In the midst of the Depression, a group of black women, all married, all mothers, met at Ardella Jacobs’ home in Windsor to form the Hour-A-Day Study club. As the name suggests, the women pledged themselves to devote an hour a day to individual reading and analysis, the better to fortify themselves, their children, and their community.
Drawing on their religious convictions, determined to be full citizens, they would meet monthly to discuss and put into practice their learning and to find ways to join with others committed to seeing their city, their province, and their country live up to is promise and potential.
Along with Ardella Jacobs, the club’s initial members were Ethel Bishop, Gladys Browning, Minnie Chickee, Ethel Christian, Daisy Craven, Rachael Harding, Mrs. George Lucas, Vivian Nall, Evelyn Parker, Flossie Stewart, Elizabeth Washington, Edith Watkins, Hilda Watkins and Luella White.
Aware of the strong need in a country ill-prepared for war, during World War II, club members set up a war committee to distribute materials and instructions for knitting and sewing and to collect the finished garments for shipment. As part of their support for the Red Cross, clubwomen took a monthly turn answering the telephone at the Red Cross salvage office, and in response to an urgent Red Cross call for funds, held a contribution tea. As well, on behalf of the club, members volunteered with the Children’s Aid Society and the home for the blind, where clubwomen read to and wrote letters for residents.
Another example of the breadth of the club’s work is its scholarship programme, funded in large part by the club’s annual classical music concert. Through it, the club sought out and supported applicants committed to contributing to the community’s well-being and development. Scholarship recipients went on to work in education and libraries, music and the arts, medicine and science, law and business.
Firm believers in the power and purpose of memory and history, clubwomen had a strong sense of the past, personally, locally, and nationally. Mindful of those to come, they recorded in minutes and memoranda what they did and why they did it. An unpublished club history, prepared by Ardella Jacobs and Hilda Watkins in 1947, would be read out each year at the club’s annual students’ rally, a forum organized for grade eight and older students. In the early 1950s members began exploring local black history. To hone their skills, they brought in Detroit Negro Historical Society’s Fred Hart Williams to share his methodology with them.
Club members worked with Walter Perry to plan the 1954 Emancipation Day commemoration, which also celebrated Windsor’s centenary. A committee of fifty women from Windsor and Detroit, co-chaired by club member Vivian Nall, brought Mary McCleod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt to speak.
Founded 75 years ago, the Hour-A-Day Study Club still meets. Ever mindful of the future as well as the present and past, its members still award scholarships, still act, still record.
Peggy Bristow, co-author, We’re Rooted Here and They Can’t Pull Us Up: Essays in African-Canadian Women’s History, University of Toronto Press, 1994.