“Today is the Day!” the En Ka Society announced in 1935. “The members of The En Ka Society and the many, many persons who have helped plan the Street Fair, to make it a great community success, urge you to come to the Town Hall grounds and join in the fun. How festive it all is! Such a Gala Day, Winchester has not had for a long time. Colored lights, balloons, pretty girls, booths that are cleverly constructed, street musicians, ponies to ride, and so much more to do and see.”
Though the attractions may have changed, the En Ka Fair is still a gala day and continues an annual tradition which has been going strong since 1935.
The En Ka Society originated as a high school sorority in 1902. About that time there were also fraternities – Phi Delta and Gamma Eta – and another sorority, Sigma Beta. En Ka fashioned its name in the style of Greek letters but invented them from the initial letters “N” and “K” (vocalized as “En” and “Ka”) of its motto.
The girls’ motto originally was “Nachmachen den Knaben” (“to imitate the boys”), later changed to “Nachleben die klösterlichen Genossenschaft,” which they translate as “to live up to the sisterhood” (literally, to live up to a cloister-like cooperative).
As a sorority, En Ka provided helping hands within the community. Its name appears in the records of the Visiting Nurse Association among those who provided gifts for the visiting nurse program, for the cottage hospital which the Association opened in 1912, and for the new hospital building which opened in 1917.
Although the societies were literary or charity-oriented, the School Committee decided about 1919 to squash them with a decree that members be banned from holding class office, serving on a school publication, or representing the high school in any athletic contest. Though the groups lingered on for a while and the students protested, by 1928 the groups had disbanded.
During the Great Depression, members of En Ka came together again. One of the institutions which the women of the En Ka Society had supported as girls, Winchester Hospital, had to take extraordinary steps to survive the Depression. By closing its nurses' training school and separating from its parent organization, the Visiting Nurse Association, and with support from the community, the hospital was able to keep going.
Still, money was tight. The hospital needed to devote what money it had to operating and maintaining the hospital. Yet the hospital had a second building, a nurses’ home. Helping out there was the impetus for the first street fair.
In order to help the hospital, first the women of En Ka had to reorganize. In 1932, a group of former sorority sisters met and decided to revive their association as an adult, charitable society. Then as now it aimed to provide service or funding to charitable and non-profit activities and organizations. The proceeds from the first three En Ka Society fairs were devoted to the nurses’ home. Since then, En Ka has divided the proceeds from its fairs and other activities among a wide variety of Winchester charities and organizations.
First En Ka Fair
In May 1935, the En Ka Society held its first street fair. It was a novelty to Winchester and was a huge success, attracting thousands.
The first fair was held in the parking lot at the rear of Town Hall, running from Washington Street to what is now known as Sandy’s Island. Brightly painted posts, balloons, and a sign marked the entrance to the “street.”
The emphasis then was on booths and entertainments rather than rides. Each “shop” had its own street number and was decorated differently and devoted to a different sale.
At an apron shop, made up to look like a kitchen, alumnae of the Hospital Training School for Nurses sold aprons, hot pads, and towels. At the “Attic” house was a collection of “interesting and valuable treasures” which was cleaned out by 10 o’clock.
Cherokee pottery and other hand-made articles were displayed at the “Gift Box,” decorated as a red box with white bow. One shop that the newspaper reporter considered the most novel was the “Knit Shop,” decorated with a thatched roof, ivy covered trellis, pink curtains, and window boxes filled with knitted flowers. Raffles were held for a knit dress and sweater.
There were other raffles and drawings. A corner was reserved under a beach umbrella for selling the permanent-wave prize. At a booth decorated as a doll house, a raffle was held for a miniature doll house. At the end of the day, one lucky boy won a bicycle, which he reportedly rode until 2 a.m.
The attractions were varied. “Madame Zara,” palmist, read fortunes. There was a midway, and a games booth was set up to entertain children. Wandering musicians, “Tony and Pedro,” entertained with violin and accordion. There was street dancing and a bean supper.
There was art for sale and art to enjoy. Lillian Clarke of Somerville was reportedly surrounded every minute while she cuts silhouettes. Wesley Dennis drew pencil portrait sketches. An exhibit of artworks by members of the Winchester Art Association was enjoyed at the library pergola.
Of course there was food, including a popcorn stand sponsored by nurses, the Alice in Wonderland Candy Shop, an ice cream truck, a sandwich bar, hot dog stand (tended by the “Masters of the Hounds”), and a doughnut machine which reportedly attracted attention all day.
The island, decorated with colored lights, Japanese lanterns, and flowers was transformed into a Japanese Tea Garden.
In addition to the members of the En Ka Society, men, nurses, and high school students helped out at the fair. The fair reportedly cleared $1,963 to be used for the Nurses’ Home.
The fair has outgrown the Town Hall parking lot, and its character has changed in some regards, but its popularity and purpose remain the same. The funds raised go back to the community through En Ka’s charitable giving. And, every year, everyone has a lot of fun.