By: Kate Teves Delray Beach Historical Society archivist Special to the Delray Newspaper
“Just a bit of refreshment!” That’s the lively note written on the back of this image. It hails from a July 4th celebration at the Delray Beach Pavilion where young and old gathered to celebrate their country.
Like most women of the time, these two are dressed head-to-toe in white linen. The long, modest dresses were relatively unrestricting and protected their wearer from mosquitoes and other pests. (You can see one of these dresses on display in our current exhibits.)
It’s easy to imagine just how frustrating it must have been to keep these dresses clean along Delray’s dirt roads. Maybe that is why several of Delray’s earliest female settlers banded together in 1902 to build a sidewalk along Atlantic Avenue. They called themselves the Ladies Improvement Association, and they were determined to build their little frontier settlement into a cleaner, more civilized town.
Following the success of their sidewalk project, the ladies set off to do more: they replaced the lighter barges over the canal, established the town’s first cemetery, built a town hall, started the first newspaper, built the first library, organized clean-up days for the city; secured land from owners on both sides of Atlantic Avenue to widen the street; petitioned for the right of women to vote in local elections; helped pay the salary of the public school janitor; promoted a community Christmas Tree, gave a New Year’s Day reception open to the public; gave the Board of Trade banquet; took charge of bath houses and pavilion; beautified the school grounds; donated the Hall for public meetings; held community singing programs; and sponsored welfare examinations for babies and so forth!
Their legacy continues in the work of the Delray Beach Women’s Club – a robust network that, like the women of the early 20th century, joins together to create positive change for the citizens of our town.
As you celebrate the Fourth of July this year, join us in remembering the pioneering women who built Delray into the city we love today. It wasn’t by accident that Delray became one of the best little towns in America.