The Times West Virginian

September 6, 2012

Woman’s Club to host tea, portrayal

By Nicole Lemal
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Out on the terrace at the Woman’s Club Mansion, president Nancy Bickerstaff enjoys listening to the hustle and bustle of Fairmont while munching on a pastry or sipping a cup of tea.

Inside the historic, three-level mansion, she also takes pleasure in sitting down to have a cup of tea with other women in the community. Everything seems to slow down once visitors take a moment to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere.

“It is a peaceful place,” Bickerstaff said Wednesday as she set up tables and did some decorating.

Known for its events that bring women together in the community, the Woman’s Club is hosting “A Midsummer’s Daydream Tea & Portrayal of Harriet Tubman” this Sunday. Decorated to the nines for the tea party and portrayal, the mansion will also be sparkling from two new chandeliers in the dining area.

Fundraising efforts in recent months have been successful, allowing the Woman’s Club to continue its mission to keep the house in tip-top shape.

“The community has been wonderful,” Bickerstaff said. “The support that we get is just phenomenal. People really stepped up to the plate. The Marion County Commission has been very generous and supportive of us.”

Although it’s not required, ladies are asked to wear cream or white, gloves, hats and pearls to the tea. Hot tea, peach tea, sandwiches and pastries will be served to guests. Ornaments, tea cups, saucers and other items will be on sale during that time. Admission is $15 per person, and reservations are being taken on a first-come basis.

Ilene Evans will take the stage at 2 p.m., transforming into Harriet Tubman’s role. Complimentary of the West Virginia Humanities Council, the portrayal will focus on Tubman’s involvement in the Civil War.

Serving as a spy, nurse, scout and guide for Union troops, Tubman was an instrumental leader in aiding slaves in their escape to the free states or Canada.

Originally from Maryland, Tubman was born into slavery but escaped in 1849.

Throughout her school years, Tubman was a soldier in the Civil War. When the Federal troops advanced under Col. Robert Gould Shaw at Fort Wagner, she was there. Again and again, she served on the front lines, the only woman to lead and command troops behind enemy lines.

Many times she risked her life in pursuit of helping others. While helping a slave escape when she was younger, her skull was fractured, and from then on she suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy.

“That is something we read about in history, but to bring it to life, I think is wonderful,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s what makes it so great here, and the ambience of this house is like a Southern plantation.”

Evans is an internationally known actress, singer and storyteller. Through dance, music and the spoken word, she has been telling stories for more than 30 years to a number of audiences from the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Phoenix, Ariz.

In addition to being an accomplished performer, she is an educator. Most of her work is done through her not-for-profit organization Voices From The Earth based in Thomas.

History will come alive in front of visitors Sunday, also serving as a reminder of how much times have changed since the early 1900s when the mansion was built. As the first owners of the mansion, Annie and Thomas Fleming had servants they referred to as “house slaves.” During that time period, the term “house slaves” was a term of endearment.

“They weren’t offended because they were treated with great kindness and love,” Bickerstaff said. “They were really part of the family there.”

Moving forward, just like Fairmont has done, is a mission the Woman’s Club will continue to strive for.

“There is always another dream for this house,” Bickerstaff said. “I am sure Annie and Thomas are smiling because the house has been restored.”

On Saturday, Sept. 15, the Woman’s Club will host a Vendors Fair at the mansion. To make reservations or request more information, contact Nancy Bickerstaff at 304-366-3231, 304-366-8781 or nbicky@comcast.net. Reservations are limited.

Email Nicole Lemal at nlemal@timeswv.com.