Just-a-Mere Clubs

Week 12: #52Ancestors – Membership

By Eilene Lyon

My paternal grandmother, Reatha Halse, has several photos in her album from 1945 labeled Just-a-Mere Club. They were taken in Corvallis, Oregon. Her sister-in-law, Loretta (Frydendall) Halse, was also a member and probably got Reatha involved. (In 1945, Loretta was soon to be the ex-Mrs. Al Halse.) I found several mentions of “Mrs. E. A. Halse” (Reatha) being a co-hostess.

Al Halse and first wife, Loretta Frydendall, during WWII.

A Newspapers.com search reveals that there were Just-a-Mere clubs in 41 states in the 1940s, but it does not appear to have been a national organization. Sometimes they blended the name into one word: Justamere. It seems each club had its own particular agenda.

In Virginia, Just-a-Mere clubs originated about the time of World War I. They were preceded by “Tomato Clubs.” Their purpose was to provide home demonstrations as an outreach of the extension service. Canning was a major topic, but nutrition, home decorating, and sewing skills came into play.

In Mansfield, Missouri, author Laura Ingalls Wilder founded a Justamere Club as a study group in the summer of 1919. It’s not clear if this was one of the first clubs and/or the model for others.

Another meeting of the Corvallis club.

The groups in Oregon in the 1940s often revolved around card games, such as bridge and Five Hundred. The hostess decorated the “guest rooms” with flower arrangements or greenery. Sometimes the entertainment included a photo presentation of gardens or scenic places around the state. In Salem, there was a flower-arranging demonstration at one time, but cards and photos seem to have been the regular activities.

In Corvallis, the Just-a-Mere Club was closely allied with the Pythian Sisters (affiliated with the Knights of Pythias fraternal lodge), another organization Reatha belonged to. The earliest mention in the local paper dates to 1925 and the last to 1973. In addition to cards games, they often did “needlework.” For another club, this clearly meant quilting, but I’m not certain about the Corvallis group’s projects.

Apparently the project for this meeting was hat making!

I haven’t found any recent mentions of existing Just-a-Mere clubs, with the exception of the one in Mansfield, associated with the Wilder Home Museum. Rather, it makes its way into many an obituary for women of a “certain age.” It seems we have moved past the need for generic women’s clubs like these.

Feature image: The Corvallis, Oregon, Just-a-Mere Club in 1945. Reatha is not pictured. Unfortunately, Reatha did not identify any of the women in these pictures.


The Corvallis Gazette-Times

The Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)

The Capital Journal (Salem, OR)

The Bulletin (Bend, OR)

The Nevada Daily Mail, June 15, 1976

The Farmville Herald, January 21, 2016

Thurman, Judith. “Wilder Women: The mother and daughter behind the Little House stories.” The New Yorker, August 10 & 17, 2009.

62 thoughts on “Just-a-Mere Clubs

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    1. That’s a tough question to answer. Some speculate that “mere” is for “mother”. It sounds deprecating to me. But I have a different worldview than the women who belonged to these clubs.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I googled this out of curiosity. There was a saying used often, probably stemming from the Victorian era and carried forward that encompassed the concept of “being a mere woman” likely in a mans world. There was a mention that women created these clubs incorporating that derogatory concept into their name to signify that women could be more than they were given credit for.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. I tried googling Just-a-Mere and came up with a café in Antigonish, Nova Scotia 🙂
    I think it is wonderful that ladies got together to help each other or simply hang out together and exchange on whatever touched their fancy. Maybe we need to give them another go!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it could be a lot of fun! We have book clubs and other specialty clubs, but maybe something social and perhaps with a planned creative activity would be nice. I belonged to a Bunco group for several years (a dice game). I missed it when it disbanded.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would love to have at least a book club but none of my friends (except one) are real readers and the one who is is so NOT into clubs of any kind! Sigh. I wanted to set up a food club, too… I might just have to nudge that into being.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think these things do rely on some very motivated person to get it going and keep it going. Check with your local bookstore for book clubs. I wound up knowing a couple people in the group I joined, but even so, meeting new people is good.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well, I do live in Quebec and I did go to both French and English schools, so I have a sort of advantage. I choose to read an occasional French book to keep up my skills!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to really compliment you on how you tell these stories. I’m currently reading a memoir for book club about someone’s immigrant family. It’s so bad. I mean awful. She doesn’t know what’s a story or anecdote or how to make things engaging for the reader. Kudos….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never heard of a “Tomato Club” or a “Just-a-Mere Club” anywhere around here. Those sound like something my women ancestors would have been drawn to. I’m always learning something fascinating here. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had never heard of this club until now. Interesting! In my area, most social clubs are a thing of the past. All the garden clubs, card groups and even things like the friends of the library have closed up shop. People evidently are too busy to be joiners these days. Unless, of course, it involves kids’ sports and then they’re all in.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can manage the natter going on over the hat creations. Bold and very smart with at least something to show when getting together as sitting around chatting for too long would be tiresome.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It seemed unusual seeing these gatherings as it seems women in this time period did not experience longevity, having died giving birth, or simply were weary from raising a lot of kids, a hard life, etc. – this almost seemed out of character to be enjoying themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think I mentioned my great-grandmother who had ten children, one died a few days after birth. She was married to a farmer and helped with farm chores, cooked, cleaned, picked berries/put them up, helped bring in the crops, raised those nine kids and when she was readying the horse and buggy to go to church, the horse reared up and stomped on her foot and she had much pain and difficulty walking thereafter. My great-grandfather said “you’re no use to me now.” (Whatta guy!)

        Liked by 1 person

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