The Woman’s Club of Wisconsin was founded in 1876 by thirty women “weary, but rebellious” against the idea that they should restrict themselves to a housebound life of child rearing and service to the Lord. Over the next several decades, the Woman’s Club promoted educational opportunities for women and children and sponsored cultural and social activities. In 1886, club members launched the Athenaeum, the nation’s first publicly owned stock company formed exclusively by women, to finance the construction of a clubhouse and to set a precedent for “other forms of cooperation among women.” The Athenaeum raised money to build this clubhouse in 1887, and it directly inspired women in other cities to launch similar ventures. Twentieth-century club activities ranged from helping the Red Cross and civil defense to providing services for the chronically ill and mentally retarded.
The oldest part of this building, which is the oldest women’s clubhouse in the nation, has a symmetrical facade; an 1896 addition to the east added another gable, dormer, and entrance unit. Limestone stringcourses, a limestone foundation, large windows, small triplet lights, and dramatic gables punctuate the clubhouse’s cream brick walls. Inside, dark mahogany paneling and wainscoting continue the sense of sturdiness seen outside. In the first-floor Great Hall, a Tudor-style timber-framed ceiling and a paneled fireplace with green marble apron give the room a cozy aspect. The second story boasts a large ballroom with a grand arched ceiling.