September 22 is American Business Women’s day, which marks the day, in 1949, on which the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) was founded. The ABWA’s work focuses on bringing businesswomen together and to provide them with additional opportunities to grow personally and professionally. These sentiments were shared by one of St. Paul’s earliest ministries geared towards working women, The St. Paul’s Chapel Business Women’s Lunch Club.
In 1907, it was observed that the number of business women attending the mid-day services of St. Paul’s had dramatically increased over the preceding years and the vicar of the chapel, the Rev. W. Montague Geer, began considering the formation of these young women into an organization.
We would be remiss not to mention that, originally, a core consideration leading to this club’s formation was Vicar Geer’s worry “for the greater safety of the very young and inexperienced” business women who were increasingly “obliged to earn their own living in the hard life of our downtown business world,” as stated in the 1907 Trinity Year Book. He aimed to provide all women in the downtown area with a safe place to spend their lunch hour where they could socialize, worship, and dine without being harassed by the businessmen who they shared their offices and the downtown dining establishments with. Whether this fear was rational or not—and the numerous young women who objected and protested that they could look after themselves would say it was not—the club was formed and soon became much more than a safe haven. The club was first formed as St. Paul’s Chapel Club for Business and Professional Women and was later renamed The St. Paul’s Chapel Business Women’s Lunch Club.
After only two weeks, the Club had an active membership of 300 women. It wasn’t long before that number increased to over 800 women, who not only visited St. Paul’s at their lunch hour for a cheap meal (aimed to assist the underpaid stenographers of the era) but also to socialize with other business women, to collaborate in developing additional resources for the club like a Ladies’ Employment Bureau, and to work together to create fundraising initiatives to aid St. Paul’s schools and other ministries.
There was a fee, however, to become a member of the St. Paul’s Chapel Business Women’s Lunch Club. Monthly membership included access to the reading rooms, the dining hall, and 31 lunch meal tickets for the month and in 1910 it would have cost you $0.25 cents.