On Wednesday, elder members and former presidents of the Cottagers gathered around tables and took turns sharing memories. The group was officially formed in 1956. In the center of the table lay a framed document — the roster of the Cottagers’ 25 founding members, which included prominent Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West. A wooden sign with white lettering hung above a window to the kitchen: Savor the Moment, it read. It was given to the house by Della Hardman, who used the saying as her personal motto. Ms. Hardman was also a member of the organization during her lifetime.
The Cottagers is a group of African American women homeowners on the Island who gather “for friendship, most importantly,” said president Olivia Baxter, but also to give back to the community. In the summer, the organization hosts many fundraising events, including a fashion show, clambake and African cultural fair to raise money for several Island programs and two MVRHS scholarships.
The historic building, known as Cottagers Corner, is located on Pequot avenue, which used to be the Oak Bluffs town hall, firehouse and jail before the Cottagers bought the property in 1968.
Among the women’s fondest memories was how the building served as a haven for their children, offering a space for the teenagers to congregate for dances and to have fun when many other places were not open to them due to their race. While on-Island, the women said, their children were surrounded by peers who had aspirations to go to college and live accomplished lives. Many also shared laughs over the group’s memorable personalities and the unspoken rule: “Don’t talk for the first two years.”
Last August, the Cottagers presented an Exemplary Citizen Award to First Lady Michelle Obama for her commitment to public service and for being “an inspiration to us and women around the world.”
The cultural fair took place on Thursday and the fashion show is on August 7 at Lola’s. The clambake will be on August 19 at the Sailing Camp.
The historical importance of Oak Bluffs as a summer resort for African Americans will be the subject of a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of African American History and Culture, now under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Vineyard Gazette and the Smithsonian will host a panel discussion at the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs on Thursday, August 14, at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at ticketsmv.com.