The Lisbon Ladies Club was founded in 1922 by a group of English ladies. Among the founders were Mrs Gertrude Turner, wife of one of the partners of William Graham Junior & Co, and Mrs Eileen Pope, wife of the General Manager of the Anglo-Portuguese Telephone Company. Mrs W.M.F. Stilwell became the honorary treasurer and Lady Carnegie, wife of the British Ambassador, Sir Lancelot Carnegie, the honorary president.
In 1923 the club registered under Portuguese law in the name of Grémio Feminino de Lisboa SARL. It soon established headquarters in Calcada do Combo (picture above), with a sitting room, dining room, library and a bedroom for members. The library was stocked with books from the Lisbon International Library, which had closed down. A full-time maid was engaged to serve light lunches and teas.
In 1929 it was proposed to admit men to the club but the proposal was soundly defeated by 17 to 3. It was clearly a coincidence, but from that year membership began to decline. However, in 1932 more suitable accommodation was found, at Travessa André Valente 13, with good public rooms, four bedrooms and a tennis court! This later became the first home of the British Institute (forerunner of the British Council). The building now bears a plaque noting the high quality of azulejos inside.
Having declined to 30 members in 1932, the membership picked up again and was 145 by 1934. In 1937 the club moved again, to Rua Nova da Trindade 9-2 (picture on right) in the heart of the Chiado, where bedrooms were also provided. Reciprocal membership was arranged with two clubs in London so the Lisbon Ladies had somewhere to stay when visiting the UK.
Following the beginning of WWII, the Club made its facilities available to the Red Cross and the Women’s Relief Work Organization. In addition, it served as a refuge for the many British women who came to Lisbon during the war to reinforce embassy and consulate services. The same courtesy was extended to a group of American women doctors, nurses and social workers, who were made honorary members.
At the end of the war the Club had 189 members and this had increased to 250 by 1957. In that year, to commemorate the Queen’s first visit to Portugal, six distinguished Portuguese ladies, including the Duchess of Palmela, were offered, and accepted, honorary membership.
The Club became a centre for social events and talks, such as one given by Susan Lowndes Marques on “English Art in Portugal”. However, with rental and other costs rising and the number of British in the Lisbon area falling as they moved ‘down the line’ to Carcavelos, Estoril and Cascais, the number of members declined. Closure became inevitable following the disruption caused by the April 1974 Carnation Revolution, which led to a one-third drop in membership, and the Club was formally wound up in October 1975.
(2) d’Arcy Orders, The Lisbon Ladies Club, BHSP Annual Report 1992
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