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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