In January 1902, the Women's Club began investigating the needs of the factory workers in East Athens, and chose the project of a free kindergarten for children too young for the public schools. The Kindergarten Committee investigated costs for a space, supplies and food for the children, and the cost of an instructor. Consulting with other groups in Atlanta and Macon who had accomplished similar free kindergartens, they devoted $50.00 to start the school.
A newspaper clipping in the Women's Club minutes extols their project:
The school will open the first of July and continue through the summer, and will be a permanent institution. This noble work for the helpless, unfavored, and often ill-cared for little ones will strike a responsive chord in every heart where the love of humanity throbs, and that feels the pathos of a cheerless untrained childhood. The happiness that is a child's inalienable birthright too often fades in the presence of the tragedy of want and suffering.Those noble club women will do a blessed work in taking these child lives into their keeping to give them tender guidance and support in these, their helpless, impressionable years.No one who knows the scope of this work fails to realize that the sweet sunniness of their kindergarten mornings penetrates the homes of these little ones and is a benediction to their parents as well. In all parts of Georgia this has been found to be one of the most far reaching forms of philanthrepic [sic] works.
At the Club's next meeting at the end of September, the Kindergarten Committee reported that 54 pupils had enrolled during the kindergarten's first month, and the average daily attendance was 32 students. By the following April, a newspaper story noted that the Free Kindergarten "is accomplishing much good, and deserves the earnest support of all the people of the city."
Hired to teach the kindergarten was Miss Marion Long Carlton, a club member and daughter of Henry Hull Carlton, a medical doctor, newspaper owner, lawyer, member of the Georgia legislature, and veteran of the Civil and Spanish-American Wars. Miss Carlton had no formal education training at the time, but was well respected for the work she accomplished at the school. The following summer, the club paid to send her to Louisville, Kentucky, "to study Kindergarten work."
In 1905, the City Council took over the East Athens Free Kindergarten program. The Athens Women's Club started the West Athens Free Kindergarten the following year, and it, too, was later incorporated into the city school system. Miss Carlton managed both programs until at least 1909; she died in 1914 at the age of 36.
Education was a primary interest of the Athens club since it's inception in 1896. The club's motto was "Not for ourselves, but for others." In 1907, the African-American Women's club in Athens asked the Athens Women's Club for assistance in setting up a "Negro Mothers Club" for working women with children under the age of 10. The Athens Women's Club helped find a suitable location, and financed the rent and payment for an African-American care giver, an unusual crossover project between the race-divided women's clubs and federations.
- Memorabilia of the Athens Women's Club: Its Projects and Interests by Marguerite B. Sheffer in the Heritage collection.
- "...with an army of organized women...": The Club Movement Among Black Women in the United States, 1895 to 1920 by Jeanne Milligan Lansman in the Heritage collection.
- Natural Allies: Women's Associations in American History by Anne Firor Scott in the Heritage and general collections.
- Preschool Education in America: The Culture of Young Children from the Colonial Era to the Present by Barbara Beatty in the general collection.
- Local Schools: Exploring Their History by Ronald E. Butchart in the Heritage and general collections.
- Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America by Mike Rose in the general collection.
- The American Dream and the Public Schools by Jennifer L. Hochschild in the general collection.
- Universal Education in the South by Charles William Dabney in the general collection.
- Oconee Hill Cemetery of Athens, Georgia, Volume I by Charlotte Thomas Marshall in the Heritage and general collections.
- For Our Mutual Benefit: The Athens Women's Club and Social Reform, 1899-1920, part of the Digital Library of Georgia.