern Calista Houdek 

Bibliography 

“The Columbian Club of Boise City: Meeting Minutes,” 1892-1920. Transcriptionist Bertha Barton. MS356, Records of the Boise Columbian Club. Idaho State Archives. https://www.idahowomen100.com/_files/ugd/145a02_f0ee4e4129b94b80af27b924cc634f91.pdf. 

Haarsager, Sandra. Organized Womanhood: Cultural Politics in the Pacific Northwest, 1840-1920. Norman, Oklahoma: University Of Oklahoma Press, 1997. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=2702. 

Hofstadter, Richard. The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. [1st ed.]. Vintage Books. New York: Vintage Books, 1955. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/heb.00652. 

Scheer, Teva J. “The ‘Praxis’ Side of the Equation: Club Women and American Public Administration.” Administrative Theory & Praxis 24, no. 3 (September 2002): 519–36. 

Stewart, Jane A. “The Educational Work of The Women’s Clubs.” The Journal of Education 67, no. 20 (1680) (May 14, 1908): 536–38. 

Stivers, Camilla. Bureau Men, Settlement Women: Constructing Public Administration in the Progressive Era. Studies in Government and Public Policy. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 2000. 

Wilson, William H. (William Henry). The City Beautiful Movement. Creating the North American Landscape. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/bios/jhu051/88028244.html. 

 

Photographs: 

64-2-3 – Construction of the Idaho Building, Chicago World’s Fair, Idaho State Archives 

70-170-2, Biography, Mrs. Thomas (Carrie) Logan, Idaho State Archives 

MSS 356, Box 14, Members of the Columbian Club Dressed in Progressive Era Clothing on the Steps of the Columbian Club House, Idaho State Archives, n.d. 

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