Martha’s Vineyard has a rich and diverse history with people of color. During Black History month, we will be taking a look at different interesting parts of the story from today back thru island history. This week our Black History MV series celebrates The Cottagers.
Black History MV: The Cottagers Inc Of Martha’s Vineyard – Their History
For a number of years, I have been hearing about the work The Cottagers do for Martha’s Vineyard, and finally I was able to learn more about this 65-year-old iconic Island organization.
I was able to catch up with my co-worker, Point B agent Jennifer DaSilva, who is a board member of The Cottagers, to learn more. Jennifer joined when her kids were grown and she would have the time to dedicate to the organization. It is an organization that her mother-in-law has been involved with for years. For Jennifer, The Cottagers was important to join, it was a wonderful way to give back to the community.
“I am honored to be a member of The Cottagers with my mother-in-law Joan and sister-in-law Jeanine, and for our organization to give back to this beloved island that has given so much to our family,” says Jennifer.
Founded in 1956 by Thelma Garland Smith, The Cottagers started as a group of 10 Black women, mostly teachers, who summered and owned homes in Oak Bluffs, and who loved Martha’s Vineyard. They wanted to do something to give back to the community. The ladies often met at each other’s houses for coffee and to spend time together. At one of these gatherings, they collected money and made a donation to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Their organization became a reality and their philanthropic endeavors grew from there.
The group began to grow in members and in interest as more Black families came to the island for the summer. Instead of donations, The Cottagers began hosting organized events to raise money for the hospital. The group eventually began to also raise money for other community groups and created scholarships for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students.
Black History MV: The Cottagers Inc Of Martha’s Vineyard – A Lasting Impact
Now The Cottagers is 100 women strong (the organization is capped at 100 members). For over 60 years, and for many generations, The Cottagers has been helping its members play an important role in giving back to the community they hold dear. As when it started, almost all the members own homes on the Island, though no longer just in Oak Bluffs. Part of the requirement for belonging is that you own a home. You will also find some legacy members, those ladies have family members in the organization. I should also mention that to become a member, you need to be invited.
The Cottagers host various fundraisers to raise money. They host dinner parties, epic dances, their annual sold-out Fashion Show & Luncheon, their very popular house tours, and more. The group also host the African-American Cultural Festival, a free two day educational event held in Hartford Park in Oak Bluffs. Many of these events had to be canceled for 2020, but there is hope for 2021.
In the late 1960s The Cottagers purchased the building on Pequot Avenue that is still Cottagers Corner today. In this building, the group holds its bi-monthly meetings during the summer (they do continue to connect during non-summer months as well). You will also find crafts and events for children here as well. It has become a hub for activity for its members.
The building is an important part of The Cottagers’ and the history of the Island. It was added to the Martha’s Vineyard African American Heritage Trail in 2006. It is number 18 on the Trail’s walking tour.
There is so much that The Cottagers have done for the Island. This organization continues to exemplify the significance of giving back to the community. Their story is one that merits sharing and celebrating. The good that one group can do has a ripple effect and will continue to impact generations to come.
Black History MV: The Cottagers Inc Of Martha’s Vineyard – The Mission
“Culture and Service – The Cottagers, Inc. is a historic 501(3) non-profit charitable organization formed by African-American women homeowners on Martha’s Vineyard whose mission is:
To promote a sense of cultural pride by fundraising to support charitable, educational and community service projects that help improve the quality of life in the Martha’s Vineyard community”.
Celebrating the significance of The Cottagers is only one way to honor the Island’s diversity. There are also shops to visit, restaurants to support, artists to enjoy, authors to read and so much more. Thank you for reading Black History MV, a special month-long focus of We Love MV – our ongoing series capturing the spirit of Martha’s Vineyard year-round.
Thank you Jennifer DaSilva for meeting with me and sharing so much about The Cottagers with me, and thank you for all you do for the community.
We hope you are staying safe during these times, and if you are not on the Island, you can still support many of the businesses you love online. Please don’t forget to “Like” Point B Realty on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, Youtube and Instagram.
Also, thank you to all those who voted for us for Point B Realty for Best Real Estate Company 2020 and for the Martha’s Vineyard Teddy Bear Suite Best Charity Event Runner-Up 2020, click here to vote for Best of the Vineyard 2021!