Verdugo Views: The Oakmont League's beginnings

When it was first formed, Oakmont League was firmly connected with the Oakmont Country Club. But it wasn’t called the Oakmont League. It was called the Oakmont Junior Matrons.

Here’s the story behind the change. Early in 1938, the owner of the club approached a member, Sally McKnight, asking her to be social chairman for the club.

“Sally was a dynamic, well-educated, beautiful and cultured person with an aristocratic air, and I’m sure that’s what they had in mind when they approached her, as the beginnings of OL were also infused with these qualities,’’ wrote Marian Burgoyne in an undated article on file in the Glendale Library’s Special Collections Dept. “The effects of the depression were still upon us and they felt Sally was the perfect person to develop more interest in the club and bring in new members.’’

McKnight visited the homes of people recommended to her and invited them to become social members of the club at $10 per year. Each week she arranged an activity. “Some were corny, some were elegant, but all were fun,” Burgoyne noted.

Soon after she took on the role of social chair, McKnight invited 10 young women to meet at the home of Margaret Backus. This was the beginning of the Oakmont Junior Matrons.

McKnight appointed the officers for the 1939-1940 year: Backus as president, Mercia Snyder (who spent the next year writing the bylaws) as program chair, and Dotty Cowlin as social chair. Burgoyne listed the others attending as Patsy Klein, Sally Harkness, Mary Lou Speed, Lucille Sullivan, Louisa Shaw and Ronnie Seale.

Those who joined from September 1939 to September 1940 were charter members. More than 100 women joined up. Dues were set at $1. They elected Snyder as president, accepted the by-laws, and scheduled board meetings.

Social chair Cowlin lent her talents to the cause. “Dotty was the backbone of the early group. She gave beautiful parties. There were book reviews, teas, bridge groups and fashion shows around the pool. She initiated the children’s Easter party and Valentine teas. Everything she did was artistic and done with perfection,’’ said Mercia Snyder.

One of their first events was a Hawaiian-themed cocktail party held poolside before the club’s annual dinner dance.

For several years, the matrons were closely tied to the country club, but there seems to have been an upheaval in 1944. A scrapbook donated to Special Collections by one of the early members is packed with photos, invitations, newsletters and clippings from the Glendale News-Press that tell part of the story.

That year, the News-Press reported nominations from the floor, which often indicates dissension within a group. None of the articles detailed what was going on, but reading between the lines, it seems that some of the women felt the need to break with the country club and become an independent philanthropic group. In any event, that is about the time they began calling themselves the Oakmont League.

No matter what happened, Sally McKnight is considered the founder of the Oakmont League. She was made an honorary member and continued to be active until she moved away. “Everyone who knew her remembers her with love and admiration,’’ concluded Burgoyne.

A quick glance at a 2011-2012 Oakmont League roster confirms that Sally McKnight founded the group in 1939 and that Margaret Backus was the first president. A short history included in the roster indicates that the Junior Matrons became the Oakmont League in 1949, 10 years after they were formed at the impetus of the new country club owner William Crenshaw, and that he wanted the club to have some charitable purpose, besides being a golf and social club.

Judy Mendicina is the outgoing president of the league, which continues to raise money for charitable purposes, including scholarships to high school and college students.

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