At a time when most of the women living in Schenectady were homemakers, a small group of working women met at the Hotel Van Curler to discuss the establishment of a club to promote business and professional women.
It was the late 1920s, and the atmosphere of the country was changing. Women were bobbing their hair, advocating for women’s rights and challenging their traditional role in society.
On May 11, 1927, the Schenectady Business and Professional Women’s Club was federated. The 51 charter members set out to promote women in the workforce, foster their educational advancement and to better the community.
The role of women in the workplace has expanded and diversified greatly since then, but the club is still thriving, and striving to fulfill its original mission.
Today, the group will celebrate its 85th anniversary with a dinner and program at Riverstone Manor in Glenville.
Most of the women who were working outside of the home when the club was founded held what were traditionally classified as women’s careers — secretarial, teaching and nursing jobs. Women in those professions were involved in the club during the early years, but so were others who worked in what at the time were considered more unconventional positions.
According to Melissa Tacke, librarian for the Schenectady County Historical Society, the club’s first president, Ella Magill Talbot, was a probation officer. Other women who were prominently involved in the club during the early years included a bookstore manager, a stenographer, a welfare department supervisor, a photographer, a librarian and doctors, she said.
Today, the club has 49 members who represent a variety of professions, including managers, a lawyer, accountants and financial advisors.
The club holds educational programs, offers networking opportunities and raises funds for scholarships, which are awarded to high school seniors and women returning to education.
The workforce was a lot different when club member Judy Schultz, a retired home economics teacher, began her career back in 1957.
“The interests of women were different. Many of them worked outside the home, but for many of them, their full-time role was being a wife and homemaker,” she said.
Schultz, a club member of 24 years, said the organization has played a vital role in the community even as times have changed, and will continue to in the future.
“I think that women support women, so that will always be there, and there will always be a need to further education for girls and for women,” she said.
She noted the success of a recent club program, “Life Unplugged,” which was offered to high school students. The interactive event gave them a glimpse into their financial future.
“I had the opportunity to talk to some of the students there and hear how much they learned from being there, and they had taken so much for granted, figuring a paycheck was all theirs and they were going to keep most of it, but reality set in,” she said with a laugh.
Bonnie Keller, a branch manager for NBT Bank in Schenectady, is one of the club’s newer members. She said she has benefited greatly from her association with the group since she joined in 2010.
“In addition to building a network of friends and clients, I’ve also been able to improve my business and leadership skills, as well as achieving personal satisfaction from helping others in the community,” she said.
Club president Jane Osterhout, a retired receptionist, said the club helped her to gain self esteem and has exposed her to many innovative ideas.
“We’re women helping women, basically,” she explained, listing the many club programs she’s been a part of. “I’ve been president three times because I like it, and I love the members. It’s a challenge to involve the members with the club and get them going,” she said.
Cyndie Powell, a financial advisor who serves as the club’s board secretary, fashion show chairwoman and website administrator, said she’s learned a lot from the club’s educational programs, and is enriched by the volunteer opportunities it offers.
“I really think that it’s good to have another place to put your energy other than just work and housework. It’s just nice to be able to put your energy toward something that helps others and also fulfills you,” she said.
The club has stayed strong over the years because of the camaraderie and support it provides, she said.
“It’s almost like a sisterhood,” she explained. “I’ve gotten to know some really amazing women.”
The club, which welcomes new members, holds a meeting at 5:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Stockade Inn.
For more information, visit www.schenectadybpw.org.