Sarah Cassiday, the Ladies' Improvement Club and an Ambulance

Submitted by krinehart on February 18, 2018 - 10:38pm
  • 1909 Studebaker Ambulance. Source: Petaluma Argus, Feb 17, 1909 photo

    1909 Studebaker Ambulance. Source: Petaluma Argus, Feb 17, 1909

On March 18, 2018, I'll be joining my friend John Sheehy at the Petaluma Museum. We will be presenting on the topic of the Petaluma Ladies' Improvement Club. The Club held their first meeting on May 28, 1896, at the offices of the "Petaluman" a weekly newspaper published by Rena Shattuck (1858-1942). Miss Shattuck, a syndicated columnist that wrote under the byline of Polly Larkin, was the principal promoter of the club. The first board of directors were Addie Atwater, president; Rena Shattuck, vice president; Kate Weston, secretary; Estelle Newburgh, corresponding secretary; and Zoe Fairbanks, treasurer. Within a year, thirty-one-year-old Sarah Cassiday, daughter of Samuel and Cynthia (Denman) Cassiday, would join the board first as secretary and later as treasurer.

My part of the presentation will focus on the activities of these women as well as their backgrounds and legacy. John will discuss the Petaluma Ladies' Improvement Club within the context of the American Women's Club movement.

Although I have not researched every member of the Club which operated through the teens, I've become familiar with many of the most active and find them to be fascinating. I am particularly drawn to Sarah Cassiday who served as Petaluma's head librarian from 1898 until her retirement in 1930. When Petaluma's Carnegie Library opened to the public in 1906, Miss Cassiday was there to manage its collection of just over ten thousand books and serve the needs of its patrons. By 1907 visitors to the library numbered in an excess of two thousand a month.

In addition to her full-time job at the library, Sarah gave a great deal of energy to activities associated with the Ladies' Improvement Club. For instance, in January of 1909, the Petaluma Argus reported that it was Miss Sarah Cassiday who was responsible for the idea of organizing a tag sale with proceeds going toward the purchase of an ambulance for the City of Petaluma. The article provides a wonderful sense of Miss Cassiday's personality, at least as understood by the reporter. The title of the article is "Saturday Was Tag Day" and was published on January 16, 1909.

Today was a tag day. Did you notice it? The yellow tags are very much in evidence on all sides, and if the Ladies' Improvement Club does not rake in a neat sum for that new ambulance, the Argus misses its guess.

Owing to the weather, it had been decided to postpone the tag day until later but through a misunderstanding some of the lieutenants began work and when this was ascertained by the leaders, the order went forth to go ahead with the good work.

Miss Sarah Cassiday, who originated the plan, had full charge and conducted the warfare from her headquarters at the Carnegie library. She had her plans well made and handled her little army with the skill of a natural born commander.

She had an able force of captains and they in turn commanded a big force of lieutenants. The city was well distracted and but few people escaped without contributing at least one dime to the good cause. At press time the ladies were well pleased with the result of the hour, but of course the total amount could not be learned. Everybody who was approached, contributed with good nature.

Some of the local merchants were very liberal and they were almost covered with the yellow tags. As a local remarked: "Nearly everybody had a streak of yellow about him on Saturday."

A later article stated that the tag sale raised $526. Whatever balance remained for the purchase price was made up from the Club's treasury.

Taking the lead on raising funds for an ambulance was just one of many ways in which Sarah Cassiday contributed to the betterment of her community as a member of the Petaluma Ladies' Improvement Club. To hear more about her and others, join us at the Petaluma Museum on March 18th at 4 PM. This presentation coincides with a Women’s History Month exhibit. For more information go to 

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