The HPO Women’s Committee served as the fundraising, outreach and promotional backbone of the orchestra for decades. Most, if not all, arts organizations relied heavily on women’s auxiliaries in the 20th century, and the HPO was no different. In 1949 when the HPO’s first Board of Directors was elected, the need for a Women’s Auxiliary to help sustain the organization was raised. Soon, the committee was struck, and members got busy fundraising and promoting the orchestra through events including bridge parties and raffle draws. In 1953 the HPO Board of Directors invited two Women’s Committee representatives to sit on the board as liaisons, cementing their role in the organization.
The committee was led over the years by some truly incredible women in Hamilton and the surrounding community. Betty Webster served as Vice President and President of the Women’s Committee before she was hired as the HPO’s first Executive Director. Webster was awarded the Order of Canada in 1992 for her contributions to arts administration. Marnie Paikin, also an Order of Canada recipient, served on the Women’s Committee for several years in the 1960s as the writer and editor of the committee newsletter, The Philharmonotes. In 1969 she was named President of the HPO Board of Directors.
The Women’s Committee had several milestones over the course of its operations including purchasing a new timpani set for the orchestra in 1956. By 1959 the Committee’s annual donation to the orchestra reached $4,000, which amounted to a quarter of the orchestra’s budget at the time. In the early 60s, with nearly 70 active members, the committee expanded its reach and started both education and concert promotion committees.
One of the greatest impacts the HPO Women’s Committee had in the Hamilton Community was the launch of the Philharmonic Children of Hamilton, which was the committee’s centennial project in 1967. PCH was the first music school in Ontario to use the Suzuki method, developed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki, which encourages music education and exploration to start at a young age. The school was created as a non-profit entirely separate from the orchestra. HPO concertmaster, Marta Hidy, served as the first Artistic Director of the institution. The Philharmonic Children of Hamilton still thrives in our community today under the name Hamilton Suzuki School of Music.
The Women’s Committee continued to grow throughout the 1970s with major successes including organizing the 1973 Bach-a-Nal auction which raised $67,000 for the orchestra.
In 1981 the Women’s Committee was incorporated as the HPO Guild and membership was opened to anyone, regardless of gender. The Guild continued the Committee’s legacy of fundraisers and outreach benefitting the orchestra, including the hugely successful Decorator’s Showcase in 1982, organized in part by Marlies Clark, who remains an active HPO patron. Though the Women’s Committee and the HPO Guild are no longer active, their impacts on this organization and the Hamilton community can still be felt today.