Monday, September 8, 2008

Margaret Evans Huntington Club

In the year of the infamous Bank Raid (1876), Carleton's dean of women, Margaret Evans, gathered a group of female faculty and townswomen in her apartment in Gridley Hall (the old women's dormitory) for the the inaugural meeting of the Monday Club. The Monday Club was a women's literary (or "self-culture") club that began to meet regularly on Monday afternoons. An annual program of study was developed, and members took turns delivering papers to the group.

In the 1890s, for example, the Monday Club decided to spend four years reading Greek tragedy. Each month, the Northfield News included a report of the meeting. Here's an excerpt from the report from Saturday, February 20, 1897:
Mrs. Cooper's paper on Iphigenia as the typical Greek maiden was beautifully written and read. She represented Iphigenia as speaking, telling her own story as we learn it from the drama. Each paper was followed by informal discussion of the topics treated.
At the end of four years of studying Greek tragedy, one of the club members, Mrs. Emma Hitchcock, printed up a little booklet with excerpts from various tragedies and distributed them as Christmas gifts to the other members. A copy is still preserved in the Carleton College Archives.

Margaret Evans, the founder and president of the Monday Club, also became the first state president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. In an address to the state annual meeting of the GFWC in 1895, Evans discussed the importance of the "literary culture" element of the women's clubs:
"I do not regret passing youth, " said an earnest woman, "but I do mourn my mental stagnation. My life is almost utterly without intellectual stimulus." So realizes many a woman in her home, and this realization has started many literary clubs. To enable women to cast off this stagnation, to quicken mental powers by deeper study and thinking, than could otherwise be hers, is the prime object in many clubs.
The Monday Club was a literary club, but its members were also involved in their community, especially in what Evans called "outdoor housekeeping"—the beautification of school grounds and public places, as well as of their own lawns and gardens. Women's clubs were also involved in helping to establish public libraries and vacation schools, and frequently discussed education and current events during their meetings. Margaret Evans was herself the first female member of the Northfield school board.

There were several women's clubs in Northfield in the late nineteenth century. In addition to the Monday Club, there were the Literary Gleaners, the Alpha Beta Phi Society, and the Pioneer Club. One other club, the Town and Country Club, maintained a club room in town so that farm wives would have a place to rest when their husbands came to town on business. Of those clubs that sprang to life in the late 1800s, only the Monday Club remains—although in 1924 it changed its name to the Margaret Evans Huntington Club, after its founder (who at the age of 79 had married a fellow Carleton professor, George Huntington).

This afternoon, the Margaret Evans Huntington Club gathered for its first meeting of the new academic year. As always, the club membership is a mix of faculty wives, retired faculty members, and townswomen. I had the great privilege to be invited as a guest to give the first paper of the new year. The title of my talk was "Out-of-Body Experiences: A Man Reading Women's Fiction." The text of my talk can be read here.

Many, many thanks to the members of the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing who read and commented on a draft of this paper, and to the members of the Margaret Evans Huntington Club.

Note: For the centennial of the Northfield Public Library in 1998, I wrote a short play called The Monday Club that was performed at the Northfield Arts Guild. I believe a video of the play is still available at the public library.

1 comment:

Louise said...

Fascinating. Shame you couldn't have done a podcast of your talk!

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