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Boise Columbian Club celebrates its 130th anniversary

The oldest women's club in Idaho got its start leading up to the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

BOISE, Idaho — Chicago, 1893. The World's Fair, officially called the World's Columbian Exposition, celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. 

It showcased the newest ideas in industry, commerce, technology and entertainment. According to Britannica, over its six-month run, more than 27 million people came to see what was called "The White City," because of its massive, ornate white buildings.

Among the massive monuments of architecture stood a more-modest model of life in Idaho; the Idaho Building. The three-story, log, miner's cabin was built on lava basalt rock foundations, according to State Historian, HannaLore Hein.

"The idea was to showcase the resources of the state of Idaho," Boise Columbian Club President, Carol Hoidal said.

The humble but proud exhibit represented a state born just three years earlier in 1890.

"That was a pretty big deal," Hein said "Again, we had just achieved statehood, and for a brand new state to appropriate tax dollars to show up and be present on such a world stage, I think was incredibly progressive."

However, the young state needed more help raising money for the exhibit. So, the first Idaho state Governor, Norman Willey, turned to the prominent women of Boise who then formed the Boise Columbian Club in May 1892. 

They raised $827.85 to furnish the ladies' reception room of the Idaho Building, "which in our money would be $24,000," Hoidal said.

"Not only were they requesting funding across social classes, they even went as far as to ask for pennies from children," Hein said. "They sold cottage cheese. They tapped in to all the available resources that they could touch."

Hoidal said she is "blown away by the history" of the club.

A rich history is housed in 14 boxes at the Idaho State Archives in Boise. The artifacts include a book containing the club's meeting minutes from 1892 to 1894. They also include a long list of the prominent charter members, including Julia Davis - whom Julia Davis Park is named for - and original tickets to the World's Columbian Exposition.

"Some of them feature explorers like Columbus, and some of them feature George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin," Hoidal said.

After the success of the World's Fair, the members kept the club together.

"This concept of a women's club and a women's organization was the vehicle in which they were able to come together to make change," Hein said.

Current Columbian Club President Carol Hoidal says those early members put in the first restrooms, drinking fountains and trash cans in downtown Boise, "to make it just a little more civilized."

They later worked hard to get a $20,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie to build the Boise Carnegie Library at 8th and Washington streets. It's empty today, but still stands 117 years after it opened.

"I think that we set the example for all women's groups to follow," Hoidal said.

They are still setting the example today as the oldest women's club in the state of Idaho. 

The Boise Columbian Club sponsors a writing contest for junior high kids and planted trees in Borah Park as part of the "City of Trees Challenge" to plant a tree for every household in Boise by 2030. 

They have also raised money for nonprofits, including Faces of Hope Victim Center and the learning Lab, and collected personal hygiene products for the guests at Interfaith Sanctuary homeless shelter, just to name a few.

"We are still out there," Hoidal said. "We are still committed to improving our community and being involved with the important issues in our community."

This May, the Boise Columbian Club celebrated their 130th anniversary, with one eye on a proud past and - as always - one on a philanthropic future. A legacy built of logs on a lava basalt foundation and a legacy maintained with dedication on a foundation of love of community.

Hein calls it all remarkable.

"To know that they have persevered in this work of making Boise a better place year over year and day after day," Hein said.

In the 1950s, the Boise Columbian Club had a membership of more than 300. It currently has 37 members. Hoidal says they would like to have 75 members.

Any women interested in joining, learning more information, making a donation, visit the Boise Columbian Club's website by clicking here.

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