Old-Time Meetings Stir the Muse

 

Love and Laughter in the Old West

 

Margaret Brownley

  

The idea for my September 2010 release A Suitor for Jenny lurked in a dusty Kansas museum.  While rifling through old newspaper clippings I came across a meeting notice for “The Society for the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence.”   I have no idea what happened to the group or even if they succeeded in remaining single, but I know a book idea when I see it and I pounced. 

From that clipping came the idea to have my heroine Jenny Higgins breeze into a town of confirmed or  unsuitable bachelors looking for husbands for her two sisters. Fireworks, anyone? 

What’s Good For the Goose…

Apparently men weren’t the only ones concerned about independence.  In 1861,  fifty ladies of the first Church of Milford in New York formed a society of old maids. It cost five dollars to join the group and members had to vow never to marry.  The interest earned from the money paid for the annual dinner, with the principal going to the woman who remained unmarried the longest. 

According to an article in the New York Times thirty years later in 1891 all but fifteen of the original fifty had married.  By then the prize money had risen to a thousand dollars.  I’ve not been able to find the winner’s name—if, indeed, there was one— but the best part of being a writer is where real life fails, inspiration takes over.  Yep, you guessed it; the title of my next series is The Spinster Pact.

 Of course not all old meeting notices stir the creative juices and some, like the “Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive,” give me the willies, but they do provide a fascinating insight into the times.  

 One thing that is clear in reading old newspapers is that women wishing to volunteer outside the home in the early 1800s had little choice but to join an auxiliary of men’s fraternal orders and mutual aid associations.  This changed after the Civil War when women became obsessed with academic and cultural pursuits and joined literary, music, art, language, history or science clubs by droves.  

 

Robert?  Who’s Robert and What’s He Doing in a Women’s Club?

According to old newspapers, these fledgling women’s clubs could be pretty chaotic as most early club members knew to “gown well” and wear good millinery but didn’t have a clue as to Robert and his rules. 

 An interesting article written by a club woman’s husband for the New York Tribune in 1910 set this writer’s muse on fire.  He wrote: “From what I gather, I can see Robert himself aghast at what his well intentioned rules of order can do to a women’s club.  What was originally intended to be oil for the wheels turns out to be a gigantic obstruction that can throw a meeting out of gear so that it never does right itself. Robert’s Rules of order become rules of disorder.”

 Apparently, he didn’t exaggerate.  In “American Women’s History” Doris Weatherford writes,”The mechanics of organizing—writing by-laws, electing officers and engaging in structured debate was new to most women.”  This explains why the first meeting of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention was conducted by a man.  “A crucial factor in the success of future meetings was the participation of a large number of Quaker women, who had long conducted meetings separate from men.” 

 In the early days of women’s clubs there was a reporter at every keyhole, no doubt waiting for some poor woman to prove herself inept.  By the end of the 19th century, however, newspapers all but ignored clubs (except for the antics of the suffrage movement).  Before a club could get newspaper coverage there would have to be, as one woman lamented—a regular hair-pulling.

 

A Women’s Place is Any Place She Wants it to be.  So there!

Club women took a lot of heat and were often accused of neglecting their families.  In an 1898 San Francisco Call article titled “Are Women’s Clubs Harmful to the Home?” Dr. George Fitch wrote: “Women’s clubs are one of the last milestones toward national destruction, the goal toward which this nation is at present rapidly journeying.     

Disorder may have been the rule in those early women’s clubs but this provided valuable training and experience that paid off in later years when women banded full force to fight for Suffrage and Temperance.   

Yes, indeed, those early meeting notices tell us much about the times and its people, just as present day clubs and organizations mirror today’s world.  A hundred years from now, scholars will only have to look at the Tea Party movement, for example, to get a feel for the country’s current political mood (and what do you think the “Association of Pet Obesity Prevention” will say about us?).

However, even the most creative writer of the future may be challenged to draw inspiration from “The Dull Man’s Club,” whose only requirements for joining is to admit that you’re dull and a vow to keep it that way. And who in their right mind would want to write about a hero belonging to the “Society of Explosive Engineers?”  On the other hand, if the muse calls…   

www.margaretbrownley.com

Have a little faith!

 

Romance Writers of America RITA finalist.

  

A Lady Like Sarah (A Rocky Creek Romance)

She’s an outlaw; he’s a preacher. Both are in need of a miracle.

 

  

  

  

Coming September 

A Suitor for Jenny (A Rocky Creek Romance)

 

When looking for a husband, it’s best to go where the odds are in your favor.

Website | + posts

Margaret has published more than 46 books and is a N.Y. Times Bestselling author and two-time Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist. She writes historical novels set--where else?--in the Old West! She has written for a day time soap and is currently working on a new series. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don't ask her to diagram a sentence.

27 thoughts on “Old-Time Meetings Stir the Muse”

  1. Great post, Margaret! What wonderful gems you uncovered. The Spinster Pact sounds like a wonderful series. I wonder if you will pair up a spinster with one of the members of the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence.

    I love those society titles. Victorians sure were a wordy bunch, weren’t they? But very descriptive. The Dull Man’s Club cracks me up. I can easily picture some sarcastic husband forming such a club just to irritate his socialite wife. Too funny!

  2. The Society for the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence

    MARGARET, my gosh I can write four books in my head on that sentence alone.

    What a hilarious … society?

    I can’t wait to see what you’re doing with it.

    Women’s clubs. It immediately made me think of Mary Poppins, remember the sister suffragets? sp

  3. Karen,
    I love those old society titles, too. I also love ready those wordy newspaper articles. I wonder what those Victorians would have thought about our pared down sentences.

  4. Mary,
    I can almost hear the wheels turning in your head. Would you believe I came up with several book ideas the day I first heard the title of your book “The Husband Tree?” Funny how that works,isn’t it.

  5. lol–there’s a club for everyone
    specially these days with the internet

    very interesting post!
    thanks for sharing…what a cool way to get a little inspiration 🙂

  6. Tabitha, thanks for stopping by. I do believe you’re right; there is a club for everyone. I’ve come across a few that are real jaw-droppers.

    Always on the look-out for inspiration and new ideas.

  7. HI Margaret, fun post! A Society for the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence indeed LOL. I agree with Mary here….there’s a tale screaming to be told.

  8. Hi Tanya! Yep, it’s a tale screaming, all right. In fact, it’s the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence Society that lands my “Suitor for Jenny’ heroine in jail!

  9. Margaret, you’ve hooked me on A SUITOR FOR JENNY! It sounds like a very entertaining story. If it’s half as good as A LADY LIKE SARAH, it’ll be outstanding.

    Also, interesting topic today. The 1800’s was full of women’s clubs of all kinds. You name it, they had a club for it. Ha, I think the women just needed an excuse to get together! The men had their saloons and other places to gather but the women had to create theirs. They were very resourceful, I have to give them that. Sadly, today’s women are too busy to join clubs and that’s too bad.

    Good luck with JENNY! I wish you much success.

  10. Linda, it is too bad that women don’t have the time to join clubs anymore–at least not like they used to. Do you suppose that’s why the country is in such a mess? Women working together know how to get things done. Something to think about…

    Thank you for stopping by–and for all your good wishes and kind thoughts.

  11. Enjoyed the post. Interesting how men’s clubs which have existed for centuries and often involved drinking, gambling, and other “pursuits” that kept men away from their homes were not considered a path “towards national destruction.” When you look at the focus of many women’s clubs – community development, orphans, historical preservation, libraries, etc.- it is hard to see how that could lead to national destruction. I think the greatest fear was women would realize the intelligence and power they had and men would loose their claim of know what is best for everyone.

    I had to smile over the Milford ladies’ society of old maids. By the time you were the last one left, you would be too old to enjoy or do much with your winnings. What good is it to stay single all that time just to win enough money for a good funeral?
    Maybe she could have acquainted herself with some members of the “Dull Man’s Club. Companionship and no temptation : )

    Congratulations on A LADY LIKE SARAH being a RITA finalist. Your next book, A SUITOR FOR JENNY, sounds like a fun read.
    Good luck with its release in September. I’ll be looking for it.

  12. I’m so glad there are writers like you ladies (and gents – I have to include Stephen Bly) out there to give us non-writers a glimpse into the past. I love stories like these but have no imagination of my own. The history books just don’t tell it with the fun and excitement to keep us coming back over and over.

    Thank you.

  13. “Before a club could get newspaper coverage there would have to be, as one woman lamented—a regular hair-pulling.”

    Some things never change. lol

    Excellent blog, Margaret.

  14. Delightful post, Margaret. On the Robert thing–I’m guessing you already know this but for anyone who doesn’t, Roberts Rules of Order is the classic rulebook on parliamentary procedure which is still pretty much followed today.
    My mother belonged to a couple of different clubs. One was called the Literose – I guess they read books and grew roses. Love your story.

  15. Margaret and Elizabeth, your mention of Robert reminded me of a couple of clubs I belonged to
    in the past. There certainly were hair-pullings
    involved at times. It was me, pulling out my own
    hair at how Robert could get the ladies riled up!

    Pat Cochran

  16. Tracy,
    You’re right. Some things never do change. I’ve attended only one meeting that led to hair-pulling. The fight ended rather upruptly. Nothing stops a hair-pulling fight faster than a wig.

  17. I agree completely with Barbara M. You all are amazing. The pairing of research skill and vivid imagination seems like a very rare combination to me.
    “The Spinster Pact” What a great idea for a series. And that title just says grab me off the shelf and take me home and read me!

  18. Well now, isn’t that interesting. Thanks for the info, Margaret. That oughtta be one fantastic story.

    I met Robert back in the 70s when I was at a meeting and someone said, ‘Robert wouldn’t allow that.”

    And I said, ‘Robert? Robert who?’ LOL

    Anita Mae.

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