Good Neighbors

The Fan Woman’s Club celebrates 50 years.

You’d have to be a long-time Richmond denizen to recall the Meadow Park of old.

Nestled into the confluence of Meadow, Stuart and Park, the pocket park had no benches, no purposeful plantings, no brick pavement and an unmowed lawn. Not surprisingly, it seemed to attract mostly drug sellers and buyers. At least it did until the Fan Woman’s Club took it in hand.

Formed in 1973, the Fan Woman’s Club is a social organization, not a nonprofit, with one membership requirement: You must live within the geographic bounds of the Fan. Annual dues are $35, and all women are welcome. “Vibrant communities are made by women who know each other and are connected to each other,” explains Christine Peterson, club president for the past two years. “If COVID taught us anything, it’s that isolation isn’t healthy.”

Once the Fan Woman’s Club decided to take on Meadow Park, they were all in, developing landscaping plans, deciding what to brick and not brick, and purchasing benches for the park. Today, a small plaque that most visitors likely never notice acknowledges that the park was created by the FWC.

Polly Jefferson, one of the club’s founders, was a single professional woman living in the Fan in the early ‘70s. In the evenings, she’d go for walks with her next-door neighbor, a new mother, regularly passing other neighborhood women they didn’t know but wished they did.

Jefferson decided to change that, approaching the all-male Fan District Association about launching a woman’s club. Originally resistant to the idea because the FDA members’ wives did so much of the Association work for them, the men eventually relented. “We put fliers in mailboxes and an announcement in the FDA newsletter,” Peterson says, adding that the organizers had no idea how many women would come to the church basement meeting in April 1973. “And 80 women showed up!”

Monthly meetings

Even during the pandemic, when they were unable to hold monthly meetings or events, the club averaged about 100 members. Currently, membership is up to 211 women -including 65 new and rejoining members in the first two months of 2023 alone- whose ages range from the mid-20s to 80+ and who work as doctors, interior designers, real estate agents, artists, social workers, teachers, attorneys, small business owners, musicians, and fundraisers

From September through June, the club holds monthly meetings featuring local speakers. In recent months, the club has heard from Lori Russell and Dawn Blacksten from the Virginia Film Office, Natalie May of Change the World RVA, and painter, muralist and musician Ed Trask. “Because it’s the club’s fiftieth anniversary this year, the meetings are being hosted in members’ Monument Avenue homes,” Peterson says, before acknowledging with a laugh, “It’s cheek to jowl at meetings there’s so many women there.”

During Tim Kaine’s time on the Richmond City Council, the Fan Woman’s Club worked with him to address the pervasive litter problem. The city had no money, so after much research, the club purchased 20 public trashcans with the understanding that the city would regularly empty them. The club was also responsible for doing the extensive legwork and documentation required to get federal and state historic designation for the Fan. After being trained by Robert Winthrop, members went door to door to get information about each house for the historic designation application and then checked city hall records for verification. “We can say without a doubt that we know our neighborhood,” Peterson says. “A lot of intentionality went into that project.”


Fundraising used to take the shape of a spring kitchen and garden tour and annual auctions, but with so many women working, the club has scaled back on those efforts, although they continue to weed traffic circles and plant trees. In addition to meetings, the club holds two major events for its members, a family picnic in June and a progressive dinner in April.

This year’s progressive dinner takes place April 15, and the theme is “All that glitters.” According to Peterson, “Nobody likes to dress up like the people in this neighborhood.” Past themes have included “Grease,” “Madmen” and “Casablanca,” all to great success.

As to the progressive aspect, members and their guests will begin at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture for appetizers before splitting into groups of six to eight to go to various homes for the salad course. From there, guests walk to another home for the entrée course, enjoying it with a different group, before everyone gathers at an expansive home on Monument Avenue for dessert. Teams of members make the appetizers, desserts and decorations while individual hostesses make the salads and entrees. “It’s the community breaking bread together in a modern-day scenario,” Peterson says.

Over 50 years, the club has kept to its mission while making revisions based on the changing lifestyles of its members. “The Fan Woman’s Club has always had visionary leaders and members,” Peterson says. “While the club is all about friendship and support for women of all ages, that translates to a rich neighborhood environment.”

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