The Porch Club of Riverton is a Federated Women’s Club founded in 1890 and is now one of the oldest in New Jersey. Eight young women met on porches as a reading circle each week, were soon joined by others, and in 1895 organized more formally. Membership was then limited to 25 and for the next nine years, the Club met in the home of Mrs. Edward Ogden on Bank Avenue.
At the same time that members were studying literature and current events, they also studied parliamentary law, world politics, and religions, English and Colonial history, and the lives of artists, musicians, and authors. From the beginning, they used their interest in children to influence and improve their education and welfare. Through the Porch Club, Burlington County’s first public school kindergarten was opened and the first woman was elected to a Board of Education. In October 1900, in response to a call sent to clubs and organizations throughout the State, a State Congress of Mothers (now called the PTA) was formed in Riverton at the Presbyterian Church.
Village improvements were sought and accomplished. Classes in childcare were initiated for mothers, well-baby clinics set up, and then various other classes for adults were held. In 1912, a Visiting Nurse Service was established here (the Tri-Borough area) and a few years later, a residence was purchased for the two registered nurses. In the 1930’s, social services with a trained worker were begun and a room in the clubhouse was used for her office.
During WWI, a French orphan was “adopted” by the Club, a practice of sponsoring the care of one or more children in need that continues to the present time. Since 1974, this has been done through the Christian Children’s Fund. Currently, members sponsor a child through Child Fund International.
In the form of funds, supplies, and services, the Porch Club has always responded to the needs of victims of wars and natural disasters, as well as to the needs of local residents during depressions and epidemics.
The Riverton Free Library has always been of special interest and some of the Porch Club’s earliest members are among its founders. Each year, special events raised funds to be contributed to it. For many years, dances were held at the Riverton Country Club for this purpose, but after Charles H. Goren, Life Master of the American Contract Bridge League began to give lessons at the Porch Club in the 1930’s, an annual dessert bridge was started in place of the dance.
The Porch Club’s plays, musicals, and flower shows were always popular social events, enjoyed by the entire community, as well as the members. In 1933, the first Christmas Tea and Open House was given. It has been an annual custom ever since.
For the first half of its existence, anyone in the community could join a Porch Club department by paying a small yearly fee. Many men, as well as women, took advantage of this to participate in activities that especially interested them. One exception to the fee was the chorus, as it was felt that those who sang were contributing in that way, so no additional fee was asked. Club membership limits were gradually increased, roll calls and fines for arriving late discontinued, and many formalities relaxed.
When porches or homes were no longer adequate for meetings, the small building at 609 Main Street was rented for a clubhouse. This was the former Episcopal Sunday school building that had been purchased and moved there by Samuel Rudderow. It was the Porch Club building from 1904 – 1908 when the Government wanted it for a Post Office. The Club gave up its lease, as requested, and rented temporary rooms over Adolph’s candy/cigar store at Broad and Main Streets while they made plans for a more permanent site. Land was purchased at Fourth and Howard Streets, an architect and builder engaged and ground broken in January 1909. The cornerstone was laid in March and possession of the present building was taken in May of the same year. In 1931, the front porch was enclosed to enlarge the meeting room and in 1935, after purchasing an adjacent 15-foot strip of land, the rooms in the rear of the building were extended and a permanent stage was built in the main room.
The Porch Club building is used by many groups, either through rentals or, in the case of organizations such as the Red Cross Bloodmobile, as a service donated by the Club. Each year, the Club gives contributions to local charitable groups and to State Federation projects. Awards are given to graduating seniors from Palmyra and Cinnaminson High Schools. A young woman in her junior year is chosen to go to Girl’s Citizenship Week at Douglass College – the State’s college for women that was established through the New Jersey State Federated Women’s Clubs (now a part of Rutgers University). The club is organized into several departments and committees. Additionally, Porch Club members give many hours of volunteer service through civic, religious and service organizations of their choice.
Today, the Porch Club of Riverton meets on the first Tuesday of each month, October through May, and departments hold meetings and plan activities according to their programs. Membership is unlimited and new members are welcomed after being proposed and endorsed by a member in good standing. The clubhouse has recently completed a five-year program to meet current fire and health codes and been fully air-conditioned. It continues to be “a center of thought and action for the women of Riverton” – as well as for others in the community – as was stated as its purpose so many years ago.
History provided by Betty Hahle, Riverton Historian and Porch Club member
2018 Membership: 200 Mrs. Phyllis Rodgers, President