The Club Today
Today our club’s two young founders would be amazed to see how the world has changed and how their “Current Events Club” has evolved into a collection of over 200 strong, fascinating American and international women who call the Netherlands their home.
Amsterdam has grown into a vibrant, exciting city with 780,000 inhabitants and even more cars, trams, bikes and tourists. Travel, so rare a prize in the 1920’s, has become a way of life. If you left the USA in 1927, chances were you weren’t coming back. Now, we have many members with lives spread over two continents. We’ve seen the advent of the digital age and can now Skype, Facebook, Facetime or Instagram our families as well – something inconceivable to our founders.
The AWCA takes these changes in stride. We arm newcomers with tools to decipher this thrilling and ever growing city. Our list of activities constantly alters to meet the demands of the current members. While we travel the city to meet at real (and dare we say fabulous) locations, we also meet on AWCA’s updated website, our “virtual clubhouse," and club Facebook pages, which keep us connected in between.
While we have fun together, the AWCA also looks outward. Last year AWCA reached out to invite our Amsterdam neighbors to our Winter Ball, having a great time and earning a whopping 18,000 euro for the Blijf Groep’s Oranje Huis, a local charity combating domestic violence. We danced on the Dam for One Billion Rising and packed backpacks for children in need. And further afield, our membership in the Federation of American Women’s Club’s Overseas (FAWCO) means we have the power to effect change as our combined voice with women around the globe reaches both to Washington and to the U.N.
The AWCA has become the amazing, vibrant, strong club it is today because of the strength of its members, past and present. While times change, and our world changes, the bonds of women and friendship do not. We still come together for support in times of need, we celebrate together in times of joy, we learn from one another, we forge bonds, and together we embrace this wonderful country we now, for a brief period or for forever, call home.
Our History: The 1920s and our Founders
In 1927 two young American women in Amsterdam, Helena Goldschmidt and Carolyn Korthals Altes, decided with three of their friends, Florence Hartog, Mama Klatte and Muriel Hamers, to form a club. After some discussion they asked four others to join them: Edna Perk, Dorothy Beenhouwer, Mrs. Hulswit and Mrs. Barjones (the Portuguese consul's wife). They chose the name of "Current Events Club," set an initiation fee of 85 cents, annual dues of Dfl.2,50 and created an American home away from home. Florence Hartog was the first president. During their informal biweekly teas at members' homes, they discussed current events, exchanged English books and magazines and took turns giving ten-minute talks on art, travel and music. The Club flourished and expanded.
In 1928 Mrs. Charles Hoover, wife of the first U.S. Consul General, became the first honorary president. That year saw the drafting of a constitution and by-laws. The Current Events Club of the middle 1930s was, as at its beginning, a group of unusually capable and talented women who directed their energy toward well-balanced social, intellectual and cultural pursuits. At this time, the idea of culture shock was not a public concept, but it certainly must have been a fact of life to the early American settlers here.
In 1937, the Club had its first member whose husband was also American, giving her fewer ties to Holland. In addition to regulars, the Club was augmented temporarily by American guests staying at the Amstel Hotel and by a number of refugee women of American nationality who were waiting in the hotel for papers.
The War Years: 1940s
1940 brought the beginning of a black period for all of Western Europe. Since the invasion of Poland in 1939, American wives had been faced with a dilemma: to stay abroad where war was certain to come or to return to the United States, leaving a Dutch husband behind.
Those who stayed could not have envisioned what was ahead. In the early days of the occupation, the first concern of the Club was for those most vulnerable, the Jewish members. Husbands were being imprisoned, sons were sent to work in Germany and children went out on dangerous missions to deliver underground newspapers. Those who were not detained as prisoners or hostages lived in fear, so that every home had a hiding place for its men. People left windows and skylights open so that fugitives could escape, either from or to their homes.
Hardship and uncertainty had come for everyone. In addition to fear and worry, physical discomfort became excruciating. There were increasing scarcities of food, fuel, electricity and transportation; no private telephones or radios; at the worst, even water was rationed to two buckets a day. People were reduced to eating flower bulbs. At night clandestine excursions were made to chop down trees for fuel. Going to bed at sundown was a common way of keeping warm and among those who braved the cold to stay up, one of the group pedaled a stationary bicycle in the living room to provide light from its dynamo. Women cut up old tablecloths for diapers and nightgowns for children. A patient might be taken to the hospital by sled because there were no taxis.
This picture of the anxieties and hardships of the war years comes from our own early members. It is their story. What they don't talk about is their own courage and endurance, which kept them going. During these years some twenty members attended meetings, and the Club was a veritable lifeline, which they maintained with difficulty and risk.
In 1943 an American B-17 with a crew of ten crashed near the village of Opijnen (read more about this story and the AWCA's involvement here). The eight who died were buried by the villagers, who have been taking care of their graves ever since. AWCA members Virginia Delgado and Betty van Maanen were instrumental in organizing annual memorial services for the eight American airmen. When liberation finally came, it was bittersweet for those whose families who would never return.
By 1945 the Netherlands was devastated, and even five years after the end of the war, the development of Western Europe was a quarter of a century behind that of the United States. In the difficult postwar period, Club members continued to hold meetings now at the home of the Consul General.
The 1950s and 1960s
In the Club year 1957-58 the meetings regularly included programs presented by guest speakers and occasionally by members. Books, which had always been close to the hearts of AWCA members, were increasingly available and donations swelled the library. By 1960 mimeographed sheets (the beginning of The Bulletin) were being sent to members to acquaint them with the Club agenda. Informal coffee get-togethers were now occurring quite regularly in the Haarlem and 't Gooi areas.
To state that membership had reached 206 in 1972 leaves much unsaid. There was considerable physical work to be accomplished: publishing the Bulletin, transporting all the library books which were now being privately housed and brought to and from meetings by the Library Chairman, and organizing the cumbersome collection of office supplies. After a thorough search, Onze Kamer was acquired in Buitenverldert. For Dfl.800 per year we had a ground floor room, hall and toilet. Onze Kamer provided a much-needed shelter for our possessions.
The 1970s and 1980s
By 1973 the duties of the Executive and Governing Board members had become so numerous that a Job Description Committee was called into being. In 1974 the first Parliamentarian was installed with Robert's Rules of Order instituted at meetings. Babysitting was being provided at General Meetings. In 1977 the first college scholarship was awarded by the Club to the son of one of its members. In November 1985 as a tribute to Carolyn Korthals Altes, the scholarship was renamed the Carolyn Korthals Altes Scholarship/Achievement Award.
By 1973, the duties of the Executive and Governing Board members had become so numerous that a Job Description Committee was called into being. In 1974, the first Parliamentarian was installed with Robert's Rules of Order instituted at meetings. Baby-sitting was being provided at General Meetings. In 1977, the first college scholarship was awarded by the Club to the son of one of its members. In November 1985 as a tribute to one of the club founder's, the scholarship was named the Carolyn Korthals Altes Scholarship/Achievement Award.
The 1990s and 2000s
The club’s turnover rates change constantly, from the earliest members who were permanent residents and rarely moved to members, in the 1990s and 2000s who were mainly transient. By 2010, this had again changed to reflect a nearly 50/50 split of long term and short term residents of the Netherlands.
These years also found a surge in KAMP activities, an educational program created to help young Americans growing up abroad learn about their home country. KAMP took the form of a monthly 3-hour session run mainly by parents, who taught an approved curriculum and organized various activities appropriate to age groups.
In accordance with Dutch law, our club’s Constitution was rewritten and became our Articles of Association in the 2000s; these documents were accordingly filed with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce.
Philanthropy projects also grew and changed in these years, from support of a foster child, UNICEF, Associations for the Handicapped and Music 200 to Boo at the Zoo and other charity fundraising events.