The Women’s Service Club, like the League of Women for Community Service two blocks away, began by doing war work. Black Brahmin women, headed by Mary Evans Wilson, wife of prominent attorney Butler R. Wilson, organized a knitting group at their Rest House near the Carter Playground on Columbus Avenue playground making gloves and scarves for soldiers stationed at Fort Devens.

In 1919, the group purchased 464 Massachusetts Avenue for its headquarters. Wilson, a graduate of Oberlin College, was the first president of the Women’s Service Club; Harriet Hall, wife of Dr. John B. Hall, Sr., the second. Being a member was a mark of prestige.

Throughout the years, 464 offered all kinds of services to the community. Its mottos were “open door’’ and “a home away from home” and therefore it ran a drop-in center; elderly services, including hot lunches; food, clothes and medicine to needy people at Thanksgiving and Christmas; boys’ and girls’ summer camps; referrals for people needing help with housing, training and education; technical assistance through ABCD; and, during World War II, harking back to its origins, providing services to soldiers and their families at Fort Devens.

In 1920, Ralf Meshack Coleman, actor, writer, director and manager, who lived next door, produced one of his first productions at 464. He was part of Black Boston’s “little theatre” movement led by Maud Cuney Hare and her Allied Arts Centre. Hare was also the author of Negro Musicians and Their Music. In 1975, Mayor Kevin White designated Coleman Dean of Boston’s Black Theatre.

In 1925, Eugene Gordon, a Washington Post journalist living in Cambridge, invited Black writers to join his Saturday Evening Quill Club, a literary workshop, which met at 464. In 1928, he published the Saturday Evening Quill, said to be the only such publication by Blacks since the Colored American Magazine.

In 1957, Mildred Davenport, a dancer and dance teacher, helped organize the 464 Community Workshops which raised money for camp and presented annual benefits called the 464 Follies.

For many years, Gladys Moore Perdue, a local piano teacher, was the accompanist for the Follies. She also appeared in local productions, such as Ralf Coleman’s Antar.

For fifteen years in the Sixties and into the early Seventies, Melnea Cass, known as the First Lady of Roxbury, was president of the Women’s Service Club, initiating programs such as the Homemakers Training Program, “which supported the professional status of household workers.”

Although the club’s archives have been lost, there were always numerous mentions in the news. Some highlights:

  • Negro Actors Display Talent, Globe 12/5/1920
  • Governor’s Wife Guest of Service Club 10/25/64
  • U.S. Senator Ed Brooke Leads Emotional Salute to Mrs. Cass 5/23/66
  • ‘67 Follies Honors Negro Composers 5/7/67
  • Business Group Honors Muriel Knight, Negro Woman Crusader, Globe 10/22/1967
  • Women’s Service Club Tea          

Today, the club is closed, unfortunately. There is an historic plaque next to its door.

By Alison Barnet

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