Histories of the Cincinnati Catholic Women’s Association and Catholic Women of Cincinnati

History is taken from “Years of Achievement: 1917 – 1958,” written by CCWA member Marie Burke.

The Cincinnati Catholic Women’s Association (CCWA) traces its origins to a meeting convened on April 14, 1917, in the basement of Good Samaritan Hospital by Mrs. Bellamy Storer who, with the encouragement of Archbishop Moeller, wanted to organize patriotic women for War Time Service. With food shortages and other hardships anticipated, the women dedicated themselves to planting vegetable gardens and practicing economic management along all lines. “It was our duty during the war to exercise intelligent economy, making the most of everything that we might be able to give to others as well as provide for ourselves” (8). CCWA was affiliated with the National League for Women’s Service.

The members were given a list of every Cincinnati boy in the service, and the society of War Godmothers was formed. CCWA was designated as Red Cross unit No. 6. Knitting was a major ministry: under the supervision of Mrs. Joseph Verkamp, Mrs. Henry Ratterman, and Mrs. Daniel Heekin, yarn was distributed, and by 1919 the group had completed 10,000 knitted garments, 90,977 surgical dressings, and 18,840 other garments, which were distributed all over the U.S., in France, and to French and English prisoners of war in German camps. CCWA members also subscribed to the Second Liberty Loan drive, raising $29,000 through this effort.

In 1918, the CCWA’s second year of operation, a fete held at the Zoo’s Tea Garden raised $2,000 for the fatherless children of France. The flu epidemic later that year curtailed social gatherings and meetings, but the knitting and sewing continued in members’ homes. One hundred boxes were contributed to the Red Cross, and additional Christmas boxes were sent to the boys overseas, while vestments and altar linens were made for various camps throughout the country, and rosaries, scapulars, and even a church organ were donated to military chaplains. The “Government” requested that CCWA support Child Welfare, so two members were appointed to the Americanization Committee.

The work continued and CCWA’s activities expanded in 1919, under the direction of president Mrs. Frederick Mackentepe. Red Cross participation was extended to Home Service, to provide financial assistance, legal advice and comfort to servicemen and their families, and to find positions for discharged or partially disabled soldiers and sailors. A concert at Music Hall raised $2,300, which was sent to Pope Benedict for the Italian War Orphans, along with an Easter offering of $1,000. The Recreation Committee provided drills, singing, dancing, and parties. Dances held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Ft. Thomas was attended by more than a thousand servicemen and their dates. When Queen Elizabeth and King Albert of Belgium visited Cincinnati that October, CCWA members were active in organizing and hosting special events to welcome them, including a tour of Good Samaritan Hospital. The Heekin and Ratterman children presented the Queen with roses and a purse of 8545 francs that had been collected in less than a week for the relief of Belgian babies.

In 1920, CCWA became affiliated with the National Council of Catholic Women in Washington, continued Red Cross work at an extraordinary level of productivity, and formed an Education Committee to arrange a series of lectures on citizenship and proper use of the ballot, to address suffrage questions and encourage women to exercise their newly granted right to vote. CCWA also responded to a request to provide altar linens for the devastated churches of Central Europe. By 1921, when CCWA was in its fourth year, the group was known in France, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland and across the United States for its patriotic, civic, and charitable activities. Still meeting at Good Samaritan Hospital, the group dreamed of establishing its own “Clubhouse,” along with a home for business and professional women. In May, the “old” association was closed, and a Constitution was adopted for the new Corporation. The officers and directors elected at the first annual meeting on May 14 is a Who’s Who of prominent Cincinnati families: Mackentepe, Hinkle, Verkamp, Frey, Egan, Greiwe, Unnewehr, LeBlond, Kunkel, Ryan, Crotty, McElilley, and more.

With World War I ended, CCWA continued to support the Red Cross but took on many new local endeavors, including collecting magazines for prisoners, giving parties for ex-servicemen, providing hotel rooms for Traveler’s Aid transients, and making contributions to Community Chest and Catholic Charities. President Mackentepe encouraged each member to bring in a new member to increase membership and augment income so CCWA could carry on its charitable work and also provide the means to establish a home for itself. Mrs. Hinkle was elected president in May and soon after organized the first CCWA card party, which was a financial and social success. A garden party was held in June for the benefit of the Dominican Sisters. Mrs. Mackentepe chaired the Penny Lunch movement, which opened at St. Edward’s School and served 1300 lunches the first week; this program is credited with originating the concept of cafeterias in elementary schools.

A significant development in November 1922 was the establishment of the Junior Service committee of the CCWA, for religious, charitable, educational, civic, and social activities that paralleled the work of CCWA. Miss Leslie May Luers was the first president.

It is composed of young Catholic women of greater Cincinnati; each member giving two hours of service each week, September through June, or a total of eighty hours on any of the varied committees of Social Service. Anyone who is eligible to join the Cincinnati Catholic Women’s Association and who is under the age of thirty-five, is eligible to join the Junior Service. Upon reaching the age of thirty-five, members transfer to the parent club. Dinner meetings are held on the third Monday of each month, September through May, at the Clubhouse, 518 East Fourth Street.

Standing Committees of Junior Service are: Decorations, Dinner, Fall Dance, Good Cheer, Membership, Program, Public Relations, Service Hours, Sewing, Spiritual Activities, St. Joseph Infant Home, Symphony, Tax Stamps, Telephone, Volunteers, Ways and Means, and Whirligig Ball.

In January 1923 it was announced the Mrs. Hinkle and Mrs. LeBlond had each given $1000 toward purchasing a Clubhouse, to which was added $1000 from the Catholic Ladies of Columbia and $350 from Junior Service. CCWA contracted for the purchase of the former Michael Mullen residence on East Fourth Street, and “that the title to said property should be taken in the name of the Most Reverend Henry Moeller, Archbishop of Cincinnati, and his successors in that office in Trust for the Association.”

Mrs. Henry Luers chaired the fund drive for the Clubhouse. In March, she announced that $2,960 had been collected and that Mrs. Zech had donated her piano. CCWA member Dr. Nora Crotty announced that all members were invited to attend the Irish Fellowship Banquet on March 18, and the proceeds would be donated to CCWA.

By the April 1923 meeting, the first payment of $15,000 had been made, and the Clubhouse at 516 East Fourth Street was turned over to the organization. The May annual meeting was held at the Clubhouse, though work on the house continued, with many members furnishing a room at the cost of $200 each. The Junior Service Rummage Sale in May netted nearly $600; $400 was given to paint the Clubhouse and $200 to the Penny Lunch project. Mary Emery, Mt. St. Joseph, and Mt. St. Vincent Alumnae also contributed funds. The housewarming took place on June 23, 1923, beginning with Archbishop Moeller blessing the house.

CCWA and Junior Service members continued to be highly active in many charitable and civic endeavors, including the awarding of the first Scholarship – the Moeller Scholarship, in the amount of $1000, for a two-year course at the Service School of the Catholic University in Washington D.C.

In March 1924 CCWA expanded literally, purchasing the neighboring house at 518 East Fourth Street, with that title also held in trust by the Archbishop and his successors. With a series of card parties, pastry sales, and rummage sales, the debt on the first house was canceled by July of 1924. In October, CCWA mailed out 2450 membership cards. A monthly magazine, “The Catholic Women’s News,” was sent to all members and clergy. In November, Mrs. LeBlond organized a Kirmess, a musical extravaganza called “Stepping Out” that played for three performances in Emery Auditorium, with a New York director and a cast of 550. The proceeds were to benefit the new addition to the Clubhouse, which was to be a non-profit residence for businesswomen and girls. By May 1926, 35 professional women were in residence.

Inspired by the success of their annual Rummage Sales, CCWA established a Thrift Shop in October 1926 at 411 Sycamore Street. A paid manager ran the shop, with CCWA volunteers serving as sales clerks and thirty-five more volunteers organized into energetic and competitive neighborhood collections teams. This group met for luncheons at members’ homes or a Country Club – and the entrance fee was a number of pounds of “loot” which was actually weighed in, with a prize for the heaviest load. The Shop also became the headquarters for the Club’s business ventures, including the Executive Office and “The Catholic Women’s News.”

By 1927 CCWA had 3000 members and needed an auditorium to accommodate meetings for such a large group. Looking to the future of the Association, it was proposed to build an auditorium, gymnasium, and additional rooming quarters on the rear of the two lots. At a meeting held in February in the auditorium of the Western & Southern Life Insurance Company, Mrs. LeBlond reviewed the history of CCWA, including the purchase of the Clubhouse at 516 East Fourth Street for $35,000 and of the property at 518 East Fourth Street for $55,000. Even with the remodeling of both properties, there was a current debt of only $32,000. Mrs. William Albers agreed to chair a drive to raise $100,000 for the addition and pledged to give $25,000 if the Committee raised $14,000 during the first week. By April the debt on the two houses was paid in full, and plans for the addition were moving forward. The cornerstone for the new construction was laid on December 1, 1927.

Money was still given to charitable works. Children from the basin of the city were enrolled in the Little Flower Class. Each Saturday they got a bath, freshly laundered undergarments, a meal, and instruction. They were also given school shoes, provided with medical care (including seven operations), and money was given to help keep their families together. Other outreach efforts included the Friendship Sewing Circle and financial support for the Sisters of St. Francis, Good Samaritan Hospital, Good Shepherd Convent, Longview, and many other local charities. The success of the sewing circles, who were now taking dressmaking classes, led to a Style Show in the Tea Room, to show off members’ handiwork – the first of the Fashion Shows.

The dedication of the new building took place on October 28, 1928, with Archbishop McNicholas presiding. The newly-built LeBlond Auditorium was filled to capacity.

CCWA continued to be a major charitable force, with funds coming from the Thrift Shop, the Catholic Women’s News Publishing Company, theatrical events, card and garden parties, and generous donors.

When the Depression hit, Mrs. Charles Williams was the “good fairy” who came forward to pay the interest and mortgage for the CCWA properties when money was tight, but most members were unaware of the financial emergency. They mounted a city-wide clothing drive and also sewed clothing for 5000 needy children from unemployed families. The CCWA Choral Group was organized at this time and joined professional musicians in giving concerts in LeBlond Auditorium, with the proceeds donated to unemployed families.

The next decades brought many changes, positive and negative. In 1936 Mrs. Hinkle’s painting “The First Communion” was accepted as a loan to the Club and hung in the Madonna Room. The 1937 Flood forced the cancellation of many events. In January 1939 the “Catholic Women’s News” was discontinued, and the Club lost an excellent source of revenue. In 1942 the Garden Circle was formed, with the grounds of the Chapel of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Adoration on Erie Avenue the recipient of the group’s monetary contributions and hands-on efforts, including the flowering crab and plum trees that line the driveway and still flower each spring. In 1944 a gift of $20,000 from the LeBlond’s paid off the new addition. In March 1945 Mrs. Hinkle made her loan of the Nourse painting into a permanent gift.

CCWA has continued to do good works in the community in so many ways and has focused its philanthropic efforts toward helping women through its support of Healing Connections (both monetary and through the knitting of quilts). The organization keeps women engaged in spiritual activities and social activities through regular card parties, lecture series, and book clubs.