First Congregational’s Ladies Organ Society celebrates 195 years

The Ladies Organ Society of the First Congregational Church of Wiscasset UCC will mark its 195th year on Sunday, Oct. 1.  The society founded in 1822 raises funds for the needs of the church and is one of the oldest organizations of its kind in the U.S.

This past year, the group raised monies to purchase new cushions for the pews. Pastor Josh Fitterling will recognize society members during the morning worship service that begins at 10 a.m.  A social gathering will follow in the fellowship hall.

Wednesday, Sept. 20 found the ladies busy in the fellowship hall knitting items to sell at Oktoberfest on Saturday, Oct. 14.

Jackie Lowell of Wiscasset paused her work to share some of the society’s colorful history she and Joan Shea have compiled. Lowell said the group wasn’t always called the Organ Society. When it formed in the early 1800s, it didn’t have a name at all.

She said the group started when about 80 women of the parish got together to purchase a wood stove for the meetinghouse where the faithful gathered to worship. When the town fathers erected their building, they hadn’t thought to equip it with any means of providing heat in the winter. Later the church elders, all men, refused to purchase a stove, thinking perhaps it was a luxury the congregation could due without. Refusing to take no for an answer, the women organized, raised money on their own and eventually earned enough to buy a wood stove. In 1827 the ladies bought an organ and in the process got a name for their organization, the Ladies Organ Society.

For many years, the church has been a member of the United Church of Christ. The building at the top of the Town Common with its landmark white steeple is the third house of worship to occupy this spot. The original meetinghouse that had needed the stove was replaced by another building. Improvements included a belfry and steeple with a bell and weather vane cast at the foundry of Paul Revere. This building was reduced to a charred ruin following a fire a few days before Christmas 1907. It took two years for the congregation to replace its church, the same building in use today. Metal from the Revere bell was saved and cast into the new bell that hangs in the belfry.

The Estey organ the ladies purchased after the new church was re-dedicated is the one still in use today.

Through the years, writes Lowell, Organ Society membership has ranged from a dozen to 80 or more ladies, and sometimes men, too. The group meets weekly to knit, sew and create crafts to sell. Over the years, they’ve also held chowder suppers and holiday luncheons.

In 1905, the society began holding an annual summer fair on the Common where they sold baked goods, handmade quilts, crafts and knitted items like sweaters and hats. The event now includes all members of the congregation and is celebrated as Summerfest, held every July since 1983.

Lowell added, in recent years the society has raised monies to purchase Advent and Lenten paraments (wall hangings), along with tables and chairs for the fellowship hall, and kitchen serving carts. In honor of the Society’s 180th anniversary, it donated the church’s baptismal font.

“We think back fondly of our friends who have passed on before us. And if we, the present members, could meet those women who formed the Organ Society 195 years ago, we would find that we share a love and devotion to the church and a determination to work toward keeping it strong,” wrote Lowell in a pamphlet marking the group’s 180th anniversary.

The society lost two of its longtime members this year. In February, Ruth Kierstead died at 101 and on Aug. 25, Ruth Applin died at 100. Both were past presidents, Kierstead from 1975 to 1980 and Applin on three different occasions in the 1990s. Applin also held the record for the longest membership in the society, 85 years.

Martha Speed of Edgecomb and Jan Whitfield of Wiscasset now serve as co-presidents, Lowell as treasurer and Shea as the recording secretary.

The society meets Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m., September through May. All members of the church are welcome. One thing that hasn’t changed over the years are the dues. They’re still $1 a year.