What began as a simple gesture to express sympathy to a neighbor who had lost her father became a social support network for the women of Jubilee township at the turn of the 20th century in Peoria county. According to an August 29, 1980 Peoria Journal Star article the Jubilee Needle Circle began in 1905 when neighbor women took their daily sewing to the home of Mrs. Robert Symonds [Maude Imogene nee Ford] to help cheer her up on the passing of her father [John William Ford]. The group worked to help each other complete their daily sewing of darning clothing, hemming tea towels, and quilting quilts. The women took their basket lunches for the all-day affair.
By 1909, the informal organization had decided to officially organize and elected officers. Their purpose: “To help each other in time of need”. Members began paying monthly dues and collecting funds for those in need. The funds were used to help support a neighbor for those in need.
During World War I, members knitted socks and sweaters for men in the service and in WWII, made lap robes for the Navy. In 1934, they held a New Years Eve party complete with game, contests and indoor field events. In 1937 & 1938, the minutes reflect the economic depression of the area. Members voted to reduce monthly dues from 10 cents to 5 cents. The club often met in the summers at Jubilee State Park and in July 1940 meeting the thermometer measured 104 degrees in the shade! The monthly meetings also included numerous surprise birthday parties, a baby shower and even an impromptu wedding!
My great grandmother, Emma Jane Harrison Smith was a founding member of the group and her younger children accompanied her to the monthly meetings and played with other children there. My grandmother, Jessie Smith Yess, was interviewed for the 1980 Peoria Journal Star article.
I asked my mother, Sharon Yess Chenoweth, what she remembered about the Jubilee Needle Circle. Here is what she wrote, “I have faint memories of watching the ladies tearing strips of cloth, and sewing them together to make bandages. I have no idea where they sent them….could have been the Red Cross during WWII.
“In later years, the Needle Circle became a social gathering of women and children. The children would play with each other while the women visited, then help with serving of refreshments, and also enjoy eating refreshments. I vividly remember having to dust the furniture (which I disliked doing) the day before Mom was to be hostess to the group. There would be a meeting and then they would play games such as word search, or have two teams competing to tap a balloon a distance and get it into a basket. One game at our house Mom thought up was for the members to look at things in the house that were “out of place”. For instance, she turned a picture towards the wall, or had a dead flower in a vase, or the wrong month on the calendar. Things went well until they listed what they found but many were things Mom had NOT changed. What laughter and good times they had.”
My own memories of Needle Circle meetings were always from summers. We didn’t live nearby and my sister and I would spend a week in the summer at my grandparents and attend the Needle Circle meeting. I recall it always being held in a big field at Jubilee State Park. By this time, little sewing took place and more visiting did. In fact, I don’t ever recall seeing any sewing taking place which caused my confusion as to why the club was named the Needle Circle. We would play with the kids in the community who were often the children or grandchildren of family or neighbors.
My family represents four different generations of Jubilee Needle Circle attendees. My great grandmother, Emma Jane Harrison Smith, was a founding member. Her daughter and my grandmother, Jessie Smith Yess, was a member until the Needle Circle ceased to exist in the 1980s. My mother, Sharon Chenoweth Yess, attended as a child and I too attended Needle Circle meetings. Looking over the lists of those pictured at the Needle Circle meetings was like a who’s who of names I remember hearing my grandparents talk about. Such a small gesture as expressing sympathy to a neighbor blossomed into a much larger social organization that helped out their fellow man and woman. It reminds me we can do so much individually, but we can accomplish more for our fellow man by joining our neighbor.
|Attendees of the 1905 Needle Circle|