Marianne Peoples Sarah Kelly
Marianne Peoples (left) and Sarah Kelly share a laugh during the 125th anniversary celebration of FRFG (Freely Receive, Freely Give) at Old City Hall on May 5. Photo: Steven Ewertz

Not many organizations can boast a century-long longevity, but FRFG can. To commemorate the book and study club’s 125th anniversary, the second floor of Old City Hall was adorned with blue and white decorations for a celebratory luncheon that took place on May 5, where members and honored guests gathered to celebrate.

In addition to the decorations, display boards highlighting photos of current and past members as well as a multitude of topics presented and discussed at the club’s meetings over the years were on display. 

“It’s nice to know we’re still going,” 25-year FRFG member, Elizabeth Barratt, said of the celebration. 

Barratt, who took center stage at the luncheon, spoke of the history of the club explaining that during the late 18th century, opportunities to pursue a higher education for women were scarce and ladies reading societies, “sprung up in parlors across America.”

Christine Flautt, current vice president and organizer of the anniversary celebration, joined FRFG more than 18 years ago and was immediately impressed. 

“These women were so astute and well-read and very interesting and a very diverse group of women,” she said. “I looked forward to each meeting…it reminded me of when I was in college, you come back with knowledge. It’s very eye-opening.”

The club’s goal, “to Freely Receive, Freely Give, knowledge,” was the inspiration behind its name. 

connie rogers
Connie Rogers organizes a display board during FRFG’s luncheon. Photo: Steven Ewertz

FRFG founder, Miss Emily Wilson, who established the club in 1898, was a seasoned world travel who experienced the benefits of studying the world. Through her creation of the book and study club she encouraged the women of Gilroy to do the same. Varied topics were presented at the weekly meetings including travel, art, language, history, current events and foreign cultures. 

The club made an impact, so much so that an announcement about it appeared in the local newspaper. “A new club has been organized for the mental advancement of our young ladies, with Miss Emily Wilson as the prime mover,” a December 1898 issue of the Gilroy Advocate stated.

This resource for women that opened up the possibility to explore and discover the world created a camaraderie among them. That sentiment continues today. 

“It’s kind of like family now,” said Nancy Valencia, a 14-year member. “We’re not exactly people that run around together…but we do have the same interest in new subjects.” 

Even though Valencia’s a self-proclaimed classical music snob, she readily admits she thoroughly enjoyed a presentation given on the Beatles. Other presentations throughout the years include, Cambridge University, Machu Picchu, the Loch Ness Monster, the Hope diamond, California’s first Poet Laureate Ina Coolbrith, Maya Angelou, Jimmy Stewart and countless more.

Twenty-year member Connie Rogers feels that history and tradition are mainstays of the group’s agenda. 

“It’s given us the chance to be exposed to different genres of literature, history and geography,” Rogers said.

For Marianne Peoples, who joined five years ago, the club provided her an opportunity to reconnect with people she went to grade school and high school with. 

“They were a dynamic and sharing group,” Peoples said.

There are currently 12 active members, and three inactive members in the club. There is one honorary member, Estella Hoey. Although the meetings are held bi-monthly, instead of weekly, today’s members are proud of the fact that many of the club’s original traditions continue, including the first meeting of the year always taking place in the fall at a luncheon, and the last meeting in the spring, is a salad potluck.

Sarah Kelly, who joined in 2011, credits the atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie as what drew her to the club. 

“What keeps me interested in the group is learning something new,” Kelly said.

Barratt believes although the club has slightly altered its forum over the years, the purpose of the club remains the same. 

“The members of this longtime organization continue to learn and expand both their horizons and their friendships in this cherished, dedicated, and long-lived Gilroy women’s club,” Barratt said. “There are a lot of small-town groups like this all around the country and just getting together and building friendships is just so nice. We find out things about each other that we never knew.”

FRFG 125th anniversary
FRFG members celebrated the club’s 125th anniversary on May 5. Photo: Steven Ewertz
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