The Business Women’s Club: Supporting Louisville’s Working Women

BWC suffrage ribbon 


This “BWC” ribbon, in the colors of the women’s suffrage movement, was most likely worn by a member of the Business Women’s Club. Many women became politically engaged through their involvement in women’s clubs. This ribbon was probably worn at one of the BWC’s suffrage meetings: perhaps in 1901 when leader Laura Clay visited the club or in the 1910s when voting rights for women became a popular (and divisive) cause. 

In the late 19th century, large numbers of women entered the workplace for the first time. Many were part of the rural-urban migration, relocating to cities as the United States became more industrialized. They were primarily young, single, and poor and in search of work, lodging, and community. In Louisville, the Business Women’s Club (BWC) was part of a network of sites operated by the Women’s Christian Association that provided these newcomers with safe lodging and help integrating into urban society.

The BWC was founded in 1899 and operated at 423-425 W. Walnut Street, a busy commercial thoroughfare, for nearly 50 years. The club provided many free services to working women, including vocational training opportunities, a lending library, and a lunchroom that served affordable meals. It also provided temporary housing, with dormitory space on the upper floors for approximately 60 women. Women working at home could sell baked goods or provide services such as clothing repair on the club’s premises. An employment department matched women seeking work with local employers; notably, it aided not only white women, but also women of color.

Voices for Reform
The Business Women’s Club: Supporting Louisville’s Working Women