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Dayton, Ohio - An Intimate History
Chapter Eighteen





The  Women’s  Clubs


The club movement is distinctly a product of the years between 1885 and the present day. In the Dayton of long ago we read of social gatherings to promote literary culture; there was a “Lyceum” at which leading citizens lectured. They had societies for the promotion of various interests, among them the Public Library, but they did not have clubs. Especially was there nothing that could be a “club movement.”  Not until the late ‘eighties did it begin to be talked of as a “movement,” and it was the women rather than the men who were most active.

“Sorosis” of New York, the first great club for women, blazed a trail across the intellectual heavens and soon not a small town in the Union but had its woman’s club. That these attempts to be “literary” were rather puerile cannot be denied, as the programs of their meetings abundantly testify, but what must never be overlooked is that they not only changed the social atmosphere of the day but made possible the wider, freer, most advanced organizations that have since become so potent in our economic and political life.

In this connection it is interesting to note the change in public opinion. In 1890 some husbands were not a little concerned over the question whether a woman’s “club” could rally be perfectly respectable, that is in the sense of comme il faut. Newspaper editors knew from the beginning that it was a fateful experiment. In the first place women, they were sure, could have nothing really vital to discuss or contribute. In the second place there was no use for it. Women were not really citizens, they had no share in the public issues that affect men. If the curtains of the future could have been lifted to disclose women in business and politics, to disclose even nation-wide organizations of women’s clubs composed entirely of business and professional women, neither they nor we would have believed that a bird of such a feather could ever be hatched.

In the early ‘seventies Dayton, except for the Saturday Club, was commercial to the core and not much else. In the ‘eighties the most we could say of ourselves was that we were undernourished intellectually and did not know it. Music had made a start but books and pictures did not come into our lives as bread and butter. The tone of society life was mid-Victorian, superficial, elementary. A few owned good pictures but there was no general wish to examine or buy them. Good private libraries there were, under Steele and Thresher roofs, and a few of us,  according to family training and habit, were readers. But to have talked much about it would have raised a certain kind of alarm as a claim of super-intellectuality. To have boldly discussed a book, other than the latest best-seller novel, would have set one down as a poseur. Women came together in those blank years in one of two or three ways – church sociables, card parties and infrequent and formal evening receptions. To any wider outlook they were blind; to the large world interests in which their husbands were familiar they were indifferent.

I have gone at some length into the story of this atmosphere of dull but pleasant superficiality to note the remarkable change that came over the city in the last two decades of the century. Those who assailed it at the time as a “fad” now know it as the lever that lifted Dayton women into a new life.

James A. Robert came, with his wife, from New England to Dayton in the early ‘seventies, he to act as principal of Cooper Seminary, then in its prime. With the advent of this cultivated couple a new current in thought might have been discerned. For  the Roberts talked about the things that had nothing to do with business or personal gossip. They led at dinner tables in conversation that centered upon books or art or music. It was a Baptist circle that first welcomed the Roberts and their first friends were the Threshers, the A. D. Wilts, Mrs. Harriet Stevens, at whose home the pleasant group boarded. Mr. Robert’s erudition was astounding and comprehensive. History, mathematics, music, art, he had at his tongue’s end and his practical faculty has been told in the story of the Robert Fill.

It goes without saying that Mr. Robert was an interesting teacher. The fame of his interpretations spread to the homes of his pupils where, to a proposal that he lead a weekly class for the mothers, the welcome was instantaneous. It was the only place in Dayton where adult women met with subjects outside of their own domestic duties and their church. Gradually it became the fashion to admit interest in serious things and when the class disbanded it was he who suggested that it be the nucleus for a larger group to call itself a “club.”

So  the club movement had its beginning in Dayton and to James Robert we own its inception and to Mary Steele its application. With the most vital interest in everything that pertained to Dayton, Mary Steele triumphed over the limitations of weak health and helped us plan our first yearbook and book lists.*  From her sick bed we took notes to the library where another book-lover and expert Electra Doren, supplied from her head and from the shelves all that Mary Steele suggested and more. Except for these it would have been a case of the blind leading the blind. But it was a procession fired with enthusiasm, for at last the women of Dayton, or some of them, found a better reason for existence than dressing, calling jelly-making, and gossip.

It was on March 30, 1889, that a group met at Cooper Hotel (then under the management of Mr. and Mrs. Horace Fox and a center of social life) to make plans for what was to be known as “The Woman’s Literary Club.” They were Miss Carrie Brown, Mrs. James A. Marlay, Mrs. E. R. Stillwell, Mrs. A. D. Wilt, Miss Electra Doren, Mrs.


*See “Dayton Saints and Prophets.”

James A. Robert, Mrs. Frank Conover. At a later meeting they were augmented by Mrs. J. B. Thresher, Miss Mary Reeve, Miss Anna Rogers, Miss Martha Perrine, Mrs. W. D. Bickham, Miss Florence Gebhart. The plan was to have four classes of study – art, history, general literature, and miscellaneous – with a chairman for each and the sections taking turns in the bi-monthly programs. Later these departments were given up and the club as a whole occupied itself with the study of the English authors and the classics. Looking back upon our ambitions one hardly knows when to smile and when to weep.

Our first yearbooks were marvels in more ways than one. It was so remarkable to see our own names in print, and as purveyors of knowledge that, in a way, it went to our heads. The club became a saturnalia of culture. There was nothing too deep or too abstruse for us to attempt in the name of Literature, with a capital letter. Our aims were novel and we did take ourselves most seriously. As an illustration of our all-comprehensiveness let us glance at a page in one of the early programs. That the subjects given out for discussion were in the form of questions shows that we were not quite firm on our literary feet and our greatest pride lay in what we were going to do.


“Why Should We Choose a High Literary Standard”? . . . Mrs. Robert

“What is Meant by Culture”? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Mrs. Wood

“Is it Desirable That Women Should Speak in Public”? . . Mrs. Forgy

“How May  the Greatest Advantages be Obtained from a Literary

                        Organization”? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mrs. Winters

“Of  What Benefit is the Study of Art”? . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Mrs. Gottschall

“Of What Benefit is the Study of History”? . . . . . . . . . . .  Mrs. Wilt

“What is the Best Course to Pursue in the Study of

                        Literature”? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Mrs. Conover

“Distinctive Features of Woman’s Work” . . . . . . . . . . . .   Mrs. Thresher

“An Account of Sorosis” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   Mrs. Lytle


When we learn that this monumental program was supposed to fill, and did, one single meeting of the club it will be admitted that our aims were far from simple.

Laying aside for the moment our sympathetic sarcasm, we must stress the fact of the good things the Woman’s Literary Club did for Dayton. It brought to us, who at the time had so few outside contacts, some of the  leading lights in the world of letters. The venerable Jennie June (Mrs. Croly), once the leading woman writer and now almost forgotten, was the first guest to be entertained and listened to. George Riddle of Cambridge read Goethe’s Faust” to a musical accompaniment by Howard Peirce and Idelette Andrews; Alice Freeman Palmer was given a reception at the Walter Smith home; Madam Korenz of Syria told us of “The Orient and Oriental Women”; Hannibal Williams read Shakespeare; Professors Moulton and Clark of Chicago University brought us university lectures; Dr. E. A. Steiner was a frequent and welcome guest; the F. P Beaver home gave its hospitality on the occasion of the visit of Dr. Alice Luce of Berlin; Amy Murray sang Scottish songs; Sophie Friedland talked on the “Development of Russian Women” long before they were developed; George W. Cable and James Lane Allen gave a double reading for the benefit of Berea College; Paul Laurence Dunbar, returning from triumphs in England, recited his own poems at the (then) Woman’s Christian Association in the Winters Homestead on West Third Street. Daytonians, too, contributed their store: Otto Beck on “Mural Decorations,” E. M. Thresher on “Egypt,” and B. B. Thresher on “The Arts and Crafts Movement.”

Self-culture was not the sole aim of the Literary Club; we mixed philanthropy and community service with it, agitating for summer band concerts, a juvenile court, public playgrounds, and vacation schools. We really carried through to completion the appointment of a police matron, an unheard of innovation for those years. In fact the Literary Club opened doors, which is not a bad thing to do in any time or place. Presidents who have served the Literary Club in the past are: Jane B. Marlay, Agnes J. Robert, Salome K. Rike, Charlotte Reeve Conover, Sara B. Thresher, Mary M. Parrott, Mary Reeve Dexter, Mary M. Kumler, Mable S. Withoft, Marie J. Kumler, Elizabeth F. Peirce, Erminie G. Crawford, Nellie McCampbell, Elsie Castor Chisman, Anna Whittaker Roussel, Laura T. McCann, Mable M. Pierce, Minnie R. Millette, Justina M. Showers, Bertha B. Landis, Elizabeth P. Fenton.

The Woman’s Literary Club was not the only club in Dayton but it was the first. It set a fashion and other clubs began to spring up like mushrooms in the night. The first to follow on the good road was an organization of teachers calling itself the Helen Hunt Club. Its natal day was February 24, 1891, and its primary object was the study of literature and the reading of papers. However there speedily developed another line of effort which carried it far afield and made of it a pioneer, and that was into the drama. The yearly program included the reading and that was into the drama. The yearly program included the reading aloud, with assigned parts, of some play, always a standard or classic production. The word “reading” was a modest expression meant to cover possible imperfections, also because, being busy teachers, they had no time to memorize parts. The players held the book of the play in their hands but if they consulted it, it was but seldom, and they moved through their roles seemingly quite unhampered by notes. The surprising thing was the amount of dramatic talent developed. Long before the days of the Theatre Guild of the Drama League they were fostering the spirit of the old-new art. No estimate would be fair that did not take into account their limitations and the triumphant way in which these were overcome. The Helen Hunt Club had no treasury to speak of; its members were occupied all day and often in the evening. There could be no stage setting and but the simplest costumes. But the true dramatic spirit governed them and the modern view that great drama depends not upon accessories but upon the majesty of the spoken lines. As many were teachers of English they brought to their task a deep and sincere appreciation of the great plays. Some of them read with the finished precision of the real stage. Miss Leota Clark, principal of Patterson school, was such an one. Tall, dignified and impressive in her personality, she easily became the leading spirit of the club.

Hear now the record of thirty years of ambitious and conscientious work: “The School for Scandal,” “The Rivals,” “She Stoops to Conquer,” “The Hunchback, “ “The Lady of Lyons,” “Les Femmes Savantes,” “As You Like It,” “Les Precieuses Ridicules,” “Arms and the Man,” “You Never Can Tell, “ “Paola and Francesca,” “A Maker of Dreams,” “Iphigenia in Taurus,” “The Great Adventure,” “El Indiano,” “A Comedy of Errors,” “Everyman,” “Twelfth Night,” “Caliban.” Besides  these there were presented dramatizations of noted novels, done by the members themselves.

Space has been given to these two leading clubs because they did indeed set a fashion which the world  of  Dayton women were not slow to follow. The earlier clubs kept faithfully to the exclusive idea of self-culture and their yearbooks followed closely the general plan of the Literary Club. Some of them were: The Friday Afternoon, Woman’s Century, Advance, Harriet Stevens, Progress, Alert, Book Club, Emerson, Home Economics, Louisa M. Alcott, Home Culture, Outlook, High Standard, Burroughs’ Nature Study, Woman’s Arkay,  Fortnightly. Within the next twenty years their number has increased until even the names could not be included in a history of this kind.

In the new century women began to organize for other objects besides self-improvement. Such an one was the Dayton College Woman’s Club organized in 1907 with a membership of three hundred with the object of bringing together university women for their own personal acquaintance and for the furthering of the aims under which they gained their diplomas. Graduates of nearly fifty colleges compose this body of members. Article three of the constitution declares that active members shall be “women holding degrees from colleges acceptable to the College Entrance Examination Board and to the North American Association of Colleges.” Anything that fosters an interest in higher education is the particular concern of the College Woman’s Club, in furtherance of which it has maintained for years an exhibit to be shown in the Public Library every season toward of the end of the school year, illustrating the claims of the various colleges of the land. High school graduates may then make a choice of the institution most nearly meeting their needs. The club frequently entertains high school students as guests when it explains the advantages of a college education and, if possible, simplifies the manner of achieving it In 1918 the club contributed to the support of French orphans. In 1916 it purchased books for the aid of the Young Women’s Christian Association Institute. And it continually seeks to interest people in peace, the World Court and the League of Nations.

In the past ten years the trend has been constantly away from the self-culture clubs and towards what are termed classified clubs and with a membership from the business and professional world. And this trend is not at all a local but a nation-wide symptom. So that when we treat of the women’s clubs in Dayton today we are touching the merely local share of what belongs to the whole United States. This movement is best exemplified in the Altrusa Club with a selective classified membership for women who serve in an administrative or executive capacity. A place on the roll is bestowed upon but one woman from each business or profession, which restriction insures the very finest personnel and guarantees a general representation of all interests. It makes possible insistence that members be active participants and keeps clubs small enough to permit of mutual acquaintance, understanding and close friendships.

The objectives of the Altrusa Club are to give executive women the opportunity to meet with each other and to broaden the individual outlook, to encourage high ethical standards of business and professional conduct and to encourage participation in community and public affairs. Every Altrusa Club is affiliated with and receives it charter from the National Association.

As to eligibility, the club only admits representatives who have been legally qualified and especially trained. Thus from the schools only superintendents, principals or supervisors, in institutions only superintendents, business managers, specialists, supervisors and organizers – in fact it is an association of experts.

The first Altrusa Club was organized in Nashville, Tennessee, April 11, 1917; the first Dayton branch August 17, with Miss Bessie D. Moore, a lawyer, as president. The following have served as presidents in the order given: Katherine Hardy, Edith Cummin, Sarah Altick, Edith Hall Matthews, Nellie Mittendorf, Mary Goode Royal, Flora Cotterill, Emma King, Helen M. Currier.

While the Altrusa Club confined its membership entirely to the heads of business firms, the Business and Professional Woman’s Club held out the welcoming hand to the rank and file of business women. It was organized in the spring of 1916 as an outgrowth of a small circle in the Young Women’s Christian Association. “To dignify the occupation of each member as affording her an opportunity to serve society – to uphold high ethical standards in business life” are some of the ideals of this organization of women. They meet twice a month, are affiliated both with the City Federation and the State Federation, and have a membership of a hundred and fifty.

One of the new clubs and notable in its way is the English Club organized in 1927 with a membership of 118 teachers. It came into existence, according to its own preamble, through the desire and need of teachers of English to extend their interest into the accomplishments of allied professions. During the very successful three years of its existence the English Club has listened to professional Dayton men and women and several nationally eminent writers, among them Zona Gale, Robert Frost, Professor Mossman of Columbia,  Dr. Philip Schneider of Wittenberg.

The Dayton Teachers’ Club was organized in 1902 with these avowed objects: To advance the interests of the schools, to raise the standards of the profession, to cultivate a spirit of sympathy and good will among the teachers, to create in the public a proper conception of the value and dignity of the teaching profession, and to form a representative body able to speak with authority for teachers.

The teachers directly and the children indirectly have benefited by the lectures on travel, music, science, art and present day topics; by round table discussions of regular school subjects and by courses in story-telling, photoplay writing and nature study which the club has offered.

There are seven hundred and fifty members including grade teachers, principals and supervisors. Of the practical achievements of the Teachers’ Club in the twenty-eight years of its existence the following is a partial list. It introduced a city pension, engaged in Red Cross relief work in 1913, managed the Smileage Book campaign, cooperated with the State Committee of Teachers’ Clubs in establishing a state-wide annuity system, paid the expenses of those who went to Columbus in behalf of legislation for the adoption of the retirement system, managed a survey of Dayton public school activities, circulated petitions in favor of the Teachers’ Tenure Law and of adoption by the Board of Education of the state-wide retirement system, contributed to the mill levy campaign to the State Retirement Committee in Columbus.

The time came when teachers meetings in club by themselves and mothers meeting in clubs by themselves seemed to lose sight of the fact of how much mothers and teachers had in common. Chief  among them of course the welfare of the children. A teacher, Miss Anna Littell, and a mother, Mrs. A. J. Barnett, came to the conclusion simultaneously that the two should unite and from this small beginning came forth in February, 1920, the Dayton and Montgomery County Parent Teacher Association. For some time mothers and teachers had been meeting in small local groups to further in an informal way the need of the school section to which they both belonged. The advantages of a union of all these groups became evident and fourteen of them composed the first association. Now there are fifty-eight. Together they make as practical and useful an organization as we have in Dayton. No one but a mother knows how many problems there are in bringing up a family. Who can help so well as the trained teacher? The teacher knows how much each child’s home life reacts upon his standing in school. If the teacher cannot understand a child perhaps his mother may help her; if anything is wrong with the home it is the teacher who can best assist. If the teachers need the support of public opinion it is the parents who can best give it.

Year by year the list of the clubs grows until now there seems to be no circle that it does not reach. Formerly confined to what are known as “leisured women,” it has extended its scope to include industrial workers, university women, the blind, Catholic, Protestant and Jew, quiet mothers taking care of their homes and families, and women on farms. All have just one thing in common – a sense of their own limitations and the effort to enlarge their opportunities. Some have joined to perfect themselves in their profession, or to improve their parenthood or their housekeeping, some to supplement their study of French or music by contact with others, some to make the gardens of Dayton the loveliest in the world; some for religious purposes in their churches, some entirely political as the Republican or Democratic clubs, some to play whist, some to make the world “air minded” – in short the clubs of Dayton have multiplied to such an extent that the mere naming of them is forbidden by the exigencies of space. A few of the oldest and a few of the latest are all that may be allowed.

We now come to the most potent of all the women’s clubs – potent because it works politically for the ends for which the other clubs have only used persuasion. This is the League of Women Voters, a nation-wide organization begun in 1920 as a logical descendant of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. To have achieved the vote was for the women only the first step towards economic freedom and service. To educate the voters was the next step and when fully informed about issues, to work through both political parties for their achievement.

The first meeting for the organization of the Dayton branch was held May 13, 1920, with representation from twenty-four clubs, and Mrs. N. M. Stanley elected president with the following officers and board of directors: Mrs. O. F. Davisson, Mrs. George Antrim, Mrs. LaVerne Warwick, Mrs. W. S. Gunckel, Miss Margaret Burns, Miss Ella Haas, Mrs. W. E. Harbottle, Mrs. Alfred McCray, Miss Nellie Mittendorf, Mrs. Gus Becker, Mrs. J. M. Phillipi, Mrs. H. E. Legler, Mrs. William Fenton, Mrs. C. W. Ditmer.

If, in the past, men had been skeptical as to the value and permanency of women’s organizations, they were doubly so now. In the first place the League of Women Voters were all partisan, wherefore of course it would fail. Whoever heard of men of both parties working together? Republicans  and  Democrats for the same ends. It was unthinkable and of course would fall to pieces. But the women were wise. They meant to do now what nobody had done before – work politically, each member through her own party representatives in the State and at Washington for the legislation which they desired.

We have no time for long stories here. The record of ten years is a sufficient argument for their permanence. They have begun with self-education in schools for citizenship, voters’ schools preelection meetings, neighborhood study groups, publication of candidates’ questionnaires, house to house calls, held demonstrations on voting machines, brought in experts and speakers from the outside – the whole program being a complete system of adult education. It has supported the city manager charter in Dayton since its adoption and fought vigorously attempts to abolish it or to allow its provisions to be misused. It stands always for measures and not for candidates. It stands for complete publicity in all public affairs. It maintains a clearing house for all subjects that the voter needs to be informed upon, an advantage of which the men as well as the women avail themselves. It has built up a membership from fifty to nearly a thousand. Every Tuesday during the season the members come together for a discussion luncheon during which such subjects as taxation, election, direct primaries, permanent registration, proportional representation, the World Court or the League of Nations are discussed, either among themselves or through outside experts. In short the League of Women Voters is a school for adults in the things most obligatory for the safety of our Republic.

As to actual concrete accomplishments, it was the combined leagues  in Ohio which really compassed the adoption of the Bing Law for compulsory school attendance and protection against child labor. They also led the movement for a new election code for Ohio including provisions for permanent registration, shorter ballot, and the use of voting machines.

It was in 1907 that the club women of Dayton learned their most important lesson – that good and interesting as their own clubs were, they could be twice as good and useful and interesting if joined together. The federal idea in our Nation made the federal idea in clubs a foregone conclusion. And so, fostered at first by that uncontested leading woman of Dayton, Mrs. Marie J. Kumler, the Dayton Federation of Clubs came into existence. It was a new idea and only eight clubs answered the call to organize. Now they number sixty – all interested, all active, all potent.

A wise basis of organization was by departments, as follows: American citizenship, law observance, family finance, education, community service, illiteracy, public instruction, fine arts, literature and the drama, music, public welfare, adult delinquency, child welfare, public health, industry. There are nine standing committees occupying themselves with the application of their research and study to the welfare of Dayton. After twenty-three years of conscientious work the list of the Federation accomplishments is its best test of the right to survive. Through  its bi-monthly meetings the women of Dayton have achieved a solidarity which has had results. One of them will be seen when the new Patterson Boulevard is opened. Trees lining the thoroughfare will memorialize the memory of the man who loved trees and taught Dayton to love them – John H. Patterson. The system of visiting nurses now under the control of the city began when the Federation paid the salary of the first district nurse and set a good fashion. Sixty girls longing for college experience have had it through the scholarship fund of the Federation. Shut-ins longing for reading material have had it supplied by the magazine section of the Federation. Cooperating with Miss Doren of the Public Library made possible the first traveling and school libraries and the famous “Book Wagon,” and each branch library resolved itself through the aid of the Federation into a social center. The civic workers committee fostered what was known as the P. U. P. committee to teach the children to pick up papers and help keep the streets clean. From this issued a strong call for regular garbage disposal which has been taken up and put into practice by our city government. The early Saturday closing habit of the stores, to enable the clerks to have a longer weekly holiday was achieved by agitation begun in the Federation. The same of the  “shop early” campaign just before Christmas. The two stereopticons presented to each branch library was one of the steps in visual education. The really habitual patronage of a good part of the public to buy of the blind originated in the Federation, so did the Saturday morning matinees for children in the school buildings and especially at the National Cash Register factory.

The foregoing are not half of the concrete accomplishments of the Federation, but its abstract gains must not be overlooked. It, has possibly without knowing it, created a basis of public opinion to support the advance of musical concerts, literary lectures, the study of art, the spread of books and magazines, street cleaning, good government and city beautification. Such things don’t come of themselves and they never do come unless there is an educated public ready to adopt them. What the individual clubs were particularly interested in was made possible by the wider scope of the Federation. And thus it has grown and will grow with a greater sense of public demand as the years go on.

The women to whom most credit is due for the inspiration and holding together of this group of five thousand club workers are of course those who have served as presidents in the past twenty-three years. Here are the names: Mrs. Charles H. Kumler, Mrs. E. B. Lyon, Mrs. Scott Pierce, Mrs. Harry S. Snyder, Mrs. F. Gillum Cromer, Mrs. George D. Antrim, Mrs. S. Rufus Jones, Mrs. Wilson G. Clagett, Miss Irma C. Geekins, Mrs. Hamilton Shaffer and Mrs. Claud North Chrisman.

For all these brave accomplishments of the Dayton Federation of Clubs, it remained an entity without a permanent meeting place. An inherent characteristic in woman is the desire for a home and what is true of one woman is true of a group. Other cities had club houses and the idea of Dayton following the new fashion was definitely agitated by Mrs. Kumler and Mr. J. H. Patterson. The flood of 1913 threw on the real estate market a number of old up-town mansions of generous size and convenient situation, among them the residence of the late Abram Darst at 225 North Ludlow Street. A stock company was formed with shares within the purchasing power of the average woman and in November 1916, the Darst home became the property of the club women of Dayton. Mr. Patterson contributed six thousand dollars toward the renovation and furnishing – Mrs. Marie J. Kumler was chosen the first chairman of the club house committee under whose able and enthusiastic leadership the Club House became what it now is, the home for all the clubs, the meeting place for the women of Dayton. The club has surpassed its anticipated usefulness so far that twice it has been substantially enlarged and the property adjoining purchased to care for future needs. What had seemed such a thin vision and filled the members who first authorized it with apprehension has become the outstanding interest and necessity to club life in Dayton. The admirably conducted tea room, the attractive auditorium for lectures and concerts, the free use of committee rooms are benefits of which the clubs have not been slow to avail themselves. It is the heart, the center and the inspiration of club women in our community.


Marie Jaque Kumler, Beloved Teacher;

Leader in literary and club life; lover of girls; inspirer to self-improvement

Co-founder of the Young Women’s League, the Dayton Federation

Of  Women’s Clubs, the Friday Afternoon Club, the Dayton Woman’s Club,

Originator of the Civic Lecture Course, of the Scholarship Fund for Girls;

Helped to organize the First Unitarian Church;

Vice-president  of the Ohio State Federation of Clubs.

They Never Fail Who Light Their Lamp of Faith

At the Unwavering Flame Burnt for the Alter

Service of the Race.

(From the memorial tablet at the Dayton Woman’s Club.)



The  Men’s  Clubs


It was about 1870, long before the club movement as a movement developed, a group of seventeen cultured gentlemen, lawyers, teachers, doctors, and business men, originated the Saturday Club, which for over thirty years functioned in a quiet way as center in Dayton for the promotion of serious thought and liberal opinions. The nucleus was a law firm of three young men, S. B. and T. McLain Smith and A. A. Thomas, whose office in the old Clegg Building on Jefferson Street was a gathering place for other congenial spirits like the first lovers of books and interested in the questions of the day. They were A. D. Wilt, Eugene Parrott, S. W. Davies, Dr. W. J. Conklin, B. C. Noyes, E. Morgan Wood J. H.  Thomas, Dr. J. C. Reeve, John H. Patterson, Judge Elihu Thompson, R. I. Cummin, Dr. Henry S. Jewett, and Captain Chas. B. Stivers. A permanent organization was effected on January 8, 1870, the name Saturday Club chosen, and the personnel added to by the inclusion of William Werthner, Sigmund Metzler, Judge Chas. W. Dustin, Judge Clement R. Gilmore, and Judge D. B. Van Pelt. Proceedings were conducted with utmost simplicity, meetings being held at the home of a member, where another member read a paper and discussion followed. No rules governed the choice of subject. It might be anything which happened to occupy the interest of the essayist of the evening. Sometimes it was a formal paper on some topic to which the writer had given more or less research; sometimes an address on some mooted public question at the time agitating the public mind. It might be a narrative of personal experience, a story of travel or adventure. The great thing was the discussion during which the speaker must be prepared for the give and take of questions or differences of opinion. All were readers – alert, intelligent and modern minded. Several had fought in the Civil War, which made endless discussions and narratives; several were teachers and knew the latest developments of chemistry and physics; one was a maker of violins, one a tree lover, one a hunter and dog lover; one was general counsel to the Bell Telephone Company then just coming into existence; one had an absorbing interest in philosophy and the evolution of religions; one was an alienist, and his presentation of his hobby was illuminative and informing; one was a member of the Board of Education, which assured his subject a certain hearing; one was an antiquarian and an archeologist, who made his dry-as-dust subject alight with life and interest to his hearers.

Take it all in all, the Saturday Club gave more pleasure to its members and less responsibility to its hosts than any of those that came after it. Saturday night,  once a month, simple refreshments and no display. Each member entertained the club several times during each season. No elaborate functions were undertaken or open meetings offered, no resolutions passed. For those who are left of its membership, very few now, it remains a pleasant memory of well-spent evenings in the best of company.

During those thirty fruitful years many were the subjects under consideration. Here are some of them: Dr. Reeve: The Cross and Crucifixion,” “The Discovery of Surgical Anaesthesia,” “The Conquest of Yellow Fever,” “The Birth of a King,” “Phallic Worship.” A. A. Thomas: “The Bell Telephone,” “Thoreau,” “Dogs.” “Judge Elihu Thompson: “Edgar A. Poe,” “Marriage and Divorce,” “Napoleon,” “Andrew Jackson’s Political Career,” “Agnosticism,” “Archetypes of Christianity. “ Capt. E. Morgan Wood: “Old Siena” Dr. H. S. Jewett: “The Mosquito in Relation to Yellow Fever.” Eugene Parrott: “Daniel Boone and the Wilderness Road,” “Montaigne.” William Werthner:  “A Week in a Parlor Car.” Judge Van Pelt: “A Greater Than Napoleon,” “Ancestor Worship.” Rabbi  Lefkowitz” “The Heir of the Prophets,” “The Problem of Evil.” Sigmund Metzler: “Fishing.” A. D. Wilt: “Banking and Currency,”  “Our  Canals,”  “The German Empire of 1800.”

Somewhere in the middle ‘nineties the Present Day Club came into existence, a reflex of the wave of interest in discussion clubs of which the Sunset Club of New York was the leader and of which there are so many examples today. Then it was a new idea. It blazed into existence if not as a rival then an effort to give the same impetus to the husbands that the Literary Club did for their wives. But it did it better, for whereas the latter avoided by common consent any really vital subject (fearing unladylike differences of opinion) the Present Day Club started boldly out to discuss subjects upon which most people differed hotly. In the Literary Club we turned our backs upon politics, woman suffrage, and religion – anything that might by any means give us a new idea. We felt it was safer to occupy ourselves exclusively with the Italian Renaissance or the Victorian poets, in which case no feelings would be hurt. But the Present Day Club was daring enough to invite discussion of inflammable topics and were determined to keep to the plan if heads were broken in the attempt.

Looking over a box of old programs from 1905 to 1920 one is struck by the simplicity and audacity of the enterprise. There were three hundred and twenty-four members in the club and three hundred and twenty-four dollars in the treasury, which explains the financial basis. Dinners cost seventy-five cents, each paying his own, and the menu sometimes included blue points and caviar. Meetings were held wherever a dinner could be prepared and served – at the Phillips House, or the Beckel, the Dayton View Gymnasium, the Algonquin, or the Atlas, at the Soldiers’ Home Hotel or the Miami Commercial College. The card announcement sent out to win a membership announced as







                                                      [Parliamentary Rules

                                           NO  < [Red Tape

                                                      [Long Speeches

                                                      [Fish Stories

                                                      [Party Politics

                                                      [Late Hours



                        Nothing but Rational Recreation and Free Discussion.

It showed how far the men had progressed into reasonable habits. They might have added, “No Waste Time.” We, the women, like nothing better than parliamentarianism, red tape and the previous question.

From the first the Present Day Club was popular. It must have been a hair-raising adventure to sit as chairman, for the two questions that came oftenest into the lime-light were religion and politics. Here are a few of them:


“Why I Will Vote for McKinley,” Why I Will Vote for Bryan,” “Christian Science,” “Socialism,” “Should Ministers and Lawyers be Abolished”? “Shall State and National Politics be Eliminated From Municipal Affairs”? “Is Dayton Healthy Politically”? “Can Men be Made Moral by Law”? “The Ethics of Advertising,” “Competition and Monopolization in Modern Business,” “Why Don’t Men go to Church”? “The Truth About the Jews and Judaism.”


On all these occasions it was arranged to find two essayists, each an expert, who took opposite sides, following which the evening was thrown open to five-minute discussions. It was understood that the participants should obey the unwritten law of good breeding and not descend to personalities. We have it on good authority that this obligation was generally observed, but that at times the atmosphere did become a trifle heated. Consider the power of such an innovation. We had, it is true, passed beyond the bitter and antagonistic period of the Civil War, when men who differed from the accepted standards were likely to have their heads broken or their homes burned, but Dayton still lingered in the opinionated years when the quiet discussion of mooted questions was impossible. Men, if they differed, were apt to talk so loud they never found out there was any other side to the question. It was a revelation to be obliged to sit still and hear an opposing presentation deliberately and courteously expressed.

Those primarily responsible for this original enterprise were: A. D. Wilt, E. L. Shuey, D. A. Sinclair, Rev. W. D. Hickey, Frank Conover, J. A. McMahon, E. M. Wood, J. McLain Smith, William Werthner, J. K. Lewis, J. B. Thresher, Rev. E. M. Wilson, Dr. J. C. Reeve, O. B. Brown, L. B. Gunckel, Geo. R. Young, John H. Patterson, James A. Robert, S. W. Davies, Dr. W. J. Conklin, E. A. Parrott, Chas. Wuichet, and Rabbi M. Wertheimer.

It was not long before a gratifying exchange of hospitalities took place between the Present Day Club and the Woman’s Literary Club. We of the W. L. C. had “Gentlemen’s Night,” and the P. D. C. had “Ladies’ Night.” On the first occasion (held at Cooper Hotel) those of us who had to read a paper were almost overcome by having to entertain such formidable guests. Congressman Houk, in account of his beautiful flow of English delivered on behalf of the guests, the speech of acknowledgement. In attempting to express his gratitude and admiration of our achievements he made use of the expression “gilding the lily,” which some of us thought very appropriate and original.

It was on October 22, 1901, that we, of the Literary Club were permitted to enjoy a program of our famed contemporary, announced on the invitation as “Grumblers’ Night,” It seems that the Present Day Club had functioned for six years very comfortably with the same committee of arrangements. No provision for an election existed and no election was held. No one else cared to take the trouble to provide a program. Or perhaps the committee went on appointing themselves season after season in star-chamber sessions. But the situation was important since it gave opportunity for the kind of criticism that grumblers most enjoy. So much was being said about it that the committee offered as a safety-valve this opportunity for a general airing of grievances. On the designated evening the members attended en masse with their wives, expecting an evening of solid enjoyment. And they were not disappointed. No official record of the proceedings exists, and no remembrance except the impressions in a mind fast growing dim. Enough, however, remains to reveal that it was an evening of hilarity seldom equaled and never to be repeated. For everyone had a chance to take a shot at the self-perpetuating committee and the committee a chance to come back. Moreover, it gave the best of opportunities for which the club was always looking for, a bout between Frank Conover and Charles Wuichet.

Thus for six years was Dayton amused, educated, stirred up, refreshed and inspired by the Present Day Club. It lapsed for a time, but was revived and presided over for several more years by George B. Smith. Gone now, into the shades of past glory, it remains the fore-runner of the many discussion clubs that seek to do the same kind of work in another way. Its potency can only be understood by a study of cause and effect, which will lead to the conviction that many of the reforms and developments upon which Dayton now prides herself originated in the Present Day Club, where the soil for new ideas was first ploughed up. It discussed flood prevention when our leaky levees alone kept us from disaster; it opened the subject of a non-political city government when such a thing had never been heard of before; it attacked politics in the School Board when no other way of running the schools was imagined. It argued on the advantages of kindergartens and manual training in the schools before either had attained the dignity of anything above a “Fad.”  They harangued on bridges when no one ever thought we could get out of town except through the old covered sheds with rattling board floors. Civil service was aired when “To the victors belong the spoils” was the only rule of holding public office. And season after season, their speakers held out hopes of a non-political, honest, budgeted, business-like city government, while Dayton had been for generations under the spell of public graft, ignorance and waste.

Many of the measures then advocated by enthusiastic but so-called visionary essayists and orators have now become the ordinary conditions of our city life. If Dayton stands – as some claim – in the forefront of progressive communities, open-minded to advanced ideas, hospitable to new experiments, may it not be because the Present Day Club, in the end-of-the-century years, sowed the seeds in fertile minds and pioneered the way to achievement?

There was, along in the ‘nineties, during this rise of the club movement, a club that possessed an amount of “allure” in the public mind that no other organization did. Its membership was coveted and correspondingly  hard to achieve. Its members were choice souls with a fund of wit that made them renowned among us. They belonged in Dayton’s “upper crust” and were in the heyday of the just-out-of-college years. Moreover a  secrecy about the inner doings of the club added to its prestige. In short what I am writing about is the Buzfuz Club.

In an old ledger devoted to the proceedings of the organization we find that the “Objects of this club shall be the pursuit of Belles Lettres and the sciences, and not only to improve our conversational powers, but to elevate our ideals.” With these praiseworthy aims in view seven young men met in the back room of the J. A. McMahon law offices in the (then) Fireman’s Building on the southwest corner of Main and Second, and proceeded to carry out the program. Dickens, much read at that time furnished the title, and the club names itself after Sergeant Buzfuz of that delectable volume, “Pickwick Papers.” The charter members were Sprigg McMahon, Harry Loy, Geo. H. Wood, Charles Wood, T. A. Legler, Chas. G. Bickham, and Eldredge Mead. Later were added Charles Craighead, E. H. Bunstine, Jos. H. Crane, Thos. P. Gaddis, D. D. Bickham, Harry Stoddard, O. B. Brown, and George Goodhue. Still later its membership was enlarged to thirty-three, and at the present time, after forty years of growth, it remains static at nearly one hundred.

From the inception of the Buzfuz Club one is struck with the phraseology of the organization totally different from any other, then or since known. No “president” wielded the gavel, but the member acting in that capacity at the time was known as the “Sergeant at Law”; no such ordinary official as treasurer was to exist, he must be known as the “Chancellor of the Exchequer,” the secretary was the “Keeper of the Roll,” the custodian of books and properties was the “Keeper of the Green Bag,’ the board of directors were “Benchers,” and the program committee, “Counsellors.” Why this severe legal phraseology, culled as it was from the English Inns of Court, is not clear, especially since only one of these collegians was a lawyer and not even then admitted to the bar.

The first “chronicle” in the old book informs that the subject of study was to be “Literature in England from the Dawn to Chaucer.” Just where the “Dawn” commenced is not stated, but a number of papers dealt with on “Chaucer and his works.” “Influence of Chaucer on his Times, “  “Chaucer’s Contemporaries.” The prologues to “Canterbury Tales” were read aloud, each taking turns. The characters, the Monk, the Friar, the Miller, and the Sailor were discussed at length as well as the question of the moral character of the poet, about which there seemed to be a difference of opinion. Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” was the next classic taken up for the improvement of their minds, but the old English was not wholly successful.

Delving into this ancient record we are astonished to find that, possibly because the minutes of the meetings was called the “Court Roll,” a singular manifestation of officialism developed. The secretary  (pardon! “Keeper of the Roll”) seemed to consider it his function not only to report, but to criticize, and the office being held in rotation, this gave excellent opportunity for the kind of “kidding” for which the Buzfuz organization has always been famed. For instance, “Blank read a paper on the life of Chaucer well written but miserably read,” and “B’s mastery of feet and pronunciation of old English was very good, but his style and tone of voice very stilted and artificial.” Also the behavior of the members was wearing on the nerves. “During the evening some joke by a member was greeted by an outburst of laughter instead of the reproof it deserved. If we do not check this tendency we shall soon become a club of mere jesters rather than working for literary improvement.” Again, the chronicler regretted the tendency to interrupt an essayist while he was reading, telling him how he should pronounce words. It would be much better to wait until the reader was through and not check the train of thought. Tardiness, too, was increasing and when added to the habit of leaving early to keep an appointment, rather slowed up the tempo of self-improvement. “Some of the members,” it is recorded, “show a disposition to cut the evening short.” One member declared the Sergeant had “hurried the reading along and broke up the meeting in an unpleasant manner unprecedented in the club’s history.” The Sergeant said he hadn’t’ the accusing member disliked being contradicted, and the club took sides. “The matter,” says the record, “was hotly discussed for two hours,” during which time we may presume Milton and Spenser got rather pushed into the background.

Reading between the lines in this very frank record of club activities it is clear that the Buzfuzzians were getting fed up on the Spenserian poets as well as the entire history of all the European nations, which was at one time attempted as a diversion. “Chronicle Fourteen (some time in the winter of 1892) states frankly, “some bright mind with a greater capacity for beer than for Chaucer proposed that at this time the club relax their rigid and iron-clad rules about order, since it gave no chance to any of the members for a proper ‘come-back,’ and for one night at least give vent to their pent-up feelings after six Saturdays devoted to well-doing,” whereupon the club passed a unanimous and favorable resolution to adjourn to some unidentified but evidently familiar place known as “Joe’s.” What they did there the Court Roll does not tell, but the success was such that the attendance kept up until morning. It was thus decided to prop up the declining interest in literature with a grand dinner, intended to be (and still after forty years is) an annual event. Here it was that the native talent of the Buzfuzzians emerged into its fullest glory. No toastmaster like Joe Crane, no retailer of good stories like Tom Gaddis, no verse-maker like Harry Mead, no voices for chorus like these gay hilarious boys. This first dinner was held at the Legler home, “in the absence,” explains the record, “of Mr. Legler’s parents in California.” The menu was in French, the table decorations were “superb,” there were a number of songs in which everybody joined, and “the conversation did not once lag.” “Five-fifteen A. M. came before the dinner broke up and most of the diners saw the sun rise before they began their rest.”

After this the Keeper of the Roll deals no longer with Spenserian poetry, scientific discussion, nor all-inclusive European politics, but only with the annual dinners as they came along, once every winter in the waning years of the vanishing century. And dinners being so welcome a diversion an annual picnic was added to the program of the club attractions. In 1892 the members assembled on the crest of the Pinnacles, five miles below town, and there got off their jokes and took in their eatables. “The location,” says the recorder, “was charming. At our feet stretched the beautiful Miami Valley, with a bountiful harvest and through it wound the Miami River We all felt we were looking at one of the garden spots of the world.” Around a huge bonfire the remaining hours of the night were passed with song and story.

The Buzfuz Club has had several homes during its long career. When the McMahon office ceased to satisfy their standards the Fowler house on Main Street near the corner of First, was rented and occupied. When that building was torn down they moved across the corner above “Prass’ drug store in the old building where Edwin Forrest made his theatrical debut in King Lear in the ‘sixties. The next move was into another Fowler house on First Street next to Christ Church, where they remained for over twenty years. Although the club has long ago abandoned any pretensions of self-improvement according to the conventional standards, and remains merely a social center, it still carries with it an aura of sanctity and exclusiveness. And although Shakespeare and Milton might find themselves quite de trop at the annual dinner or New Year’s Eve celebration, there are lesser lights who would value an entrée into those privileged occasions where the wit flows as nowhere else and where the stories and the songs keep up the Rabelaisian flavor of their adolescence.

One would think, after this catalogue of organizations, that it would be hard to originate a new one or a different kind of one. But Mr. William G. Frizell did it when, together with Miss Charlotte Zwick, they thought up the Nomad Club. As the name denotes it belongs by interest and intention to travel. The sine qua non of membership is to have been out of the United States. It was organized in October, 1927, and was intended to bring together Dayton people who had traveled, to extend ideas upon different countries, to invite and listen to travelers of note, to induce and encourage travel and the cultivation of international friendships. Here we have a distinct departure from the conventional club idea – from the self-consciousness of the early literary club, the high-brow discussions of the Saturday Club, and the hilarious personalities of the Buzfuz Club. One need indulge in no dark apprehensions of  having to hear a paper when he goes to the Nomad Club. There will be a good dinner to begin with, then perhaps, if it is “membership night,” some racy informal accounts of travel experiences on the part of the members who since that last season have been disporting themselves in foreign lands. Or, it may be a distinguished visitor from another nation, who will entertain the four hundred guests with a first hand account of his own homeland. Such talks have been given by Dr. Fridjof  Nansen, Roy Chapman Andrews, Private Wells, Thornton Wilder, the Grand Duke Alexander of Russia, and other distinguished strangers. Two members, Mrs. Frank J. McCormick and Mrs. Charlotte Reeve Conover, have given personal experiences, the first on Russia, the second on Mexico. Once a year the Nomad Club holds a fancy-dress ball, in which the costumes from all over the world emphasize the international interests of its members. One spring the club made a pilgrimage by bus to Cincinnati and by boat up the Ohio River, where with music and dancing they had a very happy time.

In summing up the achievements of the club idea in Dayton two things must be emphasized. The first is the comparatively new fashion of luncheon clubs. People in the past accepted the advantages of club organization but found difficulty in giving up whole evenings to the meetings. A clever suggestion (whoever originated it) was that the noon-hour be designated as a meeting time. Men must eat, so must women; therefore, why not combine the two occupations and meet and eat at the same time? The fashion came from outside and, in the first place, through the Rotary and the Kiwanis Clubs, which brings to the second consideration, which is that all this club life has come to be no longer merely local, but nation-wide in its scope. Every city has its Rotary, its Civitan, its Altrusa, its American Legion, its Lions Club; every city has its business and professional woman’s club, its woman’s press club. The men meet and eat and talk. There are twenty-two such organizations listed with the Dayton Chamber of Commerce. The women meet and eat and talk and there are an almost equal number of them. In short the discussion luncheon or the discussion dinner is a distinct factor in our municipal life and development. Thirty years ago no such thing was possible because the only halls large enough were the hotel dining rooms which during meal hours were occupied. Also, available waiters were lacking. Now the caterers, little as they suspected it, are contributing to the higher needs of Dayton by being able to serve a meal well and promptly and give place to the program to follow.


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