In the early years of Cortez Fishing Village, daily life was focused predominantly on fishing if you were a man, and domestic affairs if you were a woman. The men formed bonds via their shared struggles and triumphs, the women were inherently more secluded. They shared the common bond of having left behind many of the societal structures they were accustomed to, and alliances gradually emerged from the desire to rebuild community.
Religion was one of the early means by which women got involved outside the home. They would go in groups to attend religious services in Sarasota or Bradenton and, in 1913, they established a permanent Church of Christ congregation in Cortez. While men were certainly considered members of the church, the pews were mostly filled with women and children each Sunday. A second church, The Church of God, was established a few years later.
Children provided another shared interest for the women of Cortez. They started the Mother’s Club of Cortez and held their first meeting on Dec. 20, 1918. Their primary goal, as stated in the minutes from their first meeting, was the betterment of their school and their town, asserting that a better school and better town would make for better children. They had a vision of a well-rounded and high-quality education for their children, and held fundraisers to purchase things like athletic equipment, bookcases and a piano. When the men of Cortez were too busy to do the work, they hired out the job of weeding and fencing the school yard.
While these women were very involved in their immediate community, their interests and actions crept into regional and statewide politics as well. They voiced their opinions on a statewide compulsory school law, and created a committee that convinced Bradenton landowners to donate the empty lot adjacent to the school for use as a park and school ground.
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They changed their name from the Mother’s Club of Cortez to the Woman’s Club of Cortez in September 1920
The community improvement efforts of these women were recognized in the pages of the Manatee River Journal and, as their work continued, their mission expanded. Indicative of their growing role, they changed their name from the Mother’s Club of Cortez to the Woman’s Club of Cortez in September 1920. Since membership was no longer restricted to mothers, women and girls (aged 13 and older) were invited to contribute in any way they could.
Of the 79 women in Cortez at the time, almost half belonged to the Woman’s Club. Their fundraisers not only provided revenue for their various projects, but they hosted social hours and plays that provided important social and cultural opportunities for the somewhat isolated women. In an effort to alleviate that isolation, they petitioned the “Road Trustees” to improve the western end of the Bradentown-Cortez road, allowing them easier access to the neighboring city.
The final meeting of the Cortez Woman’s Club was April 28, 1921. They had decided to take the summer off and regroup the following fall. Unfortunately, the devastating hurricane of 1921 wreaked havoc on Cortez that they could not easily recover from. The Woman’s Club was pushed to the back seat indefinitely. Although a similar group never again formed, it successfully nudged women from their homes into a more public sphere, where they have remained active ever since.
If you would like to learn more about the women of Cortez, both past and present, you can visit the Florida Maritime Museum. It is free and open to the public 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 941-708-6120 or visit FloridaMaritime
Museum.org. While you’re there, consider visiting the new Cortez Cultural Center, opened by the Cortez Village Historical Society, focused on the families that founded the village.