Watsonville Woman’s Club on September 1, 1917

100 years ago on September 1, 1917:   After months of patient waiting, the Watsonville Woman’s Club members are at last located in their new clubhouse on Brennan Street.  The first meeting of the club in its new home was held this afternoon with a large attendance present.  After the business meeting an informal housewarming was held, tea being served and a social hour enjoyed.  Mrs. E. Steinhauser headed the committee that so beautifully decorated the interior with dahlias and other flowers, her assistants being Mrs. R. J. Parkinson, Mrs. Carrie B. Wood, and Miss Elizabeth Wiley.  The tea committee was composed of Mrs. Elizabeth Dickerman, Mrs. Cleon Aldridge, Mrs. N. B. Anderson and Mrs. C. N. Hildebrandt.  A number of gifts have already been made to the club, with the club’s past presidents giving a table for the reception room, its other officers providing a table for the main room, and additional gifts being either already presented or promised in the near future.    

The Watsonville Woman’s Club at 12 Brennan Street

Watsonville Woman’s Club at 12 Brennan Street

Just as a house is not a home a building is not a club, yet we all know the sense of affection and pride that a stable address provides. 12 Brennan St. has been a welcoming home to the Watsonville Woman’s Club. Open to all women, this has been a friendly place where the women of our community have achieved a solid community.

This vibrant club, established in 1899, is the oldest continuously existing organization open to all women. It is one of the few remaining Woman’s Clubs in California that own their own clubhouse.

While the women of all ages were united and achieved great results with their original goal to make our community a better place to live, 1917 was the year that the English Tudor style building with Craftsman detail was built. After 70 years of contributing to the growth and expansion of life in Watsonville, the clubhouse was registered for historical significance with the city of Watsonville and the county of Santa Cruz in 1987.

In 1992, the Watsonville Woman’s Club Foundation was formed to accept tax-deductible donations from members and friends for scholarships, community organizations and events and building maintenance.

In the annual message to the membership for 2015-2016, current president, Barbara Lyons, emphasized and expressed appreciation for the harmonious relationship the club has with the overall community. Her reflections as the 116th year begins in our wonderful farming community of Watsonville are rich and timely. Serving as a welcoming meeting place for members and guests is only the beginning.

The most historical and well known services of the club at this time are: the High Tea with presentations by talented music students in the area, scholarship programs including the Louise Bilicich Memorial Scholarships, and the rental program popular for affordable rates which include a well appointed kitchen. Hosting events from baptisms to dance classes, this space is a reflection of the community. The newest group to utilize the facility is the Pedro Club with ongoing meetings planned for the last Friday of each month begin Jan. 29 at 1 p.m.

Achievements worth noting include accepting The Andrew Carnegie’s Foundation matching grant offer to construct a city library in 1905. It was the Woman’s Club that initiated the contact and led a fundraising drive to purchase land for the library at the corner of Union and Trafton streets. Their vision for culture and beauty created both the Callaghan and Marinovich parks, purchased and created by their diligent attention to community needs. When you enjoy the Memorial Rose Garden at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds know that it was yet again the Watsonville Woman’s Club who formed its Garden Club in 1937 and later gifted the Rose Garden to the fairgrounds.

Speaking of gifts if you would like to be part of this dynamic group, gift yourself a membership, and be part of the vision!

Meetings are the first Friday of every month at noon, followed by a delicious light lunch and featuring a speaker with topics concerning our community and the surrounding world. Members take part in only the projects of interest to them. There are no required minimum or maximum hours of service and no mandatory attendance at meetings.

The Watsonville Woman’s Club continues to welcome new members. To join, check out www.watsonvillewomansclub.com.

Pianist Maria Stoesser

Pianist Maria Stoesser

Pianist Maria Stoesser in a photo taken about 20 years after her 1941 Woman’s Club concert. Her family was instrumental in developing the Appleton Hotel (Wall Street Inn) and the historic downtown Stoesser block. 

75 years ago on March 8, 1941: Pianist Maria Stoesser provided a brilliant concert at the Watsonville Woman’s Club. She was introduced by program manager Mrs. William McGrath, and demonstrated more than mere technical proficiency, having the art of changing moods in a stylized manner emphasizing the grace and strength of her beautiful hands.

Miss Stoesser, daughter of Mrs. Otto Stoesser of Berkeley, is a Watsonville native, learning her scales from the sisters at Moreland Notre Dame, and has performed with the Northern California WPA Symphony.

For the past four years she has studied under Dr. Alexander Raab with his master classes in Berkeley, Chicago and New York.

The Woman’s Club meeting also saw the election of Mrs. F.E. Blaisdell as its president, succeeding Mrs. W.W. Goodrich, who presided. Other club officers elected included Mrs. Alvin Waugaman, Mrs. Leask Martinelli, Mrs. Ralph Friend and Mrs. John Porter.

Woman’s Club Hands Out Scholarships


Louise Bilicich Memorial Scholarship

Second year for the Louise Bilicich Memorial Scholarship: Cassandra Nunez (from left), Michala Chin, Madison Dueck, Samantha Sakai and Emily Bennett were awarded scholarships Friday by members of the Watsonville Woman’s Club during their monthly meeting that included lunch.

WATSONVILLE. The Watsonville Woman’s Club on Friday awarded scholarships to five young women who are soon to graduate from high school and continue their education.

It was the second year for the $1,000 Louise Bilicich Memorial Scholarship to be awarded, established after the longtime educator died in 2014.
“I’m honored that Watsonville Woman’s Club has given these scholarships in my mom’s name,” Watsonville City Councilwoman Nancy Bilicich said. “She would be pleased.”

Madison Dueck of Aptos High School and Cassandra Nunez of St. Francis High School each received that award.

The club also award ed three $500 Watsonville Woman’s Club Scholarships to Michala Chin of Aptos High, and Emily Bennett and Samantha Sakai of Watsonville High. Dueck plans to attend UC Berkeley to study pre-business, with hopes to work in the tech or social media industry. “I was very honored,” she said. Bennett will attend UC Los Angeles to study neuroscience.

The five women were chosen from 36 applications from 12 high schools.

Watsonville Woman’s Club chair Rhea DeHart said the scholarships are a way to help future generations. “We realize that our future depends on the young people of today,” she said. “When you look at the applications you realize how much talent there is in this community, and how much potential there is to make a difference. That’s what this is all about.”

Louise Bilicich taught physical education at Watsonville High School for nearly 40 years and remained active in the community after her retirement. She died in 2014 at 91.

She married WHS head custodian Louis Bilicich after the pair met at the school in 1945. Their marriage lasted more than 64 years.

She was inducted into the WHS Hall of Fame in 2013 as a Friend of the Wildcatz, the same year as her husband, who graduated from WHS in 1936.

The Watsonville Woman’s Club gives out several other scholarships every year, in addition to college-bound high school students. This includes to the Cabrillo College Foundation, the Santa Cruz County Music Teachers’ Association and Watsonville/Aptos Adult Education.


To make a contribution to the Louise Bilicich Memorial Scholarship, please contact the Watsonville Woman’s Club Foundation. Make checks to Watsonville Woman’s Club Foundation with a note to the Louise Bilicich Memorial Scholarship.

Woman’s Club History

Compiled by Steve Bankhead


Main Street Playground

The 1916 grand opening of the Main Street Playground, so named because the stretch of Freedom Boulevard behind it was then named Upper Main Street. The playground was later renamed in honor of city alderman P.A. Callaghan. The two large houses in the right side background of the photo remain today on the 800 block of Freedom Boulevard. (PVHA archives)

100 years ago on May 13, 1916: The new playground between Brennan and Sudden streets opened in a burst of glory before an audience of many hundreds. Children romped and played on swings and slides while others performed May Pole dances or participated in foot races, sack races, three-legged races, and other athletic competitions. Mayor W. A. Trafton spoke first to the crowd, giving praise to the Woman’s Club for its involvement in making the playground a success, and also paid tribute to the efforts of Alderman P.A. Callaghan, “the father of the playground.” The main address was delivered by George Dickey, superintendent of Oakland city playgrounds, who offered many interesting thoughts, including: “The playground movement is the all important work in the development and training of the children. Play is to the boy what work is to the man … and the boy without play is like a man without a job, for idleness breeds mischief.”

Watsonville Woman’s Club History

Pajaro Valley’s Past

Compiled by Steve Bankhead

Dorothy Skillicorn

1991 Woman of the Year Dorothy Skillicorn in a 1966 photo. Skillicorn died on Feb. 6, 2016 on her 103rd birthday after a lifetime of community service, including 78 years as a Woman’s Club member.

25 years ago on Dec. 30, 1991: The Chamber of Commerce named George Menasco and Dorothy Trafton Skillicorn its Man and Woman of the Year. George is the third generation of Menascos serving as president of the Charles Ford Company, and his mother Jennie was a director. He saw combat during World War II in the Philippines, returning to Watsonville in 1945, and was later appointed general manager of Ford’s . Elected president in 1962, he’s recently retired. He’s founding president of the Downtown Business Association, a 40-year Rotary Club member and a Chamber of Commerce director. Skillicorn , like Menasco, is a local native and Watsonville High graduate. During World War II she collected for the Red Cross, taught English, and served as an airplane spotter. She’s been active with many community groups, including as Historical Association director, Woman’s Club president, and provides space on her ranch for use by nonprofit and charitable groups.

100 years ago on Dec. 29, 1916: The Woman’s Club Civic Section, under direction of Mrs. F.W. Biebrach, has completed plans for the grand New Year’s festival and dance in the civic auditorium, and a tremendous crowd is expected to attend. The hall has been decorated with evergreens and colored lights, which will present a pretty sight for tomorrow’s program, and A.D. McEwen’s large orchestra has prepared some of the latest popular music for the dance which begins 9 p.m. The program preceding the dance will include drill by the high school cadets, a ukulele chorus accompanying four clever little Hawaiian dancers directed by Miss Emma Spaulding, and introductions of Father Time and the New Year. Mrs. W.H. Volck will have charge of sale booths of carnival goods, plus eatables and drinkables which will be served cafeteria style. All proceeds go into the municipal playground fund for additional equipment and beautification.

Watsonville Woman’s Club 100th Anniversary

Watsonville Woman’s Club gearing up for building’s 100th anniversary.

Watsonville Woman’s Club President Barbara Lyons (second from left) and members are shown in front of the newly draped stage in the club’s Brennan Street building.

In only 17 years after beginning their club, the creative and ambitious women of Watsonville gathered to celebrate the completion of their own club house at 12 Brennan Street. That was 100 years ago!

Many people don’t know that the Watsonville Woman’s Club Building actually has a group of women who are dedicated to keeping this historic piece of real estate alive and in service to our community. The Watsonville Woman’s Club (WWC) is one of the oldest, continuously existing organizations in town and is open to all women. This is the 117th consecutive year for the Watsonville Woman’s Club, as well as the 100th birthday of this majestic clubhouse.

Holding meetings in members’ parlors, and occasionally hosting social events at the local high school, built a strong following for members and community services. The goal of enriching the community soon went beyond the literary and the library. City parks, a public rose garden and leadership with the Red Cross were high on the agenda of activities encompassing the health and well-being of all individuals in the area. Meanwhile, William McKinley was the U.S. President (Republican) and the first to campaign by phone. The Spanish American War happened in 1898, and women in California were lobbying to get paid for their service as teachers.

The first president elected by the Watsonville Woman’s Club in 1899 was Florilla Wickersham. With her team of amazing women, both proactive and forward-thinking, the action began. The WWC founded “for the literary improvement and social advancement of its members and the community” has kept its promise. The clubhouse has been available for the community ever since holding the now famous Tea Party every spring, providing a venue for young musicians to share their talent and receive scholarships. The club will interrupt this tradition this year to honor their donors at the 100th Birthday Celebration on August 26, 2017 from 2-5 p.m. at the WWC.

The 100th Birthday Committee has been busy this summer fixing up the Clubhouse . They have set the stage for the next 100 years with new stage drapes and doors. To be sure that the red carpet ambience is in place a newly slurried and striped parking lot greets members and guests. A new fence will soon be installed adding beauty to the surrounding area. Additionally the kitchen has a state-of-the-art stove. In 1992, the club created their own Foundation in order to receive tax-exempt contributions to fund charitable giving, scholarships and clubhouse maintenance.

By 1917, the WWC with Jeannie C. Tenney as president, had more than 22 members and several subcommittees, including Civic Studies and Home Economics. Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson was U.S. President from the Democratic Party, and the first to attend a World Series game. The Panama Canal had opened in 1914. By 1917, Wilson declared war on Germany and The National Women’s Party became the first group to picket the White House. Nearly 500 women were arrested, and 168 women served jail time.

The 1899 Journal, found by current President Barbara Lyons and active member Jane Amaral, states, “The object of this club shall be the literary improvement of its members, and the benefit of the public library.”

Remaining dedicated to the mission of sharing our Clubhouse with the community for reasonable rents, providing a social gathering spot for lunch and a program for our members, and contributing financially to the community. Club officers look forward to seeing members and guests for lunch at the next meeting on Feb. 3, 2017 at noon.

For information, you can contact CJ (membership coordinator) at (831) 359-5814 or email cj@ComForCare.com.