By the Book – Part 1
There are posters about town announcing the annual book club tea. The origins of this tea date back to the late 19th century with the founding of the Booklover’s Club. Composed mostly of faculty wives and teachers—women who had either attended college or would send their daughters off to Peace, Salem, or Queens, it started a club trend for the town. Soon the social scene for white middle-class women was dominated by book clubs. The Black women who sent their daughters off to Barber Scotia and Johnson C. Smith did not have the same leisure time and were in some cases, the cooks and cleaners behind the book club hostesses.
For many years, the club secretaries took minutes – often with wit and humor. These minutes now give us a view of these women, the social conventions of their lives and their drive to keep informed and up to date.
The first recorded minutes of Booklovers date from October 1901.
“Book club met Oct. 25th at Mrs. Martin’s to elect new officers and also to choose books for the year. By ballot Mrs. Grey was made President- Mrs. Black Vice Pres. – Mrs. Dupuy Sec. First meeting under the new officers Nov. 13 at Mrs. Graham’s was for distribution of the books. There being a division of opinion as to the mode thereof. Mrs. Harrison chose The Ruling Passion by Van Dyke and the other twelve woman-like shirking responsibility, drew by lot.”
Other titles read that year include Blennerhasset, Napolean, Lowell and his Friends, Some Women I Have Known, and Truth Dexter. The women went beyond just sipping tea and drinking books. The minutes continue,
“On a motion from Mrs. Martin that two members be appointed at each meeting to report on current events. Mrs. Grey the Pres. chose Mrs. Harrison for Foreign and Miss. Holt for Domestic. though Mrs. Harrison thought her items would be unavoidably domestic. Emphasis was given to the fact that items must be reported not read.”
Early minutes of the Thelemite Club, dating from March 1922, documented the club’s name choice,
“The Club met with Mrs. Erwin March 3rd. The president called the meeting to order and the secretary called the roll. The constitution was read, article by article, discussed at length and after some amendments were made approved and adopted by the members.”
The name was the first subject open for discussion. The president suggested calling it the “Thelemites,” and read an interesting account of the origin of the name – an old French order having used this as their cognomen as early as the 15th century. With this motto “Do as you please.” The name and the motto met with hearty approval by the club and was unanimously accepted.
The minutes also note that “Greetings and congratulations from the “Book Lover’s Club” were presented through the president, received with appreciation, and Mrs. Erwin was requested to give the response in the name of the Club.”
After deciding that “there should be two hostesses for the evening meetings and one for the afternoon numbers,” they also added a current events flavor deciding that “at the afternoon meetings each member should answer to roll call with some items of current event.”
Jan Blodgett moved to Davidson in 1994. In 2017, she retired after 23 years as the Davidson College Archivist. Jan and former Davidson College history professor, Ralph Levering, are the co-authors of "One Town, Many Voices: A history of Davidson, North Carolina."