By Sue Botos
It’s cool to be a Biddie. That’s the message Pat Patterson, president of the Women’s Association of Beach Cliff No. 1, affectionately known as the Biddies, would like to convey.
“We want to try to let new residents know about all of our cool new businesses,” said Patterson at her Rocky River real estate office. To accomplish this, the club will soon begin putting together welcome baskets for recent buyers in the Beach Cliff No. 1 neighborhood, which includes homes east of Rocky River Park and north of Lake Road.
But constructing the “Biddie Baskets,” stuffed with samples and coupons from nearby retailers, is just the latest project for a group with a rich history stretching back to 1925. Times change, and the oldest women’s club in the city came close to disbanding last year. But Patterson and a group of dedicated board members hope to keep the tradition alive.
Patterson explained that the group, first known as the “Women’s Improvement Association of Oakwood and Beach Cliff No. 1,” was formed after several teens drowned in Lake Erie at Oakwood Beach during the construction of homes in what is now the Beach Cliff neighborhood. According to club history, Mrs. A.E.M. Burgerner and a group of mothers went door to door, inviting residents to join them in securing lifeguards for the beach.
The women also patrolled the shore, taught swimming lessons and generally tried to promote beach safety. “When the kids would see them coming, they’d say, ‘Here come those old biddies,’ and the name stuck,” Patterson explained.
Over the years, the club’s mission evolved to serve other civic and social needs of the community. An article from 1951, preserved in a thick binder documenting the club’s history, states that one of the club’s first projects, in 1927, was securing an independent public school system for the city. Club members once again went door to door collecting census information, which they then sent to the state.
“At that time the population was 4,258 and the women were paid $200,” the account states. “This was the first money the infant club had earned.”
The group used the money for other large-scale projects, such as helping pass a bond issue for both a new school (Beach) and a sewage disposal plant. The women even weighed in on zoning matters, campaigning against “the erection of apartments and stores in this suburb of homes.”
During the years of the Great Depression, the Biddies held bimonthly bridge parties to raise money for the needy in the community. Patterson pointed to a picture of club members in 1933, packing Christmas baskets. “That gave me the chills,” she said, noting the group’s present mission of welcoming baskets. The women were also active volunteers in civil defense efforts during World War II.
But there was time for fun as well. Throughout the years, club members held potluck luncheons at Oakwood Beach every Wednesday during the summer and early fall. Keeping their original purpose in mind, the women hired a swimming teacher for the children, and held swimming contests at the end of each session. The festivities often stretched into the evening, when young people congregated for picnics, campfires and sunset watching.
But women became busier with jobs and chauffeuring children to a myriad of activities, and Biddie membership began to decline. Patterson said in October of last year, then-President Sandra Muny called the group together to discuss its fate. As a “second-generation Biddie,” Patterson could not let the group fold, and stepped forward to become president.
“My roots are there. I grew up on the street I live on. This is part of the history of the area, and I felt it was something I should do,” she recalled.
Patterson’s goal is to “create a purpose” for the group, helping it to become more visible by connecting residents and businesses. While few women now have time to “do lunch,” Patterson hopes to keep the social aspect of the group alive with such activities as a holiday ornament exchange, a summer potluck and possibly a fall clambake for members and spouses.
Additionally, Patterson and her board are designing a logo, website and updated database. She said she is considering opening up membership to all women of the Beach Cliff area, but Oakwood Beach would still be available only to those in Beach Cliff No. 1.
But one thing that will not change is the club’s nickname. “I put the name change out there when I became president in October, and everyone said, ‘Oh, no! This is part of history!’” Patterson recalled.