The Women’s Auxiliary

During the early years of St. Mark’s, the women’s group was one of the most powerful groups in the church. In later years (by 1959) this group became known as the ECW, or Episcopal Church Women. But in the early days they were The Women’s Auxiliary of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. According to the group’s bylaws, the Women’s Auxiliary was open to:

“All women in St. Mark’s who are willing to help further the purpose of this Auxiliary may, by enrollment, become members of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Diocese of California and shall then constitute the Parish Branch.” (St. Mark’s Archive)

The Auxiliary was formed day one in 1948, and came to be in charge of so many different aspects of worship and program that it’s kind of mind boggling for us to look at today. The Auxiliary was really a separate entity within the church and its own board of elected officials (President, Vice President, Recording and Corresponding Secretary, Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer).

The Auxiliary had its own budget separate from the church and raised its own funds. Sometimes the funds were used to fund programs run by the Auxiliary and sometimes they ‘contributed’ funds to the church for various projects or to Missions or other outreach projects. In the early days they were very powerful and the church could literally not have functioned and maintained all of its programs without them. The net result, though, was a constant negotiation with the clergy around who was actually in charge! At least one Rector had serious conflict with the Women’s Auxiliary which he listed as one reason for his eventual resignation (and that’s a different story!).

From the 1956 Women’s Auxiliary Yearbook (St. Mark’s Archive)

Each year the Auxiliary published a yearbook that listed their leadership, groups, planned programs and more. We have one precious copy of the 1956 yearbook, and a glance through its pages give an idea of the massive scope of the group’s activities. Remember that each group was run by volunteers, had a chairwoman in charge of it, a budget, and its own set of activities. We don’t even know what some of these groups did, but the 1956 yearbook lists more than 20 different groups:

  • Altar Guild
  • Business and Professional Women
  • Catering
  • Senior Choir Mothers
  • Junior Choir Mothers
  • Christian Education
  • Christian Social Relations
  • Church Periodical Club
  • Devotions
  • Finance
  • House
  • Membership
  • Missions
  • Mothers and Teachers of Kindergarten and Primary Children
  • Mothers of High School Students
  • Program
  • Publicity and Promotion
  • St. Mary’s Guild
  • Sewing, Supply and Missions
  • Supply
  • Telephone
  • United Thank Offering

The Auxiliary had regular meetings for “the membership” on the first Tuesday of each month, and meetings of the board on the last Tuesday of the month. These were more than just meetings – there was definitely a social component (and according to one person who remembers, a lot of social pressure)! The women who ran the Auxiliary seem to always be described and remembered as very strong leaders and very strong personalities. In a time when women typically didn’t work outside of the home, a lot of very capable women channeled their leadership skills into these kinds of volunteer activities.

ECW Fashion show in May of 1960 (Palo Alto Times)

Monthly meetings began at 11 am with Holy Communion in the Chapel. The group moved to the Parish Hall for a 11:45 am business meeting, followed by lunch at 12:30pm and a program at 1pm. Each month a different group within the Auxiliary hosted this meeting. Topics for 1956 were:

  • January – “Far East Impressions” – Mrs. Arthur B. Poole
  • February – “The Budget Comes to Life” – Miss Jane Ricker
  • March – “The United Thank Offering in Action” – Mrs. Wm. J. Kerwin
  • April – “The Church and Beverage Alcohol” – Rev. Richard Byfield
  • May – “Church Symbolism” – Canon West
  • June – “Missions at Home and Abroad” – Mrs. Junius Browne
  • September – “Youth in the Life of the Church” – Speaker to be announced!
  • October – “Read More and Worry Less” – Mrs. Ben Harrell
  • November – “Christianity at Work in the Far East” – Rev. Dr. Wm. Z.L. Sung
  • December – Christmas Party and Annual Meeting

Other special events hosted by the Auxiliary in 1956, including some more social just for fun type activities, were:

  • A three forum dinner series – Topics were “Cllifornia State Finances,” “Our American Heritage,” and “A Capitalist Cases the Kremlin.”
  • Dessert and Bridge in April
  • The Harvest Moon Festival in October
  • And of course the Boar’s Head Dinner in December

And finally, two of the biggest events run by the women (and the biggest fundraisers) were the bi-annual Rummage Sales held in March and September (more on the Rummage Sale in a future article).

This article profiles the first ever Women’s Auxiliary fund raiser for St. Mark’s in July of 1948. St. Mark’s was still a mission and a fledgling congregation, but the women were already going to work! (Palo Alto Times). We found some amazing pictures of this event (colorized courtesy of MyHeritage).

We might assume that in the 1950’s women did not have much say in the leadership of the church, but the Women’s Auxiliary ran many of the programs and activities that made St. Mark’s so attractive to so many…and these same programs and activities would have been impossible for the small church staff to make happen without the Women’s Auxiliary. Although there were of course social pressures and politics, the Auxiliary and later ECW provided many different ways to plug in and enjoy fellowship with other women of the parish.

The demise of the Women’s Auxiliary or later Episcopal Church Women came in many churches, and at St. Mark’s, as more women worked outsie of the home and had less time for this type of volunteer work. Their volunteer efforts are greatly missed in most congregations today and we’ve honestly never figured out how to replace them.


St. Mark’s Archive; St. Mark’s Church; Palo Alto, CA

St. Mark’s Benefit Garden Fete Scheduled for Friday Afternoon at Gros Residence; Palo Alto Times; Palo Alto, CA; 19 Jul 1948

St. Mark’s Style-Dessert to be Thursday Afternoon; Palo Alto Times; Palo Alto, CA; 02 May 1960

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