The women's club movement was a precursor to the settlement house movement and other progressive efforts led by women. It came into being because women of the middle and upper classes wanted to be involved in useful activities at a time when they were mostly barred from becoming educated and having careers.
The club movement arose among women like Julia Ward Howe who were middle aged and had leisure time. In part, it was about self-improvement for women who could not pursue formal education. But it was dedicated to many of the same social improvements that the settlement house movement advocated. It pushed for things like parks and libraries that would improve the lives of the people of the community in general.
In this way, the club movement arose out of the desire of women to better themselves and their society. It was important as an example of the reform impulse and a forerunner to the progressive reforms of the early 1900s.
The invention and adoption of labor-saving devices used for housekeeping chores gave women time to engage in activities not directly related to caring for their families. Women came together in groups searching for companionship, alternative activities and opportunities to learn more about familiar tasks, and in hopes of improving life conditions for themselves, their families, and others.
Women's clubs have undertaken varied types of causes throughout their existence. Women's clubs frequently were involved in the founding of libraries in their home communities. Women's clubs have provided services to support girls and young women in need of material or financial assistance. Women's clubs have given women opportunities to become involved in community activities that may have been closed to women in the past, and continue to allow for support and networking among members today.