In 1932 a small group of Oak Bluffs ladies met to organize a club that would sponsor the homemaking programs of the Dukes County Extension Service with an emphasis on community service. That club is still alive and flourishing 75 years later, and is still dedicated to helping those around them. The formal name of the club is the Ogkeshkuppe Homemakers Club, Ogkeshkuppe being the Indian name for Oak Bluffs meaning wet or damp thicket or woods. The homemakers have thrived for so long because their main focus is to help others — and they succeed brilliantly.
In the early years during the thick of the Depression, the homemakers supplied milk, cod liver oil and orange juice to the school children of Oak Bluffs, and many of their projects continued to involve the children of the town. They petitioned for a lifeguard and summer playground, as well as for better movies with lower rates for the children — all these requests were successful. For their first 50 years or so, the homemakers concentrated on giving to the town of Oak Bluffs, but now the emphasis is on helping the whole Island community.
The homemakers were a group of active, hard-working women, many of whom worked full time. They faithfully attended meetings held every two weeks during which they paid dues at each meeting, held bake sales and other fund raising activities so that they could give to the many organizations and individuals who needed their help. They contributed annually to many Oak Bluffs groups such as the Oak Bluffs school library, the 4-H Summer Camp, the cerebral palsy summer camp (which was then held at the 4-H building, now the Community Solar Greenhouse office), the Methodist church bell restoration fund and countless others. Islandwide they gave to the Red Stocking Fund, the International Farm Youth Exchange Program, and the skating rink fund. The homemakers also commissioned work on the consecrated tree in Hartford Park, which was severely damaged in a storm, thereby saving a town monument.
In 1976 the club decided to republish Henry Franklin Norton’s book, Martha’s Vineyard, History and Legends. It’s easy to report the fact of the decision of the club to publish the book, but the enormity of the undertaking needs to be stressed because it meant going into debt as a group with no guaranteed results. However, the idea was a great success and the book has consequently gone through many printings and can still be bought at Island book stores. Since 1976 the book has provided the club a much grander scale of giving, which it has enthusiastically embraced. Contributions are now sent to Hospice, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, the Food Pantry, the VNA and other organizations, and of course, to many individuals who also need help.
While helping others has always been paramount to the club, individual knowledge has also been prized. Each meeting had a program led by one club member. The subjects have ranged from a study of the countries of the world, music, politics — both national and local — safety, to the history of Oak Bluffs and many other subjects. One secretary’s report in the 1950s states: “Discussions on community, state, national and international issues covering every phase of life — no subject too vast or too minute for this sage group.”
In 1982, at the 50th anniversary banquet held at Anthony’s (now Lola’s), the membership included Alice Campos, Alice Coutinho, Mildred DeBettencourt, Peg Downs, Marjorie Leonard, Mabel McCarthy, Edith Morris, Estelle Surprenant, and Mary Thomas. Their descendents are still here on Martha’s Vineyard, working hard and continuing the legacy of their mothers’ dedication to the Island. Alice Campos and Edith Morris were two of the original members of the homemakers and Mabel McCarthy and Estelle Surprenant are still active members today. Alice Coutinho died in February of this year.
For the golden anniversary Alice Campos, the poet laureate of the club, wrote:
1932-1982 Fifty Years A-Growing
Way back in 1932
A group of us got together
To hold our meeting twice a month
In all kinds of wintry weather —
Others joined us very soon
Adding talent to our rolls
Our interests spread to far-flung fields
Lofty projects became our goals
We helped 4-H, the school, the world
Doing good deeds day by day
Our friendships grew
We still had time
To laugh along the way —
Yes, we raised our kids, we helped the town
Now perhaps our pride is showing,
But we can be proud, so very proud
Of our 50 years a-growing.
The 2007 members are: Gerry Cronig, Anne Cummings, Rosemary Hildreth, Gertrude Knowlton, Millie MacDonald, Mabel McCarthy, Barbara Murphy, Barbara Peckham, Estelle Surprenant, and Pat White. Anne Cummings and Barbara Murphy are the daughters of Mary Thomas, member of the Homemakers for 60 years.
In honor of the club’s diamond jubilee, Pat White composed this poem:
75th Anniversary Oak Bluffs Homemakers
Helping and caring for all those in need
We are so proud to be Oak Bluffs Homemakers indeed
Family and friends — monthly we meet
We share stories and coffee and of course something sweet.
Christmas we party, June we have lunch
We really are a fun loving bunch
Over the years dear friends have we lost
Mary and Doris and Alice of course
Homemakers all the way back to year one
No one will ever forget all that they’ve done.
Children and grandchildren, the next generation
Will keep the Homemakers going for our 100th celebration!
The Homemakers and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes both celebrate their 75th anniversary this year, and both are still going strong and are ready to face the future with vim and vigor.
Much of the information in this piece came from an article written by Edith Morris, the club historian, on the occasion of the Homemakers’ 50th anniversary. The club’s records are now at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The secretaries’ reports chronicle a moving tribute to a group of caring women. A luncheon to celebrate the homemakers’ anniversary will be held at Zephrus Restaurant on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m.