The Woman’s Literary Union of Androscoggin County is a §501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization established in 1892 that seeks to further the intellectual, cultural and educational advancement of its members and the community. The organization’s name is purposely spelled with an “a” in Woman as at the time the organization was established, it was the era of the “New Woman.”

Describing the concept of the “New Woman” in 1894, WLU’s president at the time, Mrs. Addison Small, explained that women increasingly recognized the necessity of pursuing an intellectual life. She said that women realized how much richer one’s life becomes when giving of one’s time and services to better the world.

From its inception, education has been a big part of WLU’s activities. As early as 1898, WLU members started a successful movement to add kindergarten to the public school systems in Lewiston and Auburn. In 1902, WLU held a public debate as to whether or not it would “be for the advantage of the schools of Lewiston and Auburn to have women on their school boards.” Members spoke on both sides of the issue; the vote resulted in an affirmative majority.

The project took several years to get off the ground, but WLU members, in 1908, established three public playgrounds in Lewiston and Auburn where none had existed. WLU initially purchased the playground equipment with funds they had raised through donations. After the playgrounds were established, the cities began contributing to playground expenses, but left management to WLU. Until at least 1921, WLU club members maintained the playgrounds and hired teachers to run the summer recreation programs.

Information on the history of WLU, its members and activities can be found in the club’s collection of historical documents, which include meeting minutes, ledger books, scrapbooks, photos, correspondence, bank records, and more, dating back to the early days of the club, and which are available for research by appointment. WLU is an excellent resource for student projects.

EVENTS AND ACTIVITIES

These days, WLU members continue to put the club’s mission into practice through cultural, intellectual, educational, and civic engagement in the community. Money raised by WLU at its events helps maintain the beautiful Foss Mansion, and fund the scholarships given away each year for Androscoggin County high school students studying the arts or literature.

The annual Doll Tea hosted by WLU each spring is a cultural event with educational aspects. Children follow the example of the adults in attendance and dress for the Tea in pretty dresses, shoes, and hats, and may be accompanied by a doll. The children learn to display appropriate behavior and etiquette, and to care about how they look and behave at public events. The Tea’s entertainment varies each year from storytelling to short skits, complete with costumed actors.

About six times a year, the public is invited to play Bunco, a dice game dating back to 18th-century England. It came over to America with immigrants and then spread from the East to West during the Gold Rush of the 1850s. It was a popular game at speakeasys during Prohibition which is when the term “bunco squad” originated, from police raids on gambling parlors. WLU members give instructions before the playing begins. Bunco has become very popular at WLU and those who have played it at the Foss Mansion can’t wait for the next scheduled game.

New in 2014, and sure to return for years to come, is WLU’s Fairy Godmother Project Prom Gown Giveaway extravaganza. The purpose of the Fairy Godmother Project is to collect donated gowns, dresses and accessories and give them away for free to junior and senior high school students from any school, any where. Girls getting a free prom gown one year can pay it forward by bringing it back after cleaning for someone else to wear the next year.

THE FOSS MANSION

The Foss Mansion at 19 Elm Street, Auburn, was bequeathed to WLU upon the death of Ella May Fletcher Foss in 1941. Prior to this, the organization had met at its former clubhouse, the Squire Edward Little House on Main Street, Auburn, from 1932 to 1943. Before owning the Little House, WLU met in various public rooms, halls and vestries in Lewiston-Auburn, and in the homes of members.

The Foss Mansion is like a magnet to the community and has been a landmark in Auburn since it was completed in 1917, nearly 100 years ago. Tales about the skeletons found on the Foss property, the mansion’s proximity to an early cemetery, and other mysteries about the house fascinate history hounds. This magnificent home was built for Horatio G. and Ella M. Foss.

When it was built, the house featured the latest in technological innovations such as both electric and gas lighting, a central vacuum system, concealed lighting in the dining room, and bathrooms with flushing toilets and plumbing. The garage had a turntable in its floor. The only major changes made to the house were in the kitchen which was updated in the late 1940s and the switch from coal to oil furnaces. The rest of the house with its Spanish-influenced white-stuccoed exterior walls, clay tiled roof, Federal-influenced portico, and Palladian windows, remains a fine example of mostly Georgian-Revival architecture.

The house was listed in the National Register of Historical Places in 1976 for its architectural significance as well as its association with the Dingley-Foss Shoe Company, owned by Horatio G. Foss.

MEMBERSHIP

In 1917, WLU examined its organizational purpose, stating: “As a Literary Union we have many aspirations. We aspire to increase our membership, to enlarge and broaden out our department work, always remembering without high purposes we can accomplish nothing. Only by bringing some assistance to the home, the schools, the institutions of the town, can we live up to our work. … The extension of the club movement from the literary field to the realm of practical matters is a growth – an evolution.”

Today, membership in WLU is open to anyone and the diverse backgrounds of its members make the club dynamic. Multi generations chair or sit on the various committees and work together at events all year. Members pick and choose the events and programs they want to attend or participate in based on their interests and availability. Now is the perfect time to join us.

For more information, visit www.womansliteraryunion.org or call 207-783-5630.


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