HISTORY OF THE ADVANCE CLUB
Member of Ohio Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1897
General Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1904
Dayton Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1904
Imagine what it was like to be a woman in Dayton in the 1890’s—looking forward to the momentous 20th Century. To visit “downtown” for shopping or a lecture at the Turner Opera House from your home out East or West Third Street meant a long ride in the family buggy or on the horse-drawn street car. It was sensible to keep your circle of friends close to your neighborhood, and meet socially in homes and churches nearby. Conversation at the teas and parties were not only of family and Dayton happenings, but feminine interest turned to current events of national and international scope, and they were knowledgeable in literature, music, and the arts. They wanted to learn more, even though few women of that day attended college, and none of them could vote.
Influenced by two special women of Dayton, Charlotte Reeve Conover and Mary Steele, the Women’s Literary Club had been organized in 1889 “to pursue not only literary expertise, but through lectures and book reviews, to broaden interest in world and Dayton matters”. Charlotte was the daughter of an eminent doctor, the first Chief of Staff of St. Elizabeth Hospital. She was a writer, historian, and teacher. Mary Steele was the daughter of Robert Steele, an outstanding teacher, President of the School Board, historian, and we know he had a High School named for him. Mary was an invalid, but she gathered a nucleus of friends to discuss the needs of Dayton and pursue scholarly interests. One very special need concerned the Dayton Centennial celebration in 1896, and the saving of a delapidated, clapboard grocery store at the south-west corner of Main and Water (now Monument) Streets, which was going to be demolished for a new apartment building. This structure was the original Newcome Tavern, the first building in Dayton, which had served as school, church, courthouse and jail in addition to its tavern duties. There were even Indian bullets lodged in its logs! Mary’s friends agreed with her that the restoration of the cabin and the moving of it to a good location should be the logical highlight of the Centennial. Mary sent articles and letters to the local papers, and soon contributions were pouring in from school children and citizens, and a spot was selected on the river bank of East Water Street across from Steele High School, which was then being built. The Dayton Historical Society was formed to take care of the historical items and relics that were being donated. The restored Newcome Tavern would become a museum of Dayton’s past. As Mrs. Conover remarked, “We have no ruins of castles in Dayton but we do have this log cabin, just as eloquent of spiritual interest and human worth”.
For three days in September,1896, Dayton had a super celebration. There was a parade of 10,000 school children, accompanied by bands, floats and fire engines, in a din of drums, whistles, cannons, and fire crackers, including the constant ringing of a row of locomotive bells on the south side of the courthouse lawn. There were speeches, and a pageant at the Opera House. How very proud the women of Dayton must have been to realize they had played an important role in making this celebration happen—as the saying goes, “together we can work miracles”!
Early the next year (1897) a group of West Side women—friends, relatives, neighbors—who had been meeting socially, invited Mrs. Conover to give one of her famous book reviews, and afterwards she encouraged them to organize into a club. She assured them the Extension Committee of the Literary Club would help in the formation. Three other groups had been started, and this one would become Dayton’s fifth women’s club. On June 4, 1897, the group met at Mrs. Campbell’s home—she was a member of the committee and explained the benefits derived from banding together. A committee of three was appointed to draft a constitution, and four days later on June 8, the group adopted one, and approved By-Laws, and included this Preamble: We, the women of the West Side, Dayton, Ohio, with an earnest desire to assist each other to a higher degree of literary knowledge and a general culture, do hereby form ourselves into a club.” Other decisions made that day—membership should not exceed 50: in addition to the officers, two critics would be elected; the Executive Committee would decide the theme and assign topics to the members alphabetically; dues would be $1.00 annually; a fine of 10 cents would be assessed upon tardy members; a ‘Question Box’ would be available for members’ questions; the meeting day would be alternate Mondays from 3 to 5 o’clock, October through May. As it often happens when new clubs are formed, the choosing of a name was a formidable task. “West Side Review Club” and “The Monday Afternoon Club” were suggestions that were voted upon and defeated, and finally “The West Side Women’s Literary Club” was decided upon. At the next meeting thirty charter members were present, and the group moved to join the Ohio Federation of Women’s Clubs. Mrs. Nan B. Williams was elected the first President.
Two weeks later, several important items appeared on the agenda—should the present name be accepted? Where would this large group meet? And were there new applicants to be accepted before the summer break? A discussion of names followed but received no motions, so the matter was tabled. It was decided to have a committee investigate meeting places during the summer. Six new members were approved, and then a motion was made by Mrs. LaRue that the name of “Advance Club” be accepted. It was unanimously approved, and the motto “Slumber not in the tent of your fathers—the world Is advancing, advance with it” was introduced later, and it has appeared in every year book since 1899.
The first meeting of the club year on October 11, 1897 brought a group of 32 women together in the lecture room of the Fourth Presbyterian Church at 5th and Summit. There would be 40 minutes for business, 40 for papers, and 40 for discussion and criticism! A certificate from the Ohio Federation was presented, and a delegate to the State Convention in Piqua was appointed. By-Law 10 was approved—“member ship should not be limited to West Side women, but a preference would be given them”. Ten Associate Memberships would be offered—they could debate but not vote, they would be exempt from duty but may volunteer, and their dues would be $2.00.
The first program was Mrs. Ashby’s “able paper on the ‘Life and Times of Shakespeare’ ”. It was then suggested “because we are not only club women, but housekeepers and homemakers, it is possible for us to be up to the times, and so it is necessary to have a paper on Current Events at each meeting”. In the words of Mrs. Craig, who presented the first report at the next meeting, “Current events following the program are like pie and cheese following a dinner.” At the December 6th meeting, Mrs. Mary Lyon loaned a gavel—“tied with a blue ribbon”— which she said “could be used as long as the club continues to exist”. Unfortunately, it developed a split down the middle. Some topics presented that first year were ‘Shakespeare’s Women’, ‘The Realist and the Idealist’, ‘War and Its Influence on National Literature’, ‘Foreign Immigration’, Chemistry of Foods’, ‘Science in Everyday Life’, ‘The Pulpits of Yesteryear’. Mrs. Williams thanked the Program Committee and those who had participated, and voiced the sentiment that “all had enjoyed the work and taken great pleasure in preparing it”. Usually several (3 or 4) papers were given at each meeting, and a five minute intermission was often inserted. The Secretary noted, “The one thing needful to the life of any club is discussion. Interchange of thoughts not only help others but help ourselves. We gain confidence and an ability to express clearly our ideas to others”.
During this first year, Advance Club became civic-minded. With other Dayton club women, they tried to solve one of the problems of the city—“The propriety of enforcing the law of Expectoration on Street Cars”! The President appointed a committee of two to work with other clubs to get some answers from the Police Department. They brought back the report that “an offender must be reported to a policeman with one or more witnesses” before action could be taken!
Some notations appearing in the Secretary’s book—all written in beautiful, flowing penmanship—by Mrs. Niswonger revealed: “A vote of thanks to Miss Whitmore for her beautiful fern—it tastefully decorated the club room”; “Minutes were read and slightly corrected”; “November 28 was so disagreeable that only 33 were present”; “May 22: the day was beautiful and every member was present who was not away on account of sickness”; and “It is not because a woman has nothing else to do that she joins a club, but rather because she has so much to do”. She concluded in her annual report—“the year ended with a member ship of 50, money ($45.39) in the bank, enthusiasm, and bright ideas abound.” Advance Club was on its way.
Minutes from the first 25 years show the members were enjoying their friendships, the varied programs, and their importance of being a vital Dayton club. By preparing papers on many topics, they were increasing their interest and knowledge, and soon that day would come when they could vote and become full citizens. In 1900 when no delegate was able to attend the Ohio Federation Convention, the club voted the money should be used to purchase a large map of the world, to aid them in their programs. An April 1902 Guest Meeting speaker was Katherine Wright—she gave a book review on “The Girl of the
Wooden Shoe”. (This was the time when her brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were experimenting at Kitty Hawk, and in another year and a half would achieve the first successful flight). Another guest speaker was librarian Electra Doren, whose theme was “A Plea for Better Literature. Bad Books—their Effect and Remedy”. The secretary notes, “the ladies were thoroughly aroused by her remarks, feeling steps must be taken to counteract evils resulting from harmful reading matter.” Guest meetings were held once a year, usually in March. And were so popular that often the guests outnumbered members 2 to 1. In 1909 there were 39 members and all guests present! In addition to the presentation of several papers, there were piano, violin, and vocal solos by members. There was even a choir of Advance members at one time!
Roll calls were innovative during these early years. One entitled ‘Summer Driftwood’ was answered with a vacation experience; others offered a line from a favorite poet or author, a Yuletide quotation, a favorite jewel, a new word to add to the vocabulary. One intriguing notation was found in the secretary’s minutes—“The Question Box was opened and only one question was asked, but the President informed the members it was on a subject it was best not to discuss”!
In 1905 the Secretary concluded the year with these words: “The Advance Club was no longer an experiment when in October 1904 it entered its 8th year. The fact that we could base a whole year’s work on one line of study is conclusive proof that we are advancing”. It was decided at this time that one elected critic was enough, and in 1911 the Club gave its approval that the President should appoint a committee of three to suggest program themes and assign topics for the next year. The Club would vote on 2 or 3 choices.
The Woman’s Club movement had increased so much in Dayton, that by 1907 there were enough clubs to create a Dayton Federation. Two Advance Club representatives were sent to an initial meeting, and we have been going ever since! Mrs. Kumler, its first President encouraged the beginning of a Scholarship Fund for girls wishing to further their education, and elicited contributions from each club member—a penny a week! By 1912, it was recorded “four girls are now being helped”! In 1916 Mrs. Crawford explained to Advance Club members the proposition for creating a Dayton Women’s Club House—at the Darst home on Ludlow Street.
On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Advance Club in 1913, the Secretary added this notation: “Advancement is as unlimited as time and space, therefore if we live up to our perennial name, ‘Advance,’ we will still be moving toward our best, most useful period, whether we are 15 or 50.” Another special note was made that year: the March 31, April 14 and 28th meetings were omitted. “More than a fourth of our members were victims on March 25 of the disastrous flood. We admire their courage to face misfortune, and hope they will come back to us with undisturbed interest in the Club’s welfare. Make us ready as an organization to contribute toward the up-building of our city.” By 1915 the member ship had increased to 60 (25 associate) and there was a waiting list. We participated in the sale of articles made by the blind at a special booth in Rikes. After the matron of the State Reformatory for Women at Marysville spoke to the Federation concerning the lack of books and reading material, Advance Club led the statewide campaign in the collection of books and magazines to start a library there, and gave a subscription to the “Saturday Evening Post” for many years. A personal donation from the club helped Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s mother to attend the opening of the Dunbar High School in Washington D.C.
As we moved into the World War I years, the club devoted one meeting a month to Red Cross sewing. It was seriously questioned at a meeting if literary work should be discontinued and only do sewing, but “the women decided they could do both”! Summer group sewing sessions were added, and Advance Club assumed management of the West Side Red Cross Unit at the West Side Branch Library. Over 4500 garments, 33,000 surgical dressings, and 605 knitted articles were produced by these dedicated women. A “Flowerpot Collection” was taken at the meetings to help needy families of soldiers. It was noted that the October 21,1918 meeting was cancelled because of “quarantine regulations by the City of Dayton”—the Spanish influenza was rampant!
It wasn’t all work and seriousness at those early meetings—there was a “request from the chair that hats be removed during the lecture hour”. A December 1919 program brought “ ‘Ye Tuneful Members of Advance’ appearing in quaint costumes of ye olden days to present songs and piano solos.” After a study of English drama in 1916, the Secretary reported, “Many have expressed themselves that the work was strenuous and that some of the necessary reading was somewhat disgusting. It was interesting to note the effect of the different papers on different faces, some expressed real interest, some an effort to be interested, and some not so interested. One example—when Mrs. Lane gave her review of “The School for Scandal”, every face was alert!” Another great quotation from the minutes was “We always miss something worthwhile when we are absent from our club’s meetings.”
An interesting notation appeared in 1921—Advance Club encouraged the formation of a West Side Street Market in the vicinity of West Third and Broadway, and we know it became a reality. It was a favorite place to go on a Saturday to obtain farmer’s produce of eggs, chicken, vegetables, meats, and flowers.
On May 22, 1922, the Silver Anniversary picnic of the Advance Club was held at the Old Barn Club. Each of the 41 active and 19 associate members gave a silver dollar as their gift to the club. Mrs. Nan Williams, our first President, was there to cut the festive cake. After 25 years “Advance Club was likened to a good ship, pursuing its course across stormy seas: the watchment your officers, stationed at their posts, ever alert, always on lookout for the least sign of danger in our path.”