The Willing Workers Society is a nonprofit nonsectarian organization whose purpose is to foster a spirit of helpfulness throughout the community. Our members come from Sugar Hill and neighboring towns. We meet the first Thursday of each month for a lunch and business meeting held at the Sugar Hill Meetinghouse or Crapo Building. Annually, our organization hosts events in Sugar Hill, funds educational merit awards and donates to community needs and programs. This is who we are now, but our roots were established long ago.
As the early settlers cut byways, built homes and cleared fields, they began gathering on a regular basis to strengthen their fledgling community. Local families, men and women held day-long meetings in their homes to help each other with chores, visit, and to confirm their faith-soon joined by itinerant preachers. When the first village church was built in 1829, parishioners organized to help with church and community needs. A century later, in 1920, the two Sugar Hill churches merged. That act of community unification inspired a formal reorganization of villagers who, since the mid-1800's had called themselves "willing workers". On November 10, 1920 the members approved their By-Laws, marking the official founding of the Willing Workers Society.
A section in Article IV of the 1020's By-Laws determined: The membership fee of this society shall be twenty-five cents, and Article V warned; Dancing and Card-Playing are against the rules. Former resident author, J. McIntosh brought the 1920's era to life: The Willing Workers' Society was nominally a support organization for the local church 'to pay the janitor, repairs and upkeep of the church and parsonage' - but the membership interpreted this narrow charge freely. From the beginning, the Workers presented every new bride in the community with a beautiful quilt, knitted sweaters, made surgical dressings for the Red Cross. They catered dinners. They aided victims of fires. They visited the sick. They comforted the bereaved.
In the early 20th century, the Society's monthly meetings were hel in members' homes. They lasted all day and into the evening, with dinner and entertainment, continuing many traditions of the early settlers' gatherings. Morning was devoted to sewing or quilting items for future sale. The members...made aprons, pot holders, table mats, cup towels, and 'fancy work'. Following a luncheon-often described int eh minutes as 'delicious' - was the business meeting. Dinners and sales were meticulously planned, profits noted and special committees reported on the community's current needs.
Macintosh observed in 1989: The most eloquent expression of [this spirit of helpfulness] may be the custom of serving food after memorial services. On these occasions, the quiet ministrations of the Willing Workers' Society help the tiny hilltop community to mend its torn fabric. To mourners, few gestures are more comforting than a Willing Worker's table laden with 'delicious and bountiful refreshments'.
While many of the original practices continue to this day, the enduring success of the Willing Workers Society of Sugar Hill is explained by its ability to change with the times. An earlier generation of willing workers regrouped when local churches combined. The revised 1989 By-Laws defined the Society as a nonsectarian, inclusive organization, open to any woman who supports its purpose. Meetings were first held in private homes, later in churches and are now usually held in the town Meetinghouse or Crapo Building-and they no longer consume a 21st century woman's entire day. As in earlier times, spouses, families and friends are heartily welcomed and continue to play important roles in Willing Workers Society programs.
The Willing Workers' archives do reveal other adjustments. While political activity was discouraged as of 1989, dancing is now presumably allowed. Providing cords of wood for the parsonage has given way to offering merit awards for Sugar Hill residents who want to continue their education. Yet dues remain little changed. During a contentious afternoon in 1955, dues were raised from 25 cents a year to 25 cents a month. In 1989, the cost of joining the Society was settled at 25 cents, with 25 cents due from each person attending monthly business meetings. Most recently, the Educational Merit Award was officially named the Maxine Aldrich Education Merit Award to acknowledge over thirty years of steadfast dedication to the Society's principal fundraising objective.
To raise funds, the Willing Workers Society currently serves hearty meals during town events, such as the Spring Lupine Festival, and manages the artful Grandma's Attic shop. A resurgence of member handcraft activities contribute to Sugar Hill's September Fall Festival, and a lively Christmas Sale, featuring baked goods and lunch, plants, artisan crafts, treasures and books, is held in late November. From time to time, other fundraising events are held.
Each year ends on a high note in mid-December with the Town Christmas Party, hosted by the Willing Workers. The long established Christmas Party, even predating the official founding of the Society, was once well-documented by another local resident: Ever since 1892 the little town of Sugar Hill, NH...has gathered at about the time of the winter solstice for a town party...Every child under the age of 12 is given a present accompanied with singing and sweets and greeting of friends. In the dark days of the 1890s, with the collapse of the farming economy in northern New England, the custom was started to ensure that even the poorest children received a Christmas present, an orange, a rare treat in those days.
The true history of the Willing Workers Society is how it unites its members and the community: a chance to meet, share joy or comfort in sorrow, or receive the gift of an orange during hard times. It is the story of generations of individuals who have quietly met on a regular basis to organize creative energies in serving their neighbors, while learning from and enjoying each other's company.
As we prepare to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the official founding of the Willing Workers Society, we honor the women and men who contributed to its earliest foundations. We enthusiastically continue their long tradition of hosting community events and helping those in need. So much has changed, and yet-the dues are still 25 cents, the refreshments are always delicious, and one can still find quality handcrafted gifts at a Sugar Hill country fair.