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The College Club: A Young Women’s Haven

Their history reads like something from the set of Marjorie Maynard books I inherited from my grandmother.
In 1915, the one-year-old College Club moved to the Philip Smith house located at 264 Summer Street. The Smith’s cooks and maids agreed to continue working for the new owners, and the Vassar Club provided lunch for the 174 charter members (all college graduates) to celebrate the new “club house”. Members donated furniture, hemmed and marked linens, and made curtains from 125 yards of fabric.
There were guest rooms available for the members to rent, in a time where it was un-seeming for women to live alone. The “guests” decorated their own rooms. There are still rooms available to rent, and they run from $300 – $350 a month, for women over 21. And, as in 1915, the rooms have just been redecorated, with current members taking on individual rooms as projects.
Shortly after the house was in use, WWI broke out and the women of the College Club turned their third floor into a production line, rolling bandages, knitting 182 sweaters and 119 pairs of socks. The group supported a base hospital in France, and 6 members joined the Red Cross and YMCA and served in France. Still more club members manned a Liberty Bond station in downtown Buffalo. During WWII members again knitted and made quilts for the soldiers.
In between war efforts, club activities included afternoon teas, bridge tournaments, monthly dances and member theater productions. There were 50-cent buffet suppers for the Junior members and an active evening group. The College Club also provided a meeting space for budding professional women’s organizations of the time.
The College Club was created by members of the Association of College Alumnae, primarily graduates of Seven Sister’s colleges who returned to, or moved to Buffalo. The membership of the club vacillated depending on the circumstances of the time, suffering during WWII because of food rationing and transportation difficulties, and in 1943 when the new Wage and Hour Law, requiring a minimum 40-cent per hour wage, closed the dining room. In the 70’s there was a waiting list for membership, then more recently a decline.
The club is actively seeking new members at this time and has an interesting series of Tuesday luncheon presentations. There are also groups involved in bridge, knitting and a book club. The members are very active in the community, and the club provides a place to connect, network and relax.
Next time you are on Summer Street, keep an eye out for this discrete, well maintained house that has been a cornerstone for women of Buffalo for almost 100 years.
Contact Carolann 883.4482 or Marge 881.0681 for more information on the club and its facilities.

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