On Saturday, Sept. 21 – exactly 125 years to the day The Haddon Fortnightly held its inaugural meeting in the borough – the venerable institution will celebrate its quasquicentennial at its clubhouse on the corner of Grove Street and Kings Highway East.
“Sept. 21, 1894, was the first meeting of The Haddon Fortnightly, and there were 12 women in attendance at the home of Margaret Bancroft. So we had been talking about doing something, and I said, let’s do it. And we wanted to have a 125th anniversary celebration,” said Marie DiMatties, immediate past president of the Fortnightly and event organizer.
“When I was president, we celebrated our 120th anniversary and I was the mastermind behind that celebration, and so I felt since this one was the 125th, we needed to have an even bigger celebration, bigger and better, and to involve the community this time.”
All who attend will be welcomed with a cocktail party from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. that includes a half-dozen local caterers and a special baker who will make a cake for the occasion. Alcohol will also be served: the usual beer and wine, along with a signature cocktail, dubbed the “Fortnightly Fizz.” Tickets are $60 per person.
A pianist will provide musical accompaniment, and there will be proclamations read from the borough as well as the state Assembly.
Although many in the community equate the building with the club, it’s only the club itself celebrating the milestone. However, a significant portion of the funds from the celebration are expected to be used toward keeping the building in the hands of the club, which has called it home for almost 90 years.
“In January 1931, the building went on the market. It was formerly a Methodist Church built in 1857 and it was purchased by The Haddon Fortnightly for $19,679.05 paid for in part by bond-holders, donated money and funds raised by clubs and departments of the Fortnightly,” DiMatties added, when reading from an account of the club’s history.
As part of the celebration, the Fortnightly also recognizes the 125th anniversary of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, as it is a charter member. It also holds membership in the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, based in Washington, D.C.
“This being the year of the woman, it really seems fitting that we would do a larger celebration and recognize the kinds of contributions that women have been making, even prior to the suffrage movement,” said Denise Sellers, from the club’s Evening Membership Department.
“In fact, our state organization founded Douglass College (now part of Rutgers University at New Brunswick). Eleanor Roosevelt spoke here, and we even had a member (Antoinette Driscoll, president from 1928-31) who’s husband was governor of New Jersey (Alfred E. Driscoll, from 1947-54).”
Among the yearly activities the Fortnightly undertakes for the community at large, are issuance of various scholarships, its spelling bee, as well as hands-on efforts with the school district regarding literacy, like “Read Across America,” while also sponsoring ribbons or prizes given out for various events in secondary school.
Most recently, a successful collaboration with Haddonfield Memorial High School’s 50/50 gender equality club has yielded the annual “Through a Woman’s Eyes” art show that has found a home at the Fortnightly clubhouse.
“Our goals have expanded to include mentorships for younger women, even when they’re in school and then beyond. I think one of the things that’s important about women’s clubs is that it gives us an opportunity as women to take leadership roles, and we want young girls to see how that works from an early enough point,” Sellers explained.
“The 50/50 club collaboration has been wonderful – they’re coming to help with the event, as a ‘thank you’ for their art show project. We feel a real connection there and want to be mentors for whatever projects they choose.”
Beyond the boundaries of the borough, the Fortnightly’s special state project for 2019 involves the Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Jersey, which helps abused and neglected children in foster care. The Fortnightly’s involvement is not just financial; it has also supplied backpacks and created personalized blankets for children, to have something of their own when they are traveling between home placements.
The Fortnightly also helped build a room in the Ronald McDonald House of Camden, painting and furnishing it. In addition, five members of the club also cooked meals for parents of children residing there.
“We’re trying to come up with ways to do things that our members enjoy, but which meet the goals of the original group. We want to give women the opportunity to do good work, provide them with opportunities for thinking and learning, culture and education. So everything we do has that foundation,” added Sellers.
For all the good past and present members have undertaken over the club’s existence, the specter and the weight of history still clings to the air inside the old building. There’s a feeling of the need to do right by the Fortnightly in commemoration.
“This is the anniversary for all of us. We don’t think anyone will be here for the next 125th celebration,” added Janet Hutchinson, rentals chairperson for the Fortnightly.
For more information about The Fortnightly, its clubs, members and activities, visit its website at https://thehaddonfortnightly.org/, on Facebook at “The Haddon Fortnightly,” or on Instagram @thehaddonfortnightly.
To purchase tickets for the anniversary celebration, contact Lynda Acerbo at email@example.com.