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Waśeśa began as a literary club in Vermillion, South Dakota, on December 17, 1904. The original charter members were as follows: Laura Dunham Barrett, Rosa Hyde Beede, Clara Jones Gunderson, Gertrude B. Gunderson, Abbie Davenport Olson, Erminnie Wright Price, and Effie Walker Thoms. The club was limited to 22 members. The name “waśeśa” was derived from the Dakota and Nakota languages meaning “red clay” and has also been interpreted as meaning “prairie.” In 1908 the club was elected into the South Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs and was federated nationally in 1914. The official club flower was a red carnation and the motto for the organization was: “Slumber not in the tents of your father; the world is advancing, advance with it.” Waśeśa members oftentimes raised or donated funds for charitable works, philanthropic projects, and community service. Their activities included support for the local Civic Council, libraries, planting white birch trees in Prentis Park, and forming an early version of the P.T.A. (Parent Teachers Association) in the community. Members also actively campaigned for the construction of fine arts buildings throughout the state.
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