The closing of so many Sears’s stores across the nation, including the one at Aracoma near Logan and the Charleston Town Center Mall location, is sad to see in these turbulent economic times. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Logan County is suffering badly. Vacant buildings in the town of Logan convey a dark picture on what otherwise used to be a canvas of “rich and royal hue” that once was a vibrant and proud city. However, history tells us that this is not the first time that Logan has found itself on its knees economically. To use the words of one community leader back in 1962: “Perhaps it is time to get up and fight or become a ghost town.”
This story displays how a community—working together and not divisive—made Logan County a better place to live back when times of economic strife were even more prevalent than they are today. What is so awe inspiring is that it was a group of 184 “never say die” Logan County women who proved what team work can do; and the Sears-Roebuck Company had a great deal to do with it. The female “army” that was determined to fight poverty and promote economic opportunities was better known as the Logan Woman’s Club.
To better appreciate these women and their organization, we first must delve into the origins of this societal group. Although today they are very few in number, there were in 1962 a total of 249 Women’s Clubs in West Virginia.
One must remember that there were times when women were not even allowed to vote; much less to become members of most fraternal organizations, service clubs or associations. During the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s, women who wanted to help their communities could not even seek political office. So it was that clubs were formed in West Virginia and across the nation to promote literature, art, libraries, charities and the beautification of communities. The first two in West Virginia were formed in 1892 at Pt. Pleasant and in Morgantown. By 1904, 15 Women’s Clubs gathered in Wheeling to form the West Virginia Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Although a precise date has not yet been found for the origin of the Logan Woman’s Club, newspaper accounts credit the club for being around at least in the 1920’s and operating at various locations until the formation of The Woman’s Club of Logan Library Corporation whose Certificate of Incorporation is dated December 23, 1946. Three days later, that corporation took over the former Main Street home of legendary Logan sheriff Don Chafin when N.E. Steele and his wife, Maude Steele, signed a deed giving the property to the Library Corporation on December 26, 1946.
Members of the Library Corporation and officials of the Logan Woman’s Club in 1946 included the names of Mrs. C.C. Chambers, Mrs. Harry Robertson, Mrs. Ferrell Pinson, Mrs. R. E. Blankenbeckler, and Mrs. Leslie Avis. It should be noted that Mrs. Chambers was the wife of then Judge Chambers and that Mrs. Robertson was the wife of Harry Robertson, former Logan banker and councilman who was the admitted lover of Mrs. Mamie Thurman, viciously murdered 14 years earlier. The Robertson’s’ African-American handyman, Clarence Stephenson, was convicted of the murder and it was Chambers, who was not yet a Circuit Judge in 1932, who defended Stephenson.
To show just how the Chambers-Robertson’s relationship was intertwined, the curious must note the Logan Banner announcement in December of 1926 when Chester “Cush” Chambers was installed as the “Worshipful Master” of the local Masonic Lodge and Robertson was named as its Treasurer. This announcement came, of course, six years before Mamie Thurman received a bullet to her head and her throat slashed. Mrs. Thurman was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, which is a body of the Masonic organization. Mrs. Chambers and Robertson also were members of this powerful worldwide and respected organization.
By 1962, Judge Chambers’ beloved first wife, Ida (Robinette) Chambers, had been deceased for 10 years, having succumbed to caner in 1952. However, his second wife, Lillian (Harrah) Chambers, was a former President of the Logan Woman’s Club and she proved very prominent in organizing what was called the “Progressive Rejuvenation Improvement Development Enterprises, Inc.”, which was in 1957 then renamed the Council of PRIDE—an anti-poverty organization designed to “un-depress” the local “depressed” area. Today, some 55 years later, the PRIDE organization still exists as a valuable Logan County asset to the impoverished residents of Logan County, providing numerous services to both the young and senior citizens.
The Logan Woman’s Club, however, should be remembered for doing even more for the community. The Charleston Daily Mail in a 1962 editorial described Logan as “a town that is pulling itself up by its bootstraps.” The article was referring to the fact that the Logan Woman’s Club had inspired a movement that saw the people of Logan raise more than $346,000 within six months’ time. Still, other positive changes were happening in the early 1960’s.
For instance, a desolate hollow and a closed mine operation with 14 abandoned coal camp houses was the beginning in 1961 of a recreation area that today is known statewide as Chief Logan State Park. The 4,000 acres of land was purchased by the Logan County Civic Organization for $90,000 and deeded to what today is known as the Division of Natural Resources. It gained state park status in 1968.
But it was a nationwide contest sponsored by the Sears-Roebuck Company of Chicago that brought the much deserved fame and glory to the Logan Woman’s Club and sparked a new community spirit. What was described as a “bus load of judges and visiting dignitaries” came to Logan and visited various locations (including the Woman’s Club Library) that the Clubwomen had made improvements to in various ways.
The Logan club—who’s President at the time was Mrs. T.L. Henritze—was later named one of the 11 national finalists in what was called the “Community Improvement Program” that was sponsored by the Sears-Roebuck Foundation.
The project which helped bring national recognition to the local women was the reorganization of the local Community Development Council that became the Council of PRIDE Inc. in 1960. The Woman’s Club’s goal was to raise $85,000 to bring new industry into the county, and the feisty women raised $127,000 for that endeavor, which became known as the “Garment Factory” that operated for many years at its Phico location near Chapmanville. Officially, the business was titled Logan Manufacturing Company and at one time at least 400 people were employed there. (A complete story of this business will be written at a future date.)
It would be announced in September of ’62 by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs that the Logan women had won the first place prize of $10,000. It was a proud group of 184 women, their families, and other Women’s Clubs from various parts of the county who showed up to receive the award on September 10th at a crowded Logan Memorial Fieldhouse in which many dignitaries attended, including the president of Sears-Roebuck, state and federal women’s club officers, as well as Governor Wally Barron and his wife. Other state notables attending were: former governors Homer Holt, Okey Patterson and Cecil Underwood. Also present for the prestigious event were Sen. Robert Byrd, Sen. Jennings Randolph and Congressman Ken Heckler.
There have been numerous Women’s Club’s in Logan County, including—but not limited to—Holden, Omar, Triadelphia, Chapmanville and even what was the Sharples community. These groups did many wonderful things for their communities, such as purchasing shoes for needy children, conducting blood drives, supplying toys at Christmas, and even registering voters. It was during the 1962 time period that other local clubs became inspired by the actions of the Logan Woman’s Club.
Although many local Women’s Clubs—which over the years also provided women acceptable social outlets and added wonderful dimensions to their lives—have now become extinct, some local clubs still exist, such as Omar, Chapmanville and Logan. One such organization that provided improvement to what in 1962 was described as “a most blighted area” was the Verdunville Woman’s Club that was formed in 1961.
Florence (Lucian) Baisden and Mrs. Henderson Baisden are appropriately credited with their community efforts and the formation of a community recreational park that no longer exists at upper Mud Fork, but there were actually 32 club members in 1962 and the officials were: Mrs. Dallas Kinser, president; Mrs. Ted Hale, vice president; Mrs. Billie Hill, secretary, and Mrs. Gordon Albright, treasurer. As a very young boy in that community, I can remember these women and other club members, such as Mona Hall and Florida Perdue. Today, the pine trees that stand on the hills near the Verdunville playground are the result of Mona Hall obtaining seedlings from the Arbor Day Foundation and getting neighborhood youngsters, such as myself, to plant them.
With women now having so many social choices as to how they spend their time, and many more opportunities provided, such as political offices and civic club memberships like the Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs, the State Federation of Women’s Clubs of West Virginia still exists spearheading beautification projects and leading campaigns for such things as drunk driving and past seatbelt legislation.
The residents of Logan County should take heed to what can be accomplished when everyone is pulling on the economic rope together—and in the same direction. For even as it continues to deteriorate, the Don Chafin House stands as a reminder of what a concerned group of women did for Logan County and its people back in 1962.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.