Woman's Club of San Juan Capistrano

Below is a reprint of an article that appeared in Swallow’s Tale, Sept./Oct.,  1993


by Jan Hessel
The history of any city, town, nation or group of people is made up of the activities and accomplishments of daily life.  At the time, these activities may not seem momentous, but to later generations, the seemingly small things are what matter most.

 In March of 1921, sixteen women in the town of San Juan Capistrano made a decision that continues to affect the citizens of today.  The Capistrano Social Club was founded by this group of neighbors and friends to enrich the civic, social and cultural life of the community.  The majority of the area residents were ranchers, coming to town only on Sunday, and the social atmosphere was at best sporadic.  With the founding of the Capistrano Social Club, weekly meetings were held in a members’ home, giving structure and support to the ladies involved.  The first meeting was organized by Mrs. Catherine Williams and took place at her home of El Camino Real north of the mission.  Charter members of the group were Mae Guilbert, Caroline Callis, Margaret Cook, Marcella Crookshank, Viola Crumrine. Isabella Henry, Sallie Hubbard, Lucy Madden, Mary McHenry, Margaret Scott, Nettie Shaw, Grace Smith, Esther Barnes, Faye Cook and Edna Malcom.  They agreed to meet every other Tuesday, with refreshments only on special occasions.  They brought their small children and their sewing, had few rules and regulations and kept only brief minutes.  Meeting year round to keep the social connection, sometime in the first year they decided to hold special programs when the occasion warranted. Membership was limited at this time due to the small size of the homes providing hospitality.
January 10, 1922 was a red letter day in the life of the club, marking the first service to the community.  Each member was assessed fifty cents for the purchase of a 5’ x 13’ American flag to be presented to San Juan Capistrano High School.  This was the beginning of what was to become more than half a century of service to San Juan Capistrano.
By 1924, a bulletin board was placed in Kelly’s, a store in town, to provide members with notices of meetings and programs.  (How anyone managed without telephones and fax machines is one of life’s great mysteries!)  March 3, 1925 marked the date of the first meeting outside a private home.  The old elementary school provided a room, sixteen chairs, a table and two rugs for the ladies use.  During this period, it was agreed that one meeting a month should be a business meeting and they voted a ten cent fine for each member who failed to attend.  From 1926, when the school was once again in operation, to 1960 they met in various buildings in town, including the old forestry office.
With 54 members and meeting space difficult to come by, they began a building fund April 15, 1930.  President Mrs. C. Russell Cook appointed Mrs. Carl Hankey, Mrs. Ferris Kelly and Mrs. John Forster to the first Building Committee.  They deposited $60 in a savings and loan association in Santa Ana, and voted to add a minimum of $10 per month.  By 1932, the fund was up to $500.
In April of 1932, the club voted to publish an annual yearbook assessing each member twenty-five cents for her copy.  By now the name had been changed to the Woman’s Club and their express purpose, as stated in the yearbook was; “founded on principles of friendliness and service to the community.”  The Club supported Boy Scouts, trips for high school seniors, Girl Scouts and assisted in community affairs where requested.  They also became members of the Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1932, but remained so for only six years.  Federation required the group to follow guidelines and regulations set down by the national organization.  The women felt local activities were much too important and should remain the focus of their efforts.
The property where the clubhouse now stands, lots 6, 7 and 8, block 6 in the Mission Hills tract, was purchased for $210 on March 16, 1934.  They continued adding to the building fund, reviewing possible means to achieve their dream.  In 1936, they were approached by the American Legion who said if they were assigned the land, federal funds could be obtained to build the clubhouse.  The Legion assured the ladies that they would be able to have unlimited use of the building for all time, but the women declined!  In October, 1941, Mrs. Paul Esslinger presented detailed plans for a clubhouse drawn up by Los Angeles architects Kitstner and Wright.  The Club approved and Mr. Fred Stroschein and Mr. E. J. Kasdorff were asked to supervise construction once permits were obtained.  With great enthusiasm, plans were completed and building was set to begin in November.  The land was graded but no construction started on December 8, 1941.  For the Woman’s Club, American involvement in the war took precedent over the clubhouse, and they immediately used $3,000 of the building funds to purchase government bonds.
Inflated prices of almost everything following the war prevented further work on the clubhouse, but money was continually added to the fund.  In 1956, Mrs. John Haas, president, reactivated the Building Committee, appointing Mrs. Lewis Romoff as chairwoman.
Incorporation came in April of that year, and the building fund moved ahead.  In January, 1960, Mr. E. J. Kasdorff, a building contractor, said he would design and build the clubhouse for approximately $29,000 ad Mrs. Paul Esslinger volunteered to pay for the plans.  A loan was obtained, and with the aid of many donations, including lino for the floors, drapes, a piano, curtains for the stage, the original refrigerator, walks and steps and a retaining wall, the final cost was $33,900.  On November 7, 1960, the ladies thirty year dream became reality as the building was completed by E. J. Kasdorff & Sons,  December 4, 1960 was the formal dedication ceremony, and many thanks were offered to the last Building Committee.  Marie Esslinger, Ivaline Haas, Evelyne Forster, Carol Oliveras, Fredica Benton, Ruth Roberston, Alice Buchheim and Vera Billips worked many years to see the completion of this project.  Final payment on the loan was made in May of 1970 and the following year, on March 16, 1971, the Woman’s Club of San Juan Capistrano celebrated their 50th anniversary.
The Woman’s Club is a tremendouse asset to this community.  They offer support to the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, hospital, American Field Service, March of Dimes, Listening Ears, the Hospitality Center of San Clemente and our local community center.  They currently support such projects as the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Boy’s & Girls Club of San Juan Capistrano, the Senior Nutrition program in San Juan and the Adult Day Care Center in San Clemente, which serves the Capistrano Valley area.  The women have continued to devote time, energy and financial resources to the community service, and the 138 current member are indeed ‘movers and shakers” in San Juan Capistrano.  President Lee Buser, in her second term of office, would like to invite local women to join this worthwhile organization and become a part of their history and legacy of service in San Juan.Type your paragraph here.


The Woman's Club of San Juan Capistrano was founded by 16 married women, some with children, on March 8, 1921.  They met the first and third Tuesday of the month at the homes of members.  Their first gift to the community was a 5' x 13' American flag for the new Capistrano High School in January of 1922.

Club By-Laws were written and approved in August of 1924.  In 1928 a building fund was started to resolve the problem of having a place large enough to meet.  The Club became incorporated in April 1956.  A dream was realized in 1960 when ground was broken at 31442 El Horno Street for the present Clubhouse.

Today, club woman continue to serve the community with a variety of interesting activities such as our annual Fashion Show and a Swallow's Day Pancake Breakfast.