EAST LAKE — In 1940, 20 years after women won the right to vote, a group of Pinellas County women gathered at the home of Mrs. Ralph Richards and formed the Democratic Women's Club of Upper Pinellas.
Mrs. Richards and Mrs. C. E. Ware got the idea to form the club to "further good citizenship, facilitate the broader interpretation of democracy, and study the science of politics."
Today, the club is still going strong.
"It is now the oldest continuous Democratic Women's Club in the United States," said its current president, Mary Freeman, adding there is no South Pinellas club.
Long gone, though, are the days when political activism took a back seat to social affairs and bake sales. This is not your grandma's Democratic Women's Club.
"The days of bake sales and tea parties are gone," said Freeman. Instead, she said, today's members help register voters, canvass for candidates, rally for women's rights and volunteer for important causes.
And of course, vote.
"They say when women vote, Democrats get elected," Freeman said.
On Saturday, the fabled club, which draws 100-plus members from around the county, celebrated its 72nd anniversary with a luncheon at the East Lake Woodlands Country Club. About 75 attended, including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama — in cardboard cutout form.
The keynote speaker was former West Palm Beach mayor and state legislator Lois Frankel, now campaigning for a seat in Congress representing Palm Beach-Broward congressional District 22. Guest speakers included Democratic volunteer Elena McCullough, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, and Janet Goen, president of the Democratic Women's Club of Florida.
Membership in the North Pinellas club has waxed and waned through the years. Goen, a resident of Tarpon Springs, said she has been a member of the local club since 1995. Then, about 10 people showed up for meetings.
By 2002, her second year as president of the local club, she had built the membership to 99 — just one shy of her goal of 100. She promotes activism by Democratic women.
"People just don't stand up and say what they believe in," she said. "But everywhere you go, you've got to say you're a proud Democrat and get them involved."
The theme of the anniversary event was "Winning with Women."
"How do we win with women?" Freeman asked the audience. "We win by having women like Lois Frankel elected to Congress. We win by having volunteers like Elena McCullough out there registering voters and knocking on doors."
Frankel also spoke about hot political topics, including getting people back to work, protecting women's access to health care, and strengthening Social Security and Medicare.
McCullough is one of the club's most activist members. Born in the Dominican Republic, she supports President Obama in commercials that run on Spanish television stations. She reaches out to veterans. Last week she knocked on 195 doors.
"Every day I get up and say to myself, 'What am I going to do today to get our president re-elected?' " she told the attendees.
Her efforts as a "super volunteer" garnered her a thank-you call from the commander-in-chief himself, who left a voice message on her cell phone. She beamed as she played it back for the luncheon audience.
"You go and help President Obama, and he might thank you too," she said.
While looking at a club scrapbook, Freeman showed off a snapshot taken on the tarmac at Tampa International Airport during Obama's June 22 visit. Obama stands directly behind her.
"Look at whose shoulder he has his hand on," she said, showing a wide smile.
Also in the scrapbook: a 1964 newspaper clipping with headlines that read, "Demo Women Plan Booth for County Fair."
Are club members showing up for county fairs these days?
"No more fairs," said Freeman. "We marched in the Gay Pride parade though. That was a riot. I never saw so many men in thongs."
Correspondent Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.