The Sunset Club’s history is deeply intertwined with Seattle’s own history, traditions and culture.
The Club was founded in 1913 by women from some of Seattle's most prominent families. Many were recent arrivals from the Northeast and Midwest who sought to replicate the elegance and culture of those more established areas of the country.
The Club was formed to “promote the social and intellectual welfare of its members.” It has accomplished this over the decades through luncheons, teas, balls, lectures, arts performances and other events. The membership has always maintained “a focus beyond themselves” by engaging in important charitable and civil causes.
When World War I broke out, the Sunset Club was among the first to form a Red Cross Auxiliary. The members fabricated gauze bandages, surgical shirts and knitted trench caps, mittens, and scarves for the men overseas. Members made visits to the hospital at Fort Lewis and arranged Christmas gifts for the wounded there. Money was raised to pay for food at one of the hospital wards. At war's end, the Club assisted in the city’s efforts to offer aid to the returning handicapped and injured veterans. In 1922, the Sunset Club purchased 150 trees as a memorial. The Seattle Garden Club planted them along the Tacoma Valley Road.
The Sunset Club felt the Depression years of the 1930s, and there was a steep decline in membership. The remaining members tightened their belts and continued with their programs, keeping costs -- but not the quality -- low.
During World War II, members of the Sunset Club again assisted the war effort. Through fundraising, Club members furnished three recreation rooms at the Jefferson Park Army Camp and a suite at the Red Cross local headquarters. Members purchased more than $300,000 in war bonds and staged a Christmas event for the 200 men in their ward at the Fort Lewis hospital. Tea dances were given for naval aviation cadets, and Club courtesies were extended to officers and their wives stationed in the area.
In celebration of its 100th anniversary in 2013, the Club held luncheons and dinners highlighting topics relating to the past century. The year opened with a luncheon program entitled "Courage in Corsets." The year ended with a sold-out grand gala celebrating the Club’s centennial.
Over the years, many prominent Sunset Club members have contributed to the betterment of the city. Among them are:
- In 1928, Susan Johnson Henry and her husband endowed the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus. It was the city's first public fine-art exhibition facility.
- Katherine Agen Baillargeon (1901-1991) assumed an important position as the only woman on the Seattle Art Museum's founding board.
- Catherine Collins Clarke (1895-1979) was a founder of the Junior League of Seattle.
- Roberta Frye Watt (1875-1963) authored Four Wagons West, a classic of Seattle history.
- Dorothy Stimson Bullitt (1892-1989) engineered creation of the first network television station in Seattle, KING-TV.
- Frances P. Owen (1900-2002) contributed her expertise as board member of the Seattle Public Schools.
- Mary Gates (1929-1994) was a University of Washington regent for 19 years.
The Sunset Club continues to this day as “the place” for the prominent ladies of Seattle to graciously entertain. The Sunset Club members of today, many of whom are second or third generation legacies, are more likely to be business-leaders than socialites. The knitting of mittens for the troops has long been replaced with serving as President of a billion-dollar charitable endeavor. As such, the Club has evolved to meet the needs of the current generations, while maintaining its heritage as a place of gracious elegance.