The Women’s Christian Association (WCA) Home of Fredonia has been a Fredonia landmark since 1892, with its spacious, Victorian halls offering a home to elderly women in Fredonia who have found themselves in need of assisted living.
“Our goal during this anniversary year is to bring to light the extraordinary people that founded the WCA Home,” said WCA President Christine Mantai, “and to clarify that their intention was to give aged women a place to live in dignity when they were most dependent.
“It wasn’t an accident that they purchased a beautiful home for this purpose. It was their intention. Basically, they started a type of assisted living that wouldn’t become common until the late 20th century — one that totally rejected the institutional model.”
In addition to pioneering their assisted living model, the WCA was critical in the fight for women’s suffrage, which, in New York State, is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year.
“Our founders were well-educated and well-connected to local men in power,” said Mantai. “They had the financial resources to travel about and work without pay to build organizations and charities that reflected their values. The WCA Home is still intact and strong, and faithful to their vision, after 125 years. But it wouldn’t be here without their tireless efforts for the first two decades. They are heroes in my book.”
Fredonia professor Emily VanDette has been instrumental in planning the upcoming celebration of the WCA’s efforts, putting her students to work to make it happen.
“Early last summer, I realized that the WCA Home was celebrating a big anniversary, and that it coincides with another important anniversary related to women’s history,” said VanDette
“I had planned to focus my senior seminar course on the women’s suffrage movement this semester, and I was considering possible partnerships in the local community for my students to engage with local women’s history. So, I reached out to the WCA board to see if they would be interested in involving my students in planning an event that would highlight their history and serve as a fundraiser for the WCA Home.”
To that end, Fredonia President Virginia Horvath will be hosting a tea party on Oct. 15 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lanford House on 194 Central Avenue, aided by the students from VanDette’s class.
“The tea party at Lanford House will highlight the WCA Home’s founding history, as well as the intersections of that history with women’s suffrage activism and other important projects led by local women of the era. This event will bring together much of these interrelated areas of women’s history in the local community, with a special focus on the 1892 founding of the WCA Home.”
President Horvath is particularly excited to see the initiative put forth by Fredonia students to organize an event that both celebrates an important historical milestone as well as benefits a local philanthropic group.
“When Dr. VanDette told me of the plans for a fundraiser tea, I was eager to have it at Lanford House,” said Horvath.
“I hope that it draws many visitors who will donate to the WCA Home and enjoy my teapot collection and the charm of Lanford House. Having students there would be great!”
VanDette is hoping that this event will offer a successful springboard for a semester of suffragette celebrations, especially with an upcoming exhibit in Reed Library.
“Reed Library will open an exhibit, presented by a couple of my students in partnership with Reed Librarian Scott Richmond,” said VanDette. “The Reed Library exhibit will feature the New York State Museum’s traveling exhibit, ‘Votes for Women,’ as well as a companion exhibit featuring local suffrage history, curated by my students, in partnership with Mr. Richmond. Stay tuned for more details, but I believe we will have a reception in honor of the exhibit opening, co-sponsored by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.”
Students interested in learning more about upcoming suffrage events or about the WCA Home are encouraged to contact either Emily VanDette at Emily [dot] Vandette [at] fredonia [dot] edu, or Christine Mantai at Christine [dot] Mantai [at] fredonia [dot] edu.