Sunday, February 24, 2019

Old-Time Meetings Stir the Muse

In one of my books, I introduced readers to “The Society for the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence.”  There actually was an organization in Kansas by that name in the 1800s.  I have no idea what happened to the group in real life or even if they succeeded in what they’d set out to do, but after reading a meeting notice in an old newspaper I knew I had to write about it
Men weren’t the only ones concerned about independence during the nineteenth century.  In 1861 fifty ladies of the first Church of Milford in New York formed a society of old maids. It cost five dollars to join the group and members had to vow never to marry.  The interest earned from the money paid for the annual dinner, with the principal going to the woman who remained unmarried the longest. 
According to an article in the New York Times thirty years later in 1891 all but fifteen of the original fifty had married.  By then the prize money had risen to a thousand dollars.  I’ve not been able to find the winner’s name—if, indeed, there was one—but the best part of being a writer is where real life fails, inspiration takes over.  Yep, you guessed it; this gave me an idea for a series idea and that how the The Brides of Last Chance Ranch was born.
Not all old meeting notices stir the creative juices and some, like the “Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive,” give me the willies, but they do provide a fascinating insight into the times.  

National Women's Party
One thing that is clear in reading old newspapers: women wishing to volunteer outside the home in the early 1800s had little choice but to join an auxiliary of men's fraternal orders and mutual aid associations.  This changed after the Civil War when women became obsessed with academic and cultural pursuits and joined literary, music, art, language, history or science clubs by the droves.   This period is known as the “Women’s Club Movement.”   
One club’s only stipulation for membership was the ability to get to meetings—and in some western states that was no easy task. 
According to the newspapers, these fledgling women’s clubs could be pretty chaotic as most early club members knew to how to dress well, but didn’t have a clue as to Robert and his rules. 
An interesting article written by a club woman’s husband for the New York Tribune in 1910 set this writer’s muse on fire.  He wrote: “From what I gather, I can see Robert himself aghast at what his well-intentioned rules of order can do to a women’s club.  What was originally intended to be oil for the wheels turns out to be a gigantic obstruction that can throw a meeting out of gear so that it never does right itself. Robert’s Rules of order become rules of disorder.”
Apparently, he didn’t exaggerate.  In American Women’s History Doris Weatherford wrote:”The mechanics of organizing—writing by-laws, electing officers and engaging in structured debate was new to most women. A crucial factor in the success of future meetings was the participation of Quaker women, who had long conducted meeting separate from men.” (The lack of women able to conduct a business meeting probably explains why the first meeting of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention was conducted by a man.) 
In the early days of women clubs there was a reporter at every keyhole, no doubt waiting for some poor woman to prove herself inept.  By the end of the 19th century, however, newspapers all but ignored clubs (except for suffrage). Before a club could get publicity there would have to be, as one person put it—a regular hair-pulling.
Club women took a lot of heat and were accused of neglecting their families.  In an 1898 San Francisco Call article titled “Are Women’s Clubs Harmful to the Home?” Dr. George Fitch wrote: “Women’s clubs are one of the last milestones toward national destruction, the goal toward which this nation is at present rapidly journeying.
Disorder may have been the rule in those early women’s clubs, but this provided valuable training and experience that paid off when women turned their attention to the Suffrage and Temperance Movements.   
Yes, indeed, those early meeting notices tell us much about the times and its people, just as present-day clubs and organizations mirror today’s world. 
However, even the most creative writer of the future may be challenged to draw inspiration from “The Dull Man’s Club,” whose only requirements for joining is to admit that you’re dull and a vow to keep it that way. And who in their right mind would want to write about a hero belonging to the “Society of Explosive Engineers?”  On the other hand, if the muse call....

"This book charms." Publishers  Weekly
Coming soon:
Book Two in Margaret's Haywire Bride Series
The Cowboy Meets His Match    



  1. Fun post! I'm thinking that maybe more business got accomplished over a cup of tea at the kitchen table than at some of these societies! Maybe this is so even now....thanks for the food for thought!

  2. You're probably right about the cup of tea, Connie. And they wouldn't have had to worry about Robert and his rules!