Club Women and the Provision of Local Public Goods

Despite the variety of legal, political, and social barriers facing women who sought to contribute to public life in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States, women’s clubs emerged as prominent contributors to local public goods within their communities. Club women constructed public walkways, managed beautification projects, coordinated fire-fighting services, offered medical and financial relief to poorer community members, advocated for local reforms, and facilitated a variety of educational opportunities for themselves and others. In this paper, we draw on the theory of local public goods as developed by Elinor Ostrom, and other contributors to the Bloomington school of institutional analysis, to explain women’s contributions to these various goods in the context of their organizational rules and the benefits of women’s club membership.

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