Lasting Influence

The Palos Verdes Woman’s Club turns 90 … and remains laser-focused on giving back to the community.

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  • Written by
    Chris Ridges

Photography courtesy of Palos Verdes Library District Local History Center

On January 14 and February 10, 1926, Cora Cheney, Mrs. James F. Dawson, Sara Olmstead, Mrs. W.T. Sellick, Mrs. George Gibbs, Jr, and 15 other women from Palos Verdes met to begin discussions on forming a women’s club. The second meeting resulted in their decision to begin a significant local nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to staying in touch with matters that directly affected them and their families, as well as offering assistance and help to their community whenever and wherever it may be needed—a dedication to bettering their community.

Being charitable and generous only begins to describe the Palos Verdes Woman’s Club. During their first 90 years they have given more than can be imagined.

In the months leading up to the club’s start, the world had experienced other significant events that would also prove long-lasting: Mount Rushmore National Memorial had just been dedicated in North Dakota, the first surrealist art exhibition had opened in Paris, a Santa Barbara 6.8 earthquake destroyed forever much of its invaluable downtown architecture, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published, and actor Rudolph Valentino died at age 31—causing worldwide sadness and grief.

The club’s first activities focused on a devotion to the social and civic welfare of their community: offering aid to schools, churches, libraries and other civic affairs, and supplying local social opportunities for their children. Their many community support events included classical music performances, local dances, family picnics, political forums, stage plays, literary recitals and readings.

The PV Woman’s Club’s spring Garden Tour inspired local residents as well as visitors and tourists from around the world for decades. The very first Patio and Garden Tour, held in 1956, included four tours of local gardens and a grand flower show. The proceeds of those first years of the Garden Tour aided in the creation of our still-flourishing South Bay Botanical Gardens.

influence2nd WONDER WOMEN Left: Longtime member Helen Gates. Right: Tea celebrating the opening of The Broadway department store at Del Amo in 1959.


When no one else had the time or energy to become involved, the club somehow found a way. They organized clothing and food donation sites as well as distribution centers during the Depression, helping local families during the crisis. During World War II the PVWC worked with the Red Cross in support of the war effort. Participating women were trained in first aid, helping locally stationed servicemen and women. An additional dramatic achievement during the war was their creation of a women’s Motor Corp in ‘43.

The main purpose of the Palos Verdes Woman’s Club is its deep involvement with many charities over the past 90 years. Totally nonprofit and fully philanthropic in their mission to provide for the Peninsula and the South Bay, 100% of all proceeds they collect is donated to their charities and funds merit-based scholarships for local high school seniors.

The groups that benefit from the club’s assistance include Harbor View House, Marine Mammal Care Center & Rescue, Dogs For the Blind, South Bay Botanical Gardens, the Palos Verdes Symphony, the Salvation Army Adult Care Center, Rainbow Services, Hospice Foundation (Torrance Memorial Medical Center, Little Company of Mary and Trinity Kids Care), Cheer For Children, Friends of the Library (PV Library District) and Blue Butterfly Village.

The club recently presented their 59th annual Books and Authors Luncheon at Trump National Golf Club. Guest speakers during these fall events over the years have included noted authors Ray Bradbury, Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows, Marcia Clark, Lisa See and many more. These literary gatherings continue to function as a major fundraising source for the club, while enriching the community.

No one has been a member of the club longer than Helen Gates, now 101 years of age and living proof that doing good things for others is also good for yourself. Having joined in 1952 and served as club president in ’57, she has seen the group accomplish so much.

Of her many fond memories, Helen recalls one that always stands out: the club’s delivery of Christmas trees to needy families in the area during the holidays—a tradition that lasted for many years. Another project she oversaw was the establishment of the Shorebird Bookstore in September 1956. Located in Malaga Cove Plaza above the Sea Shell Restaurant (now Rive Gauche), the bookstore offered residents a wide variety of volumes with an emphasis on education, the arts and music—a continuing theme with PVWC throughout their 90 years.

Helen was influential with the club’s initiating the first school in our community for children with physical handicaps. She and other members were given access to a Redondo Union High School utility room that had been abandoned. It was in need of much repair and care, so club members went into action scrubbing it down, painting the walls and putting up chalkboards. This effort offered physically challenged South Bay kids the opportunity to be socially involved, included and educated in their community for the first time.

The Palos Verdes Woman’s Club, the first women’s club inaugurated locally, is also the longest running club of any type on the Peninsula. Membership was more than 200 in the early 1980s but has dropped to a current count of 60. The PVWC looks forward to involving new members in their mission to give and help locally.