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Women's Benefits Association Once Served South Hill

by Carl Vest

Until recently South Hill has been a relatively isolated place.  During the first several decades of its development the Hill was a community of modest farms with a small but widely dispersed population.  The World War II period brought changes, however, when significant numbers of people started moving onto and subsequently working off the Hill rather than on its farms.  As a result farmsteads were broken up, high density housing developments were started, and strip malls began to change the landscape and character of the area.  The result is what we now see --- a highly urbanized area with concentrations of both commercial and housing projects.

With today’s configuration the ability of people to socialize and communicate among groups is an easy task.  In the pre-World War II days it was different.  There were few churches and only a couple of schools.  The road infrastructure in most places consisted of little more than muddy paths.  Telephones, where they existed, were party lines.  Electricity was slow in coming.  Nevertheless, records show that South Hill people did manage to get together in groups and seek governmental action on common problems.  School PTAs were very active and served as gathering points.  The Grange was a farmer’s fraternal club and thus South Hill’s Fruitland Grange was a very influential organization.  As early as the 1890s, through these types of associations, committees were formed and petitions generated for such things as road development and civic improvements.
While these public based efforts moved the community ahead, life on South Hill was difficult for many families, particularly housewives and other local women who lived rather isolated lives.   The Grange, while it did have a ladies auxiliary, tended to be mostly gender-oriented and as such provided mainly a means for males to congregate and mingle.  During early twentieth century, however, there was one organization that attempted to reach out to the female population -- the Women’s Benefit Association.  It was started in 1892 in Port Huron, Michigan, aimed specifically at serving rural females and improving their lives by providing benefits and creating places to socialize.  The Puyallup area vehicle for this association was called the Puyallup-Rainier Review, No. 20.  Review was the name of the local club, a part of a larger state organization.

Minutes and other data from the meetings of this local branch, covering the years of the 1930s, 1940s, and part of the 1950s, were recently donated to the South Hill Historical Society.  These documents show that it was an active crowd.  During the 1930s and 1940s, for instance, the membership was large enough to require the renting of a hall each month to accommodate everyone who wanted to participate.  That period was apparently the peak era for this local alliance, however, as data from the 1950s show that the meetings were then being held in the homes of the various officers.  Such a change would, of course, coincide with the expanding development on South Hill and less isolation on the part of the families located there.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.