The Caddo Civic and Cemetery Club, founded in 1903, is one of the oldest women’s clubs in Oklahoma. It was formed by Ella Bilbo, Dousie Hancock, Belle Walters, Emma Love, Agnes Ainsworth, and Georgia McCoy. They began because of a tradition long upheld by Caddo women- they saw a need and they organized to meet it. The town’s burial ground was forlorn and neglected. It was covered with weeds and totally lacking in order and dignity. Mrs. Bilbo wrote: “During August, 1892, while attending the funeral of one of our foremost citizens, the large crowd present found their way to the grave as best they could through sunflowers, weeds, and briars, trampling over the tumbled-in graves of the loved ones of others, now desecrated by varmints of any kind that chose to abide therein. A most forlorn and hopeless condition of affairs!”
The women’s group not only cleaned, organized, and administered the business of the cemetery, but also worked on other projects that improved the lives of the residents of Caddo.
In 1905 they put on a Tom Thumb wedding using local children and used the funds to build the Chapel that still sits in the middle of the Cemetery.
In 1911 they were actively involved in the Annual Corn Carnival and to raise funds the picnic committee had an exhibition of trained pigs at the opera house.
In 1912 there was electricity in Caddo, but it was only available at night. The Civic Club petitioned the city to turn electricity on during the day on Tuesdays so the women of Caddo could iron! They bought twenty-five electric irons to loan or rent.
In 1922 The Herald editor made these comments about the group: “The Civic Club, besides having interesting programs at each meeting, and conducting studies of various civic interest, have charge of the cemetery. And this is one of the prides of Caddo. Our City of the Dead is well taken care of. The lawns are well kept. No weeds or other unseemly things mar its beauty and no unsightly things are allowed to accumulate there. The work is done by monthly collections from citizens of the town. But these ladies do the collecting and attend to this work. All honor and credit to them.”
In the 1930s the women of the Civic Club assisted local doctors in immunizing hundreds of people against typhoid.
The Civic Club tirelessly supported the war effort by buying savings bonds, sponsoring Red Cross classes in first aid, and canning vegetables and fruits for school lunches. In 1945 the club sent 697 pounds of clothing to war refugees in Europe, collected 5,600 pounds of scrap paper to be recycled, and collected 25 pounds of fat (presumably to be used in making soap). In 1946 the General Federation of Women’s Clubs named the Caddo Civic and Cemetery Club the second best women’s club in America.
Through the years generations of Caddo women have stepped forward to continue the work of this great organization. Recent projects have included reorganizing the cemetery’s burial records, creating a Veteran’s Memorial, and paving the cemetery roads.
It was wonderful to see the Civic and Cemetery Club recognized at Heritage Day. And it was no surprise that even in the wind and rain and cold these role models are true to the last line of the “club woman’s creed” printed in 1912, “O Lord, let us not forget to be kind”. Yesterday I commented to Wanda Nation that my hands were cold. She immediately offered me her gloves.