The end of an era as 102-year-old Merriam Homemakers Club closes

Members of the Merriam Homemakers Club at the group's final luncheon in May.
Members of the Merriam Homemakers Club at the group’s final luncheon in May.

In May 1913, a northeast Johnson County woman named Lurene Ellis McShane invited a few neighbors over for a get together, hoping to help spur the development of friendships for women at a time when their lives were dominated by raising children and tending to the family farms and land — activities that kept them largely tied to the house and unable to socialize. The event was a hit, and the women moved to officially form a “Mother’s Club” with 18 charter members. A bit later, the group changed its name to the “Merriam Homemakers Club” because some of the members didn’t have children yet.

Last week, the group — the oldest organization in Merriam history — met for the final time.

“There’s a time for everything,” said Barbara Frederick, a longtime member who helped close up shop. “Yes, it is upsetting that we were disbanding after 102 years. But the time had come.”

In its heyday, its active role included more than 100 women who relished the chance to get together to socialize and swap tips on childrearing, cooking and canning. The group met nine months a year, with a summer break officially written into the bylaws.

“Because in the summer your kids were home from school and if you had crops, they needed tending to,” Frederick said.

As times changed, so did the group. By the time Frederick got involved more than 20 years ago, the women were no longer focused on “homemaking” as much as they were in city politics, hosting speakers from the city council and other political groups.

“We felt like we were the voice of women in the city of Merriam and we wanted to be active in what was happening with the city,” Frederick said.

But the group has been in decline for several years. Of the active members, just three were younger than Frederick at 86. And only a handful of members would show up for the monthly speakers.

“It really is a shame, because the group has been around so long,” Frederick said of the end of the club. “We weren’t just housewives who got together and drank tea. I felt like we helped move the city of Merriam forward.”