Monday, May 20, 2024

#Bookreview of Tea and Toil at the Woman's Club 

Tea and Toil at the Woman’s Club
By: Bainy Cyrus
Publisher: Bainy Cyrus
Publication Date: November 7, 2023
ISBN: 979-8-9894840-0-3
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: May 20, 2024 

Tea and Toil at the Woman's Club by Bainy Cyrus is a delicious blend of memoir complemented by history.

Since 1925, the Martin Mansion has been home to the Woman’s Club of Norfolk. It is located in pristine and historic Ghent in Norfolk, Virginia. The Alvah Martin Mansion was built in 1909 and is 10,000 square feet whose content is full of blissful history. The home boasts Georgian Revival architecture and while under construction, Alvah Martin lived in the house next door to watch this magnificent creation come to life. Alvah Martin was a noted attorney, bank president, and county clerk for many years. To add to his already prestigious resume, he also served on President Taft’s Executive Committee and managed to use his influence with the President to secure the Port of Norfolk. In 1925, the Woman’s Club purchased the mansion from the Martin family. However, prior to the Woman’s Club purchasing the home, it was sold in 1920 to the Virginia Club: a gentleman’s organization that is now located in downtown Norfolk, Virginia.

At the time of purchase by the Woman’s Club, the exterior of the home appeared to have weathered a multitude of years against the proverbial storm: “…Long after its 1910 construction, the Martin Mansion appeared to be gracefully aging like the Egyptian pyramids without any chance of toppling. But it only looked that way on the outside. No one knew the decrepitude of the mansion, much less what was happening underneath…” It wasn’t until an early evening walk with her husband around 2010 that Susanne Ott mustered the courage to knock on the door of the Martin Mansion. She was greeted by Paige Rose, the elderly woman who introduced herself as the director of the Martin Mansion. As they settled into conversation, Ms. Rose gave Susanne the history book of the club. Ms. Ott was extremely impressed with the information and went on to recruit a couple of her friends to join the Woman’s Club—one of them being Paige Rose. After studying more of the history Susanne had a multitude of questions; specifically, about the financial state of the Martin Mansion. The answers were extremely vague in return. When asked specifically what would happen should the Martin Mansion run out of funds the answer was: “…Well, we would just give the house and contents to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs or just sell it…” And the birth of not only preserving the Mansion, but maintaining its ownership by the Woman’s Club of Norfolk was born.

Bainy Cyrus has penned an incredibly intriguing body of written work. Countless moments are captured across the pages toward foundational perseverance well beyond what these women achieved. It was a period of history when a woman’s position in life was to prepare meals for their men and birth their children. Ms. Cyrus showcases the important roles the women assumed as members of the Woman’s Club of Norfolk by bringing the arts, culture, entertainment and ‘can do’ attitude by simply owning the tasks and following through with them. It is important to note that this story exudes tangible life, thanks to Ms. Cyrus’ personal documentation of her fifty years at The Woman’s Club. She participated in elementary school skits, Christmas caroling, and science fairs in the mansions’ auditorium, coupled with attending cocktail parties and Thanksgiving gatherings on the impressive first floor. She shines a bright light on the survival of an iconic structure that has weathered the Great Depression, as well as many storms over the years. Well done, Ms. Cyrus. This is truly one of the most enthralling reads I’ve had the pleasure to devour in quite some time!

Quill says: Tea and Toil at the Woman's Club is a historical journey of epic proportions.

For more information on Tea and Toil at the Woman's Club, please visit the author's website at:

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