Tracing Tracy Territory: Women’s club a changemaker in 1913 Tracy
by Sam Matthews
May 24, 2013 | 3764 views | 0 0 comments | 329 329 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In 1916, the Women’s Improvement Club of Tracy erected a fountain on Central Avenue in front of the new Tracy City Hall, then under construction. Members included Mrs. Billings (from left); Mae Grunuer, president; Zoe Von Dack, secretary; Emma Frerichs and Mrs. Murrell. Press file photo
In 1916, the Women’s Improvement Club of Tracy erected a fountain on Central Avenue in front of the new Tracy City Hall, then under construction. Members included Mrs. Billings (from left); Mae Grunuer, president; Zoe Von Dack, secretary; Emma Frerichs and Mrs. Murrell. Press file photo
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Talk of the town 100 years ago — in the early months of 1913 — centered around efforts to form an irrigation district around Tracy.

As numerous meetings and hearings were held to promote organization of a district to provide water to green the parched fields in the Tracy area, efforts also emerged to establish a patch of green in the town itself.

Those efforts resulted in the establishment of Tracy’s first park. It was the work of the newly formed Women’s Improvement Club of Tracy and the West Side, an organization that for the first time brought Tracy’s women out of the lodge rooms and church social halls into the mainstream of community life.

The women started meeting early in the year, and they continued their efforts with monthly meetings, a fundraiser talent show and a community cleanup day — and finally the park.

Founders of the WIC were serious about taking direct action to improve their hometown. It would be no tea-and-cookies organization, they decided.

The women saw a lot that needed improvement, including a healthy crop of weeds growing all around, a number of unpaved streets, trash piled up around houses, businesses and public places — and the lack of a park where Tracy’s children could play.

Mrs. George Good, who had moved from Modesto to Tracy several years earlier, was the driving force behind the formation of the WIC. She had been active in a similar women’s organization in Modesto and knew of its potential.

She served as first president, beginning with the first meeting at the end of January 1913 in Mrs. Westlake’s home. Mrs. H.A. Hull was elected secretary, a move that assured ample news coverage of WIC programs. Her husband, Henry Hull, was publisher of the Press.

Plans discussed at initial meetings turned into action on April 18, when the WIC sponsored a community cleanup day. Club members convinced merchants to close their stores in the afternoon to provide volunteers.

“Let us have our little city bright and shining when everything is through Friday evening, April 18,” Mrs. Good declared.

As the day wore on, volunteers became scarce, so, according to the Press account, the women “picked up rakes and forks and bucked in.” Horse-drawn wagons hauled away 35 loads of trash.

And then it was time for Tracy’s first park. An evening of entertainment in the Arlington Theatre sponsored by the WIC on May 1, featuring local vaudeville talent and motion pictures, provided funds to develop the small park on two lots owned by Mayor Abe and Mae Grunauer.

Although the property, at what is now the northeast corner of Central Avenue and 10th Street, was still owned by the Grunauers, whose home was nearby, WIC members decided the site would serve as a temporary park at the very least.

A patch of grass was planted in the lots and playground equipment purchased. Trees on the property provided some shade. WIC funds paid for park maintenance through the summer. Tracy kids had a chance to play.

Monthly WIC meetings resumed in October, and plans were made for the next project: providing additional fire-fighting equipment — hose carts — for the Tracy Volunteer Fire Department.

I haven’t found out how long the WIC remained in business, but it was at least through 1916. That year, the club donated a water fountain to be placed on the sidewalk in front of the new City Hall under construction.

The water fountain was later moved to Harmon Park and then to a landscaped area near Tracy Community Center.

Joan Rickman, historian for the Tracy Woman’s Club, which succeeded the WIC, believes the granite fountain is somewhere in the city’s corporation yard. She would like to see it placed in public view sometime soon.

If that happens, Tracyites will have a chance to see a lone monument to the beginning of Tracy women’s involvement in the civic life of their hometown.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.

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