Positively, No Ladies Allowed … a look at Gentlemen’s Clubs



As of this moment, I’m writing a continuity for Silhouette Desire, called the Texas Cattleman’s Club, subtitled Red Hot Millionaires of Maverick County.  The bible or given guidelines for this series gives good description of the amenities of this fictious cattleman’s club.  TCC is a 26 room converted mansion that includes a golf course, riding stables, spa, and an air-conditioned pool house. Inside, you’d find meeting rooms, a game room, library, formal dining room and café.  The cattleman’s club is exclusive to the wealthy millionaires in the Houston area. 

So I got to thinking about the history of these gentlemans’ clubs.  How did they get started? And why?  

Funny thing, while googling the research for this blog under Gentleman’s Clubs, strip tease establishments came up in abundance. No, it’s not that kind of blog!   Certainly, the meaning of gentlemen’s clubs have changed throughout the years.



The original gentlemen’s clubs were established in the West End of London. Even today, the area of St. James’s is still sometimes referred to as ‘clubland’. And if one wasn’t fit to join a club due to lack of status, wealth or integrity, they were known as “unclubbable.”  The gentlemen’s club was a place where a man could go to have a drink, smoke a cigar or get away from his family and/or the ladies. Established in the late 1780’s orginally, it was also a place to gamble, since gambling outside of a member’s only establishment was still illegal.  The first clubs, such as White’s and Boodle’s, were highly aristocratic in flavour.

Public entertainments such as musical performances and the like, were not a feature of this sort of club. The clubs were, in effect, “second homes” in the centre of London where men could relax, mix with their friends, play parlour games, get a meal, and in some clubs could stay overnight. They allowed upper- and upper-middle-class men with modest incomes to spend their time in grand surroundings; the richer clubs were built by the same architects as the finest country houses of the time, and had the same types of interiors. They also were a convenient retreat for men who wished to get away from their female relations. Many men spent much of their lives in their club, and it was a common feature for young newly-graduated men who moved to London for the first time to live at their club for two or three years before they could afford to rent a house or flat.

At the height of gentlemen’s clubs, London had over 400 establishments, due in part by the expansive Reform acts that qualified hundreds of thousands more men to vote and it was common for them to feel that they had been elevated to the status of a gentleman – thus they sought out a club. The existing clubs, with strict limits on membership numbers and long waiting lists, were generally weary of such newly-enfranchised potential members, and so these people set about forming their own clubs.

An increasing number of clubs were characterised by their members’ interest in politics, literature, sport, art, automobiles or travel, particular countries, or some other pursuit. In other cases, the connection between the members was membership of the same branch of the armed forces, or a background at the same school or university. Thus the growth of clubs provides a strong indicator as to what was considered a respectable part of the ‘Establishment’ at the time.


Gentlemen’s Clubs in America

The Cheyenne Club built in Cheyenne, Wyoming in the late 1880’s was one of the most elite and pretigious of the era.   High ranking city officials, the city’s elite class, wealthy businessmen, state and federal legislators and prominent cattlemen engaged in social activities, but the Cheyenne Club was also well-known for their business wheelings and dealings. 



The building itself was an impressive two-story brick building boasting central heating, an elevator and an elaborate cupola.  The Club provided its member a safe haven, a social refuge from the drudgery of daily life. The Cheyenne Club provided six private sleeping rooms, which were decorated with Oriental carpets and walnut beds, as well as marble-topped commodes. If getting a good night’s sleep, or any other use of the sleeping room, was not desired there was a smoking room that was well supplied with the best Havana cheroots. There was also a library stocked with newspapers from New York and Boston. Also for reading pleasure, or to keep up with the livestock industry, which Cheyenne, Wyoming was a prime factor in, there was The Drovers Journal.

The Club’s oak-paneled dining room was a prime attraction for nationally known persons such as Andrew Carnegie whenever he visited Cheyenne. The Club’s chef had been trained in Europe and the wine vault was filled with the finest vintages.

Gentlemen’s Clubs Today

Most major cities in the United States have at least one traditional gentlemen’s club. Gentlemen’s clubs are more prevalent, however, in older cities such as New Orleans and around the East Coast in New York City (which has the largest number of prominent clubs), Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C.. Some American clubs have reciprocal relationships with the older clubs in London, with each other, and with other clubs around the world. The oldest existing American clubs date to the 19th century; the Somerset Club in Boston, founded in 1826, is arguably the oldest. The Yale Club of New York City, comprising a clubhouse of 22 stories and a worldwide membership of over 11,000, is the largest gentlemen’s club in the world.


So ladies, what say you?  Would you love to join a club with no men allowed?  Would you find the solace and peace of mind you need to read, sit amongst other women and chat or play parlor games?  Do you belong to a women’s club?  Does that appeal to you? 



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19 thoughts on “Positively, No Ladies Allowed … a look at Gentlemen’s Clubs”

  1. You mean the Cheyenne Social Club wasn’t like the one in the Jimmy Stewart/Henry Fonda movie???
    I always love the movie and book scenes where the heroine storms into the men’s club for whatever reason and has the guys dropping their monocles.
    For the record, I’m not crazy about any group that excludes people. My close friends include both genders.
    Thanks for a great blog, Charlene!

  2. I don’t belong to any clubs but would Love one with just women and coffee and tea! Love the pictures!

  3. Hi Elizabeth – I Know! I couldn’t believe it either. The Cheyenne Social Club wasn’t a house of ill reput, as they say. I think they took great license when filming that movie!

  4. Wow, Charlene interesting info. Don’t know if you’ve ever seen TOP HAT with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — the start of the movie takes place in a Gentleman’s club.

    The only “clubs” I belong to are RWA and like Penny, the Girl Scouts and Brownies. : )

  5. Fascinating stuff, Charlene! I had no idea the clubs were so important in England. I wouldn’t want to belong to a women’s club now, but I would’ve loved to belong to one back then. If men could do it, then I certainly think women should’ve had a chance. Especially out on the lonely frontier when they could’ve used all the support and friends they could find.

    RWA is about as close as I come to belonging to a club! It’s fun to go to the conferences in a beautiful hotel and have nice meals and rooms and talk non-stop about stuff that interests us!

  6. It seems that women’s clubs and men’s club have nothing in common. Men seem to have them to drink, smoke and get alway from women while women usually do charity work. I did belong to a women’s group for maybe 10 years and while there were some activities it mostly was charity work or activities to do with your kids.

  7. Hi Kate,

    You know, I guess I never knew that Gentlemen’s Clubs initiated in England. I always thought them like smoking parlors to have a drink, but I had no idea politics and important deals were made there. Of course, in my book, the TCC is strictly for entertainment, with stables and golf courses and dining rooms. Women are allowed, but as guests.

  8. Hi Jeanne,
    You bring up a very good point. Most ladies groups have to do with charity. I never thought of it that way before. It’s certainly a different kettle of fish than the men’s clubs. 🙂

  9. Charlene, what an interesting topic. My mind is conjuring up all kinds of scenerios. I vaguely remember reading English-based romances a long time ago that featured gentlemen’s clubs. But I haven’t read anything recently. I’d say you hit on a brilliant idea! Can’t wait for your story.

    No, I’m not a member of any clubs that are restrictive to gender. I’m not really a joiner anyway. Never have been. I think a group of men get along much better than women. Don’t know why that is.

  10. Great post, Charlene. And I have read of White’s and Boodle’s in historical romances.

    I belonged to a women’s only gym and loved it, but I guit when they allowed it to go co-ed for “financial reasons.” I couldn’t bear the strutting in front of the mirrors or the lack of wiping off equipment they’d just sweated on.

    I belong to a teensie writing group here in town that meets every Sunday at the local Coffee Bean adn Tea Leaf. I don’t often make that, but every once in a while we arrange a traditional “high tea” at a local cafe. It is good food and good bonding!

    I enjoyed this post. See you Sunday oxoxoxo.

  11. Hi Linda,
    I think you’re right about those gentleman’s clubs in stories, especially Regency era romances and such. I’m not really a joiner either. I don’t like the commitment of time on a regular basis. I only make half of my RWA meetings each year – there seems to be too much to do. And on the weekends, we like to play. 🙂

  12. Hi Tanya,

    Yes, I did belong to a women’s only gym once. I liked it far better than co-ed. But I don’t go to gyms anymore. Too time consuming. Nowadays when I have time, I hit my treadmill and do Pilates in the privacy of my home. And I can still work inbetween, if needed. I’m such a slave to my computer!

  13. Early women’s groups seem to have been church-
    connected, both in the UK and here. In the early
    days in the West, women don’t seem to have had the
    time much less the funds to participate in any type
    of women’s groups. Today’s women’s “institutes”
    seem to have connections to church, educational
    opportunities, and medical groups.

    Pat Cochran

  14. Hi Pat,

    Yes, that’s very true, but I never thought about it like that until you and Jeanne brought it up.
    Not too many us seem to be involved with woman’s only groups. Must be a sign of the time. 🙂

  15. Looking forward to reading this book. You gave us a lot of interesting information. I don’t belong to any gender exclusive organizations unless you count my Sisterchick and I on our weekly shopping trip. No I don’t think that I could count that as we go out for dinner with my husband first. He pays so it leaves more for shopping!

  16. What a marvelous article. I believe there should be more of the Traditional Gentlemen’s Club (not referring to any red light district related venue) for the men- as there are many other commercial and public places women regularly go to these days ie, beauty salons, spas, tea rooms, houses, cafes, bridal showers, etc….just my opinion!

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