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History of the American Women's Club of Antwerp

A Short Timeline 

1929: AWC Antwerp founded by Mrs. Henry H. Halstead, Jr.

1931: FAWCO founded by Caroline Curtis Brown, President of AWC London. 

1939: AWC Antwerp became inactive (World War II).

1947: AWC Antwerp reactivated with 38 members; the membership fee was Belgian Francs 200. 

1950’s: Founders Day luncheons established around Valentine’s Day.

1953: ChitChat (club magazine) first published. 

1961: Introductory Book for Newcomers started. 

1975: Canadian women approached the club about membership, resulting in opening the club to women without US passports or American husbands.

1977: The constitution was changed to allow a maximum of 25 non-American English speaking women to join as adherent members with voting privileges and the right to hold some offices.

1984: Membership increased to over 200 members. 

1985: Raised €5,800 for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). 

1993: Raised €20,000; majority of the funds donated to AIDS Flanders; AWC Antwerp was the first non-Belgian organization to raise funds for HIV/AIDS.

2004: AWC Antwerp alumni event held in Chicago.  

2008: Breast cancer support started with the pillow project Caring Hearts pillow project.   

2009: ChitChat went digital. 

2013: 85th anniversary of AWC Antwerp; AWC Antwerp opened the first Breast Care Lounge at St Augustinus Hospital.

2016: AWC Antwerp opened the second Breast Care Lounge at UZA.  

2017: AWC Antwerp opened a third Breast Care Lounge at Middelheim.

2019: 90th anniversary of AWC Antwerp, and opened a fourth Breast Care Lounge at Klina Hospital. 

2020 - 2023: AWC Antwerp went virtual and increased the production of the heart shaped pillow to almost 1,000 pillows per year.   

AWC Antwerp over the decades

“The American Women’s Club of Antwerp has grown and changed as much as the women who have been active within it. It has ebbed and flowed like the tides, ever changing in order to serve the needs of its members and their adopted community” - Vivianne Staplehurst

Since its founding almost 100 years ago, AWC Antwerp has shown a remarkable continuity in serving its purpose to create a center for social, cultural and philanthropic activities for English-speaking women in the greater Antwerp area. Through its activities, it has provided a sense of community for both newcomers and long-term expatriates.

The motto “May we always be generous and never hasty in judgment” remains as important in 2024 as what it was in 1928.

The 1920s to the 1950s

AWC Antwerp was founded 1928; the club formally began with its first meeting on February 14, 1929. Membership was open to United States citizens or non-American women married to Americans. It offered opportunities for women to share common interests, extend knowledge, and provide community service. There were about 40 founding members of the club, headed by Mrs. Henry H. Halstead, Jr.; the membership fee was 200 Belgian francs per year (equivalent to less than €5), with a 100 Belgian franc entrance fee.


In 1931, AWC Antwerp was one of the seven founding members of the Federation of American Women’s Clubs in Europe (later called FAWCO); other clubs were London, Paris, Berlin, The Hague, Vienna and Zurich.

Throughout the years, membership fluctuated with global trends. AWC Antwerp became idle in 1939, but was re-established in 1947 with 38 members. Following World War II, American ingenuity was welcomed, and many American companies established or expanded operations in the city during the 1950s, resulting in a growth in membership to 65 members by 1958.

From its inception, AWC Antwerp has focused on social, cultural and philanthropic activities. The club fostered three children in the 1930’s, an American boy in an Antwerp orphanage and two American girls living with their mother in a home provided by the club. It eventually assisted all three children in relocating to the United States. Additional philanthropic projects in the 1930s included the running of a clothes bank, providing meals at the British and American Seamen’s Mission, cooperating with the YMCA, and serving as godmothers in a Flemish orphanage.

During the 1950s, the club put an emphasis on helping new members get acquainted through various activities, including the annual Fourth of July picnic, Halloween and Christmas parties.The Founders Day luncheons always were a firm favorite. Fundraising during these decades included dinner dances, bridge, canasta and cocktail parties, as well as tombolas (similar to a raffle) were used to support a variety of organizations. An incubator and a resuscitator were purchased for an Antwerp hospital. Financial assistance was provided to the Belgian Boy Scouts for a clubhouse, and the widows and children of a Belgian mine disaster. For a couple of years the club also assisted an American medical student at the University of Louvain and his family.

In the 1950s, regular meetings continued to be held mostly in members’ homes, and occasionally at the American Belgian Association. There were tours, fashion shows, and bridge tournaments. Philanthropic endeavors began to change as well. The Belgian social security system expanded rapidly during the 1950s and into the 1960s. 

For decades, the main form of communication with our members has been the ChitChat which began publication in 1953. Issues contained announcements, reviews of club events and tours, as well as listings of new members. Early issues had a “What to See and Do in Antwerp” section. There were also lists of doctors, babysitters, beauty salons, shops, and hotels recommended for the American “colony”, as well as comments about recent vacations, home leaves, and names of babies born. Since bridge was an important part of the club, bridge tips were also included in the late 1950s. The “Vlaamse Keuken” introduced readers to local specialties. For several years, a cartoon was included in each issue, usually depicting an activity in the life of a club member of the time.


The 1960s to the 1990s

In the 1960s, an atmosphere of informality prevailed at the monthly meetings which were typically held in members’ homes, and often were full-day events! Charity balls and Founders Day celebrations were always grand affairs, often open to the local public. The move to restaurant facilities came in 1966.

In 1975, several Canadian women approached the club about membership. This led to a constitutional amendment in 1977 allowing a maximum of 25 non-American English-speaking women to join the club as adherent members, with voting privileges and limited rights to hold some offices. Further constitutional changes introduced the guest member category, open to a maximum of 50 non-American women without voting privileges, thus ensuring the American dominance of the club. By 1980, there were 109 American and 41 non-American resident members. In 1984, membership surpassed 200.

Several club members became active in leadership roles within FAWCO in the late 1970s. Members of AWC Antwerp served, and currently are involved in various leadership roles since then, including being members of the executive board. The Antwerp club hosted the annual FAWCO meeting in November 1985, 2008 and the Region 4 meeting in 2017.

In the 1980s, it was emphasized that AWC Antwerp was not a fund-raising organization, but that a donation would be made to charity at the end of each year should there be a surplus in the budget. Yet in 1984 the club rallied around the tragedy of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and raised, through tombolas and other activities, 234,000 BF (5,800 Euros) for the cause. Following this, AWC Antwerp has maintained an active Philanthropic Committee. In 1993, the highlight was in raising 800,000 BF (20,000 Euros). Most of the funds collected were donated to AIDS of Flanders; AWC Antwerp, being the first non-Belgian organization to raise such a large sum for this group.

Fundraising in the 1980s and1990s included a concert at the Rubens House, cake sales, themed evenings, dinner dances, bingo and beer evenings. The proceeds were donated to a variety of charities, including purchasing a braille typewriter for Licht en Liefde (an organization supporting the blind). Individual AWC Antwerp members volunteered in the children’s ward of a local hospital, worked with the blind, and provided other appreciated services.

The 2000s

To celebrate the Millennium, a Grande Social Ball was held in February 2000, and during December 2000, a themed Snow Ball benefiting the Make-a-Wish Foundation took place.

Tours in the early 2000s continued with the zest for places further afield. Cheap Jaunts, as we called the day-trips or overnight stays, took us to cities like Barcelona, Milan, Pisa and Dublin. The book club had excursions to Florence (Galileo’s Daughter) and The Hague (Girl with the Pearl Earring).

Our first ever (three-day) alumni event was held in Chicago in 2004. The next was in Dallas in 2009. Both events consisted of a variety of activities and were very well attended by past and present members.


The ChitChat format changed regularly. Demand for color was introduced, and in 2007-2008, ChitChat became a stylish, glossy, bi-monthly publication. Due to increased costs, both in the production and postage of ChitChat, the decision was made to become digital. In April 2009, the first online version was published. Since the development of the website in 2018, all member administration and communications are done through the website. ChitChat has evolved into an electronic newsletter. We also actively use social media to share news about activities and members.

On Founders Day honourees are recognized for every five years of membership. In 2014, we celebrated Founders Day in Antwerp City Hall at the invitation of Mayor Bart de Wever, in recognition of our contributions to the city. Founders Day is always an important event, a moment to reflect with thanks. Founders Day 2016 was featured on a TV program Fans of Flanders, which marveled at our rich history and “can do” spirit. The club pin was introduced in 2018.

The club is continuing its tradition of social, cultural and philanthropic activities. A variety of speakers addressed our monthly meetings learning more about cryptocurrencies, meditation, cyber security, the diamond trade, the shipping industry, and Baroque jewelry, to name just a few. We’ve had Bunco and Bingo tournaments, trivia contests and olive oil tastings. Each year we send a wreath for the Memorial Day ceremonies to an American cemetery in Belgium and attend in person when possible.


Our fundraising creativity is unlimited, and our range of fundraising tools are diverse - book sales, bake sales, Christmas markets, lunches, brunches, dinners, special tours, movie premières and “red cents'' collections. Our 2018 Cherries for Charity campaign started with a family cherry picking session, ending up in hundreds of jars of homemade jam. Our tombolas are legendary. We raised thousands of euros at four Christmas Market tombolas; our Grand Tombola of 2015 raised €16,000 for a Breast Care Lounge (Room 4 You) at Antwerp University Hospital.


Our club continues to give back to the community. Caring Hearts, our philanthropic heart, encompasses a wide variety of projects. Since 2008, we have mounted major fundraising campaigns enabling the establishment of four AWC Antwerp rooms for breast cancer patients at local hospitals. We make on average 800-1000 heart-shaped pillows per year for breast cancer patients. We have supported various Antwerp based organizations, including Sisters of the Little Ones, Moeders voor Moeders and the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp.


We have explored Antwerp extensively with visits to the Asian Market, the Opera, the City Hall, the Eilandje, the Harbour House, the Jain temple in Wilrijk, De Koninck brewery, and “Behind the Scenes” tour at the Antwerp Zoo. We made chocolate during chocolate workshops and were able to enjoy dress rehearsals of various Ballet of Flanders’ productions. A favorite destination remains the Cathedral of Our Lady. Antwerp is known for fashion and we’ve made various visits over the years to the MoMu.

The club also explored other areas of Belgium and further afield with visits to the Suske and Wiske museum in Brussels, an exhibition of British designer Paul Smith in Hasselt, the Palais des Beaux Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels, the Keith Haring exhibition in Rotterdam and the Rotterdam Markthal. We also visited the shrimp fishers of Oostduinkerke (UNESCO World Heritage), the Hubert de Givenchy exhibit in den Haag, the Charles and Ray Eames exhibit at C-Mine in Genk, the Magritte on the Beach exhibit in Knokke, a Christian Dior exhibit in Paris and the Gardens of Annevoie.

2020s and onwards

In March 2020, Belgium declared a lockdown for the entire country because of the coronavirus. The whole world was becoming familiar with terms such as coronavirus, lockdown, covid restrictions, health measures, COVID-19, pandemic... We all became keenly aware of virus transmission, and wearing masks to curb the spread of the coronavirus became a routine action. The number of people infected, hospitalized and dying increased daily, causing anxiety in Belgium and around the world. Members of AWC Antwerp made almost 200 masks that we sold as a fundraiser for Caring Hearts.

The lockdown closed businesses, schools and stores, people had to work from home and the teaching of school children and students went online. Nothing was normal anymore. It was a time of uncertainty, and for many, loneliness. It was also a time of creativity, ingenuity and discovery of new ways of doing things.

The board of AWC Antwerp found ways of overcoming obstacles, and became a connecting point for members. Terms such as Zoom and Google Meet became familiar to all of us. Zoom became our new norm of connection. We held monthly meetings, talks and even parties on Zoom. Thanksgiving was a virtual meal with members cooking dishes at their homes which were then delivered to each other's homes. After the meals were enjoyed, everyone Zoomed in on a virtual get together to share their appreciation. A Christmas cookie exchange took place in the same way.

Caring Hearts kept the heart pillow making process going. Members worked individually on one phase of the pillows, then took the pillows to the next house for the process to be continued until the pillows were packed. We stored the pillows in airtight bags until they were ready to be delivered to the hospitals. The pillows were even much more appreciated by the nurses and patients during the pandemic.

The pandemic was not always easy to navigate, but it showed again how women with resolve find ways to overcome in the face of adversity. AWC Antwerp was an anchor for its members during this difficult time. Club activities have grown over the past years. Popular activities now include a book club, international cooking, a creative writing group, a hiking Group, Mix & Mingle groups, as well as a Well-Being group.

There is no “typical” AWC Antwerp member anymore. Many of our members hold dual passports, due to marriage or long-term residence in the EU/Belgium; we have an active group of Belgian and Dutch members who keep us well connected with the local community. Also, in contrast to the wife/mother expat of previous decades, many international women who relocated to Antwerp are now working full time. The membership fees are €80 per year.

Hopefully, 95 years from now, our club will still be going strong and women at the turn of the 21st century will look back with interest at what occupied us in the 1900s and the 2000s. The club’s calendar consists of membership meetings and various other events throughout the month. Our August Tea, where members wear a special hat and bring their favorite teacup, keeps us connected in the summer months. At the September Activities Fair, members can learn about and enroll in club activities. The Christmas Lunch in December and Founders Day Lunch in February remain very popular as an opportunity to connect with members.


Life Then & Now

We are lucky to have first-hand accounts from our members of life in post-war Antwerp.

In the 1950s, Antwerp was a city in transition. According to Mia Deters (picture left), a Belgian who married an American in 1953, Antwerp found itself in a favorable position to attract international manpower to aid in rebuilding. At the time, it was common for an American executive’s assignment in Europe to last ten or more years. Most of the managers were in senior positions, and for some, the position in Europe would be their last before retirement. According to Mia, most had a sense of adventure and saw themselves almost as “missionaries.” Of course, they didn’t live like real missionaries. In the 1950s, the dollar was strong, and the American executives were well cared for. They generally lived in the city or in large homes in Wilrijk, perfect for the formal entertainment of business associates. Belgians were eager for exposure to other cultures and sought opportunities to meet Americans. Mia commented that “the US opened the outside world to us and taught us that we no longer needed to be afraid of our neighbors.”

Irene Lemmens, who met her Belgian husband in Chicago and moved to Antwerp in 1953, remembers the city as gray and untidy, with construction everywhere, dusty streets and little memory of green parks. In comparison with the United States, everything seemed very “small-scale” to her; few women had cars and relied on trams and buses to get around.

Regardless of the country’s warm welcome and the affluence of the American expats lifestyle, an easy adjustment was not assured. There were no relocation services then.Not many Belgians spoke English and few Americans spoke French, which was still the language of business and certain social circles around 1950. There was no jetting back to America once or twice a year; home leave came only every few years. Most of the children attended the Lycée d’Anvers or another French school. There was no English school in the city. Some older children attended boarding schools outside the country. The language transition could be a traumatic and lengthy adjustment for the whole family. Barbara Lannoy, a member in the 1950s, whose children were educated at the Lycée, says that many mothers learned French by helping their children with their homework.

Although they experienced transition difficulties, most of the women in the 1950s thrived on the “hardship” nature of their assignment abroad and took things in stride. According to Mia Dieters, AWC Antwerp became a unifier, a way of bringing women together to share their experiences and pool their information.

“We knew each other very well and stuck together.” - Irene Lemmens

For Jane Meersman, a young mother of three boys, there was a comfort factor in having American friends living a few blocks away. When she first joined AWC Antwerp, there was a big sister arrangement, which made her feel immediately connected. Like her, several women in the club had dual nationality marriages, and together they could laugh about their common experiences trying to fulfill their roles as ‘Belgische vrouwen’. “Belgian life centers around school, church, and family,” comments Jane, whose sons attended Flemish schools. The American holiday activities of the club (the Fourth of July picnic, Halloween, and Christmas parties for the children) helped her boys to also develop an American identity.



“The club was a lifeline when I arrived here!”

“The club enhances one’s Belgian experience whether it be for a short time or a lifetime.”

“I am grateful to the AWCA and FAWCO for opening my eyes to the continued world of friendship, camaraderie and philanthropy!”

“The club is a comfortable oasis of shared interests with like-minded women. I can’t imagine life without it!”

“AWC Antwerp has been invaluable in helping me put down roots, make friends and keep myself busy. I remember the first time I hopped on my bike to meet AWCA friends for coffee on the Grote Markt. After the turmoil of the move it was so comforting to know I had a local hangout. When the coffee rolled into lunch.....with wine......I knew I was going to like Antwerp just fine!”

“AWC Antwerp is a ring on the doorbell to double check and make sure you are feeling better. It is a group of women enjoying a good meal and perhaps one extra glass of wine at lunch.”

“It’s about discovering the wonderful city and its quirks and history. It keeps you up-to-date on the latest ‘oh my gosh you’ve got to see…’ moments. It is a lifelong bond that will never be broken. It is 95 years of sisterhood.”

AWCA Past Presidents

1929 Organizing President: Mrs. Henry M. Halstead, Jr.

1930 - 1931 Mrs. Oliver C. Martin

1932 - 1934 Mrs. Frank Ross Blair

1935 Mrs. Melvin Doolittle

1936 - 1939 Mrs. Charles Melvin Doolittle

1948 - 1949 Mrs. Frank A. Bonham

1950 - 1951 Mrs. L.A. Bailey

1952 Mrs. A.C. Emmelt

1953 Mrs. George Sharp

1954 Mrs. Howard Knauer

1955 Mrs. Edith Yellig

1956 Mrs. Paul Witt

1957 Mrs. Benjamin Marshall

1958 Mrs. Samuel Mencacci

1959 Mrs. Tom Dodge

1960 Mrs. Oscar Handberg

1961 Mrs. Samuel Mencacci

1962 Mrs. Robert Franz

1963-1965 Mrs. Stanley Korbet

1965 Mrs. Richard Wacholz

1966 Mrs. James Tompkins

1967 Mrs. Clyde Nesbitt

1968 Mrs. Danes W. Kenifeck

1969-1970 Mrs. Robert Rhine

1971 Mrs. Edward Sprague

1972 Mrs. Leo E. Weed

1973 Mrs. C.A. Williams

1974 Mrs. Jack Rutherford

1975 Mrs. Donald Brown

1976 Mrs. Donald Leppek

1977-1978 Mrs. Donald Berg

1979 Mrs. Robert Belden

1980 Mrs. William Fredickson

1981 Mrs. Keith Quackenbush

1982 Mrs. Samuel McAllister

1983 Mrs. Dan Schultz

1984 Mrs. Carlo Englebert

1985 Mrs. James Husman

1986 Mrs. Charles Armfield & Mrs. Lolly Martin

1987-1988 Mrs. Susan van Asenoy

1989 Mrs. Carole D’Amico

1990 Mrs. Carol Bohley

1991 Mrs. Donna Fleming

1992 Mrs. Justine Vanthilt

1993 Mrs. Helen Daignault & Mrs. Marge DeMoudt

1994 Mrs. Maryellen Mastrobattista

1995 Mrs. Candace Pauwels & Mrs. Beth Comstock

1996 Mrs. Beth Comstock

1997 Mrs. Beth Kassack

1998 Mrs. Julie Cross

1999-2000 Mrs. Deborah Dams Brown

2001 Mrs. Erika Houston

2002 Mrs. Meg Scripps

2003 Mrs. Andrea Adams

2004 Mrs. Sonya Johnson

2005 Mrs. Jody Wall

2006 Mrs. Kim Greenhut

2007 Mrs. Shelly Likosar

2008 Ms. Jeri Weber

2009 Mrs. Deborah Dams- Brown

2009-2011 Mrs. Yvette Wasel


2013-2015 Mrs. Gina Nielson

2015- 2017 Mrs. Laura de Groen

2017-2019 Ms. Kanika Holloway

2019-2021 Mrs. Celeste Bennekers

2021 Mrs. Diane Salkiewicz

2022-2023 Mrs. Jessica Hernandez and Mrs. Tebra Page

2023-2024: Mrs. Carol Brazle

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