Once upon a time, the idea of a women’s social club brought to mind tea, sandwiches, socialites and social causes. More recently, some female-only groups revolved around moms and their children. But now, at a time when the number of women in the work force may soon surpass the number of men, more adventurous — and fun — clubs catering to those with two X chromosomes are popping up all over New York City.
Beyond the more formal women’s clubs we profile below, which are all experiencing rapid growth, there are also nearly 400 women-only Meetup groups within 25 miles of Midtown Manhattan. What is it about women?
For some, the draw of the female-only social club is spending family-free time with like-minded people. Others want to build professional and social connections without the distraction of — or competition from — the opposite sex. But above all, the clubs are looking to build community in a city with more than 8 million people, 52.5 percent of whom are women.
Female-only social clubs in New York City are nothing new. The Colony Club, founded in 1903, and the Cosmopolitan Club and the Bronxville Women’s Club, founded in 1910 and 1925, respectively, were established as spaces for women only, though today some do accept male members. Some early social clubs were formed around a cause to fight for — the women’s suffrage movement, for example. Others devoted themselves to fundraising and charity. The Women’s City Club of New York, an advocacy organization for a host of NYC-centric issues, just celebrated its 95th anniversary.
And while many of the historic clubs were founded for the precise purpose of carving a space for women in a male-dominated world, most of today’s social clubs are not a direct response to male-oriented spaces.
(One exception is New York’s Belizean Grove, founded in 1999 as an answer to the male-only Bohemian Grove. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was one of the club’s numerous powerful members, according to the Huffington Post, but she left before she was confirmed to avoid an investigation into her membership in a group that only accepts members of one sex.)
So, what are real women’s clubs like these days? MetroFocus took a look at a few of the successful clubs operating today.
Mice at Play
Mission: To inspire women to think differently, and to own their right to play.
How to join: The club is accepting new members. As a premier Power Mouse member, you get discounts on playdates and events, and a Play Revolution T-Shirt. Basic membership is free.
Nadia Stieglitz and Sara Baysinger founded the citywide women’s social club Mice at Play in the spring of 2010 after coming to the realization that women have “forgotten how to play.”
They say play is good for you — and they don’t organize “events” but rather “playdates.” Past dates have included hikes upstate, trapeze adventures and a 1920s photography shoot.
“There is a belief in our society that we have to work a lot,” said Stieglitz, who has worked as a publishing executive and a consultant. “Our mission is to let women know it’s okay to take time for yourself.”
Mice at Play wants women to leave their cares, whether they be related to work or family, behind.
“We’re all working so hard, and it’s very important to recharge,” said Mice at Play member Joanna Oltman-Smith, a stay-at-home mother with two children.
Mission: To connect with other Manhattan-minded women and pursue common enthusiasms, ideas, activities and friends.
How to join: The club welcomes members who are referred by other members, though some have been accepted after contacting the group through its website. There are no member fees.
Marilyn Bellock reluctantly joined a women’s club when she lived in London — and loved it. Upon returning to New York in January of 2011, she decided to found a club of her own. She realized, just as the Mice at Play founders had, that what was missing for her life was interesting women.
The club’s events have included a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new Islamic galleries and an architectural tour of Grand Central Terminal, as well as “impromptu ninja events” — last-minute get together’s like a trip to the cinema, drinks at popular theater district spot Sardi’s or open rehearsal at the New York Philharmonic.
The Manhattan Women’s Club, and others that exist today, demonstrate how far women have come in society, said Bellock. She said that instead of devoting themselves to charity or social causes, working women today need social activities to keep them motivated and happy.
“We’re all so driven, I don’t think you need a lofty purpose,” she said.
Mission: To support emerging and up-and-coming designers, artists, small businesses, products and causes, while hosting unique and special events.
How to join: The club is welcoming new members. Join the Mafia. There are no member fees.
The Women’s Mafia is more career oriented than Mice at Play and the Manhattan Women’s Club. Founded in 2005 by Gramercy resident Marcy Clark, the club focuses on helping women (and yes, a few men) connect with similar people for the purposes of socializing and doing business.
The goal of the Mafia, Clark said, is to help women connect with other women but also to build professional partnerships.
“If you have a great social network, then you’re rich!” chuckled Clark, who does P.R. as her day job. “Helping people to develop that asset — that’s the objective.”
Mafia members enjoy spa events, fashion shows and charity parties together.
A member of the women’s club Mice at Play takes her turn on the flying trapeze. The group, members say, gives courage to women who might otherwise be afraid to try stunts like this. YouTube/nadiastieglitz.
Friendship, community and camaraderie aside, being in the company of women is the key ingredient to the success — and popularity — of these clubs.
“There’s so much support when women get together. You’re rooting for everyone else,” said Smith. “It’s a different dynamic when men are there.”
Both Mice at Play and the Manhattan Women’s Club are exploring the idea of finding an actual physical space for their clubs, just like the women’s (and men’s) clubs of yore. But that means becoming incorporated and charging member fees.
“There are all these gentleman’s clubhouses, why not women’s clubs?” said Mice at Play founder Stieglitz.