Commercial Club Building
The first stop on the tour is the Commercial Club. The building was erected in 1903 at a cost of $60,000 (about $2 million today). The Commercial Club “constituted the civic center for the commercial, business, mercantile, and manufacturing interests of the entire community. It had an active membership of more than 400 men of the city’s business world.”
Backstory and Context
In 1913, the Muncie Woman’s Franchise League conducted events in the building and distributed pamphlets in support of women voting throughout the interior.
In March of 1920, the rooms of the commercial club were the site of so-called voter or citizenship schools for women. Women were taught about casting a vote and basic civic lessons. Emogene Taft Lesh, a local franchise leader and Statehouse lobbyist, addressed the opening session, and Julia Nelson was the chair. (Julia Nelson would be elected to the state legislature that fall, the first Indiana woman at the Statehouse).
The first morning session of the citizenship school was attended by about 50 women, but each successive session in the afternoon and evening were packed with “interested and enthusiastic women eager to be well-prepared to cast their vote.” Men also attended just to watch and, in some cases, meet the women.
Garnet Warfel, a supposedly progressive and independent reporter, published a story about attending the suffrage school. At first, she was trying to impress her male coworkers by not going, thinking suffragists were in fact objectionable to the men:
Came in the office the other day and met a friend just as he was leaving. He asked me if I’d been up to the school to learn how to vote—and knowing what men think of suffragists and wishing to leave a favorable impression with this particular friend—I lost no time in telling him that indeed I had not been to the school, and furthermore would never go to such a school for I was one of the kind that believed a woman’s place was in the home and not hanging around voting polls.
But my friend discouraged further conversation by passing me a bleak look, and murmured a faint farewell and was gone. Anyway I felt that I had at least impressed him with my feminism…
Unfortunately, it was the peer pressure of her male coworkers that forced Garnet to attend the school along with them, but she was converted successfully for life and wrote, “Just wait for Election Day!”
Let's move on to the next stop on our tour