The Woman's Twentieth Century Club was organized in 1912 for the purpose of individual culture and civic involvement, with Dr. Minerva Cushman as its first president. For a number of years, the club met in members' homes. In 1928, an invitation from the Chamber of Commerce to use its building as a meeting place was accepted. During the same year, Miss Harriett Orcutt, a charter member, donated her large private collection of books to the club for use as a public library. These books were moved to the Chamber building for that purpose.
The club joined the Florida Federation of Women's Clubs in 1919, becoming the nineteenth federated club in Florida. An effort was made to build a clubhouse on the property known as Hibiscus Park, for which a lease was granted by the Commongood Society. This was abandoned due to lack of funds. The present clubhouse was acquired from the Miller Family in 1940. Also in 1940, the name was changed to The Ruskin Woman's Club.
Our Clubhouse was constructed in 1914. This building served as the residence for the President of Ruskin College, George McA Miller. The President’s wife, Adaline Miller, designed the house as a conscious attempt at a Swiss-style chalet. It also seems to have been influenced by the bungaloid mode, but the result remains original.
The building is all that remains of Ruskin College, an unusual communal and educational enterprise on the east side of Tampa Bay. In 1907, George McA Miller bought 12,000 acres from Florida Naval Stores in order to establish a cooperative community and college modelled on the philosophy of British social thinker, John Ruskin. By 1909, Miller’s family was joined by those of his wife’s three brothers, A.P., N.E., and L.L. Dickman, more acreage was added, and organization of the community of Ruskin began.
The Millers and Dickmans used the sale of land as the first step in their cooperative system. A certain percentage of funds was reserved from all land sales to finance community services, among them the proposed college. As well, for each acre sold, a certain portion of land was set aside for the “common good” of the community. Landless residents could acquire “common good” land through service to the community. These “common good” lands also served as backing for Ruskin’s locally issued currency. “Common good” script was paid for work on roads and other community projects, and during these times of financial panic when other sources dried up, this script remained in circulation.
Miller had operated two other Ruskinian colleges in Trenton, Missouri (1899) and Glen Ellyn, Illinois (1905). Ruskin College opened in 1912 as a coeducational industrial and liberal arts college offering three years of preparatory work and four years of college studies. By 1918 the school had 300 students who attended classes in the morning and in the afternoons either worked on the 20-acre farm, in a weaving shop, laundry, leatherworking shop, or woodworking shop. In this manner, maintenance costs were held down by the products made by the students, and poorer students could ‘work their way’ through. Furthermore, Miller attached a transcendent value to physical labor: Abstract intellectual endeavor was to be aided and informed by manual work, constantly returning the scholar to the realities of life.
Dr. Miller died in 1918, and the loss of many students to the Army during World War I brought an end to the college’s operation.
In 1919 there was a tremendous fire in Ruskin and all of the original buildings, except the President’s home (now the GFWC Ruskin Woman’s Club) burned to the ground.
The building derives some architectural interest from the originality of its treatment and it also remains as a symbol to an historically conscious community of its utopian beginnings.
Over the years, the club has been instrumental in accomplishing many worthwhile projects in Ruskin. These include the Ruskin Cemetery and the Ruskin Branch Library which opened in 1966. From its inception the Ruskin Woman's Club has been an integral part of the social, cultural, and economic development of Ruskin.