The American Women’s Club of Zurich – A History
Let’s take a look down memory lane and revisit how the organization got started to where it is today.
The Beginning and Early Years
The American Women’s Club of Zurich (AWCZ) was founded on January 28, 1931 “bringing together American women living in and around Zurich; to further their companionship; to promote their mutual interests; and to enhance their understanding of Switzerland.” In that same year, delegates of the AWCZ joined with six other American Women’s Clubs in Europe to explore the possibilities of forming an organization “to work towards international goodwill and the preservation of world peace, to help one another solve problems common to them all and to aid women whose citizenship rights were being ignored or restricted.”
What was started as the Federation of American Women’s Clubs in Europe was later renamed the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas. The AWCZ was not only a founding member of Federation, but has remained an active member since those early days.
Initial membership in the AWCZ in 1931 was approximately 20 American women, all married to Swiss men. With English books a rare commodity, a book exchange was started and soon the first formal lending library was established in a converted bathroom of the Baur au Lac Hotel.
In February of 1931, the library held 138 books, the AWCZ dues were CHF 20 and a quorum was 15. By 1933, membership rose to almost 100.
In 1937, the AWCZ hosted the 6th Conference of the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas. Held at the Baur au Lac Hotel, the Conference was notable for the adoption of the acronym FAWCO and for focusing on citizenship issues. The dilemma of the stateless woman, which sometimes resulted from an American woman’s marriage to a foreign citizen, was a focus of the Zurich conference. During the war years, membership dropped to 70, but the Club continued its social activities while becoming involved in philanthropic work. Members worked with the Swiss Red Cross. Aid was given to American pilots and escapees who entered Switzerland, prisoners of war in Germany, American internees in France and Germany, as well as concentration camp survivors.
In the 1950s, the Club’s membership expanded with the influx of American business personnel and families, as well as students on the GI bill. Club activities began to include lectures on the Swiss way of life. The wish to maintain one’s American identity, while becoming more at home in the Swiss community was inherent in the Club’s purpose, even with the addition of non-Americans with close ties to the US as members. In 1955 the AWCZ again hosted a FAWCO conference at the Baur au Lac Hotel. At this conference, it was reported that Barclay’s Bank had finally released the Federation’s pre-war funds, and it was voted to deposit the money in a Zurich bank earmarked for scholarship aid. The question of absentee voting in American elections aroused great interest at the conference and a special FAWCO Citizenship Committee was appointed to work on this issue.
The ‘60s saw membership rise to over 300. Helping newcomers adjust to life in Switzerland was an important focus of the Club. With the goal of providing children an opportunity to improve their proficiency in English, the AWCZ made a loan of CHF 10,000 so that a permanent Children’s Library could be established, separate from the AWCZ adult library. Thanksgiving dinners became a Club fixture with the need to continue the American traditions (as is still today). The adult library was always open on Tuesday and Friday mornings to coincide with the Bürkliplatz farmer’s market – a time when everyone came into the city.
Activities in the ‘70’s were designed to stimulate participation, introduce members to the host community and address the problems of multicultural families. The Bi-cultural group was formed and the Club was very involved with issues affecting Americans living abroad. With the Club’s expanding activities, the AWCZ members started to wish for more than its libraries and the dream of a clubhouse began.
In 1971 a contingency fund for the purchase of a clubhouse was established. Money was raised specifically for this fund and invested for this purpose. At the same time citizenship and voting rights became important topics and the Club worked closely with FAWCO to improve the rights of American’s abroad. In 1975 the ground breaking Overseas Citizens’ Voting Rights Act was passed and voter registration drives became an important AWCZ event. In 1976, the AWCZ celebrated America’s bicentennial with a Gala Ball at the Dolder Grand Hotel, complete with a large chocolate Liberty Bell and American flags.
By the ‘80s the club had moved its adult library often. Over the years space was rented in various locations around Zurich in premises just large enough for the adult collection of books and usually for a tiny desk with a typewriter and later a computer. Monthly luncheons were popular and all club events were held at hotels and restaurants or in private homes. The Bi-cultural group continued to meet in Cafés in downtown Zurich to discuss issues concerning women, such as working in Switzerland and raising dual national children.
Modeled on orientation programs from other FAWCO clubs, in 1984 the AWCZ started the Living in Zurich® course (LIZ) for newcomers as a community service. With the theme “Bloom Were You Are Planted” the course was held in a large rented room at the Volkshaus and soon registered over 100 participants each year. In 1985 the first Living in Zurich® handbook was printed using a member’s computer. The AWCZ had entered the computer age even though the Club Newsletter, The Round Robin, was still typed and then cut and pasted, laid out, and assembled on the floor of the adult library.
The AWCZ library was always on the move according to the availability of affordable rental properties and in 1987 it was forced to leave its convenient home on Bleicherweg to move to Utoquai, only to be given notice again a year later, forcing a move to Wipkingen. The new property on Habsburgstrasse at least allowed the adult and children’s library to be hosted together for the first time in 1988, but the property offered only a tiny office space and no room for meetings.
The dream of having a real club house continued and in 1996 there was discussion of sharing space with the Consular Agency at the America Center in Seefeld. Although this would have given the AWCZ a central location, the space was limited, there was the issue of club autonomy and possible security issues.
In early February 1997, the incoming president with a group of Board members went to view Schöntalstrasse 8 in Zurich. It was a dark day, with icy rain pouring from the skies and it was so windy that carrying an open umbrella was impossible. Perhaps it was because of the weather, but the property seemed overwhelmingly dreary, old and seedy. The only positive points were the size of the property and the friendliness of the landlords, the EKZ. The search continued, and when all seemed hopeless, we found ourselves back at Schöntalstrasse. In April 1997, the entire incoming Board, The Round Robin staff, the library committee and other volunteers were invited to visit the property. We now had concrete proposals on how we would like the property to be improved and renovated and friendly negotiations with EKZ started. The weather improved and the sunshine made the property seem much friendlier. Suddenly everyone was excited about the potential of Schöntalstrasse 8.
On May 13, 1997 the new Board was installed and by unanimous vote it was decided to terminate the lease on the library on Habsburgstrasse and take a long term lease on the property at Schöntalstrasse. The Board also voted unanimously to use the AWCZ savings to undertake, along with EKZ, a complete renovation of the property, including knocking out walls to create a larger meeting room as well as better space for the library and installing a kitchen. This was to be our ideal home. Negotiations continued in earnest, the lease was signed and planning done with the help of many members, husbands and friends and fund raising undertaken.
With the grand opening of the AWCZ clubhouse on January 28, 1998, a new era for the AWCZ began. No longer needing to rent space for events, activities increased at little or no cost to members. LIZ was held in-house, luncheons were potluck or catered, and babysitting was offered. Various interest groups started to meet at the Club and art exhibits not only decorated the walls, but brought in income.
The History of the ACWZ Library
When the AWCZ was founded in 1931, English books were a rare commodity and something to be treasured and shared. What started as a book swap amongst friends soon became a formal lending library and an important part of the new Club. It is interesting to note, that the AWCZ Library’s first location was in a converted bathroom at the elegant Baur au Lac Hotel. Today it has a permanent, large home in the Clubhouse at the AWCZ. Then, and now, the AWCZ Library offers an important service to our members as well as to English readers in the local Zurich community.
The AWCZ Library has always operated with an all-volunteer staff and the Club has always financed its various locations around Zurich. In addition to budgeted funds, monetary gifts to the library have played an important role in maintaining and expanding the collection. In the 1960s and 1970s, Bridge groups, FAWCO and the philanthropic committee of the AWCZ made monetary contributions.
Today, the purchasing of books and supplies is mainly the responsibility of the library; typically covered by library fees, subscription services, book sales and in the last 15 years with the introduction of video and CD rentals. Book donations have always played an important part in building the collection and members have routinely answered the call to provide books on specific topics.
In the early days there were actually two separate libraries - the Adult Library and the Children’s Library. The Adult Library coincided with the founding of the Club in 1931 and in 1965 a separate Children’s Library was started with a CHF10,000 loan from the AWCZ. Since 1988, the two libraries have been housed together and since then have been called just the AWCZ Library.
The AWCZ Library is often the first stop for new members and has always adapted and responded to the needs of our members and the community. The library team is one of the largest committees at the Club and provides an important community service to adult and child readers. Besides offering reading suggestions, the librarians welcome visitors young and old, answer questions and supply information and a heartfelt AWCZ welcome.
• 1931 – Formal lending Library established in a converted bathroom of the Baur au Lac Hotel
• 1965 – Library moves to Münstergasse 9
• 1965 – A separate Children’s Library (CLZ) is started at St. Andrew’s Community Center
• 1966 – Adult Library moves to Bleicherweg
• 1967 – Children’s Library loan is repaid to the AWCZ through fundraising and donations
• 1984 – Space revamped with new office furniture and a telephone is installed
• 1987 – Adult Library moves to Utoquai
• 1988 – CLZ asked to vacate St. Andrew’s and Adult Library must vacate Utoquai
• 1988 – Both libraries move to a single location on Habsburgstrasse with office space
• 1998 – AWCZ and Library move into renovated clubhouse facility at Schöntalstrasse 8 1999 and video rentals were introduced
• 2000 – New, professional shelving is purchased with money raised by fund raising
• 2004 – Introduction of computerized bar coding system and bar code scanner installed