The Ida B. Wells Social Club was founded in Chicago in 1893 and, like so many of Wells 's activities, was a manifestation of her commitment to exposing and outlawing the evils of the lynch law. A testimonial meeting on October 5, 1892, sponsored by New York City's black women in honor of her antilynching efforts provided a catalyst for club formation among black women in all parts of the nation. The Ida B. Wells Social Club, though, did not limit itself to antilynching efforts but engaged in a wide variety of activities on behalf of the social uplift of the race. Like many women's clubs, the Ida B. Wells Social Club engaged in charity work, extolled the virtues of literacy and education, opened nurseries, trained mothers in child care and hygiene, operated a kindergarten in one of Chicago's African American neighborhoods, and worked on behalf of blacks' political and economic advancement.
Historically, black women in the United States had formed clubs and organizations for the benefit of their race. Most of the organizations of the early nineteenth century, however, were based in the African American church rather than in the secular community. Their foundation in community churches meant that most of the early-nineteenth-century organizations were very small and local in nature, without the capacity to effect change on a large scale. Only in the 1890s did African American women begin to form civic clubs and national networks that operated on many fronts to lift the race and to reform American society.
The 1892 New York testimonial was no doubt important in spurring black women to organize. Wells worked from that point on to encourage club formation. Her efforts redoubled after a visit to the United Kingdom in 1893 allowed her to observe the expansive and effective reform efforts of English women. Wells founded what its members would name the Ida B. Wells Social Club in 1893. Twenty years later, she maintained her beliefs in women's organization as a means of social uplift for all African Americans. She founded the Ideal Woman's Club in 1910 and the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago in 1913- her commitment to universal suffrage having grown even stronger.
By 1895, the club movement among African American women was sufficiently large and strong to necessitate the creation of an umbrella organization-the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). The NACW operated parallel to the larger but racially exclusive General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) that formed in 1890. Ida Wells fought to break down the “color line” and succeeded in getting the Ida B. Wells Social Club-the only African American women's civic club in Chicago-voted into the umbrella League of Cook County Clubs. She was less successful in getting national organizations like the GFWC and the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) to embrace the idea of African American membership and participation.
Wells served as president of the Ida B. Wells Social Club for five years after its founding (1893-1898) and returned to that office in 1920. The Ida B. Wells Social Club of Chicago survived her death in 1931, and, indeed, Ida Wells Clubs were established in several large cities across the nation, extant in the late twentieth century.
Ida B. Wells Social Club