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HomeLife In the BerkshiresCONNECTIONS: Invitation from...

CONNECTIONS: Invitation from the 124-year-old Thursday Morning Club

The goals of the club are to promote education, civic involvement, preservation and the arts.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.

Next year, in 2017, the Thursday Morning Club will be 125 years old. It is one of the largest and oldest women’s clubs in continuous operation in Berkshire County.

At a recent board meeting, current President Kate Deviny said, “Our strength is being there for each other.”

On March 15, 1892, 19 women gathered in Great Barrington to found an organization. Their first purpose was to be there for each other “to promote sociability and fellowship among women”.

The Club’s broader purpose was to be there for everyone – students, veterans, seniors and children, the cultural community and the community at large. The original 19 were looking for women who would work to promote “general improvement.”

On March 24, 1892, in the Berkshire Courier, the 19 issued “a general invitation cordially extended to all women who would be willing to interest themselves in the objectives proposed.”

Sarah Sheldon Collins, the first president of the Thursday Morning Club.
Sarah Sheldon Collins, the first president of the Thursday Morning Club.

Forty women responded to the newspaper advertisement and the Thursday Morning Club was born. By the end of the first year, there were 120 members.

The first president was Sarah Sheldon Collins. She was a school teacher who valued education and democratic organizations that “were fine levelers of cliques and false standards.” She valued altruism and members willing to work for both individual improvement and the common good.

“No one has ever been refused admission to the club,” she wrote 15 years later. “The only conditions for membership [are] sympathy with its aims, willingness to work, and payment of a small fee.”

In 1892, the fee was $1 per year. The membership fee has remained the same; that is, $1 in 1892 is approximately $25 today: the current membership fee. The membership remained stable, as well.

The 1920s saw other changes: without changing the name, they changed the time they met to the afternoon. There was a spike in membership in the 1920s that caused the Club to limit membership to 240. While the Club began with women from Great Barrington, membership grew to include women from many Berkshire towns.

In 1925 the Club even had two male members. They were widowers who chose to continue to support the Club in their wives’ names. It was a nice gesture gently rebuffed. The executive committee passed a rule that read “any lady can become a member and that membership is nontransferable.”

The first honorary member was Julia Ward Howe. Howe was an inspirational, not a literal, member. Today Howe is probably best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In her day she was known also as an author, poet, abolitionist, suffragette, and strong advocate for the education for women.

Born in 1819, Howe was maturing during a time trumpeted as the scientific age. This new interest in knowledge opened doors for women. Howe’s interest in knowledge and self-improvement coincided with Collins’ and inspired the goals of the Club.

In 1893 the Thursday Morning Club joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The goals of the GFWC paralleled the Club’s: to promote education, civic involvement, preservation and the arts. In 1890, however, it was difficult for women to move out of the home and into civic affairs.

Historian Paige Meltzer writes that, to do so, the women used the traditional constructs of womanhood, mothers and housekeepers, to justify the move. They called themselves “municipal housekeepers” who would “clean up” the community and “see after” the health and wellbeing of their neighbors. Today, the total membership of the GFWC is 100,000 in 3,000 organizations around the country.

The Dr. Samuel Camp house on Main street in Great Barrington became the Thursday Morning Club's clubhouse.
The Dr. Samuel Camp house on Main street in Great Barrington became the Thursday Morning Club’s clubhouse.

For 124 years, the Thursday Morning Club has been a financially sound and generous local organization. The executive committee directed the organization with good sense and good financial principles. They had a few bumps in the road but at least one was called a “lucky failure.”

The year the Club gave financial backing to a local opera company, they expected to either make a bit or break even. Instead they lost $75 (about $1,800 today). To recuperate, they held a rummage sale, and cleared $300 ($7,500). Lesson learned: they did not back another opera company and did hold a rummage sale annually as a fundraiser.

By 1915 the Thursday Morning Club was able to form the Thursday Morning Club Trust. The Trust purchased the Dr. Samuel Camp house at 232 Main St., Great Barrington, as their clubhouse. The funds came from the Club’s treasury and from the sale of $10 shares.

The house was named Walker House in honor of William Hall Walker, who contributed $5,000 toward the purchase. It remained the center of activities for 34 years. In 1949 it was determined that the house was too expensive to keep up and it was sold. When it was sold, the Club returned their investments to all the original shareholders. Many, however, declined the money. Those funds, carefully invested, have provided support for many local organizations and individuals ever since.

Under Collins’ guidance they began classes for girls that local schools soon adopted. At the agricultural fair, they installed a mothers’ “rest tent” where babies could be nursed. They staffed the tents with doctors to examine the babies and nurses to distribute literature and advise about infant care. In 1914, the Club paid for the first municipal Christmas tree. They placed historic markers and funded town preservation efforts. In addition to supporting many local organizations and awarding scholarships, the Thursday Morning Club was involved in historic events. For example they hosted the 19th annual meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers when they celebrated William Stanley’s installation of the Great Barrington lighting system.

The last 124 years have proven the wisdom of the original 19 members and the endurance of their aims. In tribute to them, from time to time, the Thursday Morning Club again states its aims in a newspaper article and invites to join “all women who would be willing to interest themselves in the objectives proposed.”

Meetings are held at the First Congregational Church of Great Barrington. Membership can be discussed with Membership chairman Barbara Bailly at bailly@verizon.net.

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