Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore records
This collection is primarily comprised of the meeting minutes and programs of the Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore during the first three decades of its existence.
- Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore (Organization)
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The Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore was not a book club. Its members were writers, and determined to see their works in print. Throughout the 50 years of its existence, the Club provided a place for over 300 women who aspired to become writers, poets, composers, and playwrights to share their work and their dreams. The Club's motto, "Parole Femine"--which is the second half of the Maryland state motto "Fatti maschii, parole femine" ("Manly deeds, womanly words")--proudly asserted their identity as women, as writers, and as Marylanders.
The Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore was established in March 1890 by two young writers, Hester Crawford Dorsey and Louisa C. Osborne Haughton. A group of nearly 40 women responded to their invitation to discuss founding a club “to further greater intellectual development of the women of Baltimore and to promote social relations among those of similar tastes.” The Club founders were serious in purpose and set out a formal structure through which to achieve their goals. The Constitution enumerated the duties and responsibilities of officers and members and the Club was run by elected officers, who formed the Board of Managers. The President assumed leadership in most facets of the Club’s life, setting the tone and parameters of work. The first two presidents were Francese Litchfield Turnbull (1890-1898) and Letitia Yonge Wrenshall (1899-1915).
Membership in the Club was limited at first to women “who had a sufficient interest in literature to have devoted some time and thought to original work for either newspapers or magazines or of a more lasting nature.” All eleven of the Club’s founding members were published authors. The requirement that members be published authors eventually eased, and women interested in literary pursuits were offered membership. Publication, however, remained an important goal for the Club, and the president’s remarks often praised the publication successes of its members.
The Club accommodated members who ranged across the social and political spectrum, including suffragettes and society wives, teachers and journalists, Confederate sympathizers and descendants of abolitionists, Protestants and Catholics. There was at least one Jewish member, Henrietta Szold who later founded the Zionist women's organization Hadassah. However, reflecting the racial divides of the time, the Club did not admit Black members.
The Club met weekly on Tuesday afternoons between October and May, leaving the summer months free for members to escape the city heat for travel or stays at summer homes. The Club never owned a clubhouse, as was common for clubs at this time. They remained a fairly small group, capping their membership at 100, and while this allowed them funds for their activities, it would not support the purchase and maintenance of a building. Instead, the group affiliated with the Maryland Academy of Sciences in 1891 as associate members, and were allowed to establish their meeting room in the Academy’s building. The Academy moved several times in the Club’s early years, but when it finally moved to 105 West Franklin Street, the former mansion of Maryland governor Thomas Swann, the Club was provided with a comfortable meeting space until 1921, when they began meeting in a room at the Arundell Club at 1000 North Charles Street.
The heart of the Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore was its committees and each member was required to belong to at least one committee. The committee chair selected the topics and organized the discussions, debates, and critical analysis of members’ work. The committee setting was where the members presented their work and received, as one member put it, “a baptism of friendly criticism.” In committee sessions some members shared poems, short stories, book chapters, translations, or an act from a play. Others wrote papers on artistic movements, music and musicians, or historical events. After thorough vetting by the committee, papers deemed ready for wider hearing were selected by the committee chair and presented at a weekly meeting of the Club. The committees varied from year to year depending on the chair. The committees that presented programs to the Club most often were those dealing with literature such as: Fiction, Modern Poetry, Drama, Essays, Current Criticism, and Translation. Three long-standing committees were Art, Music, and Education. American history was of great interest to the members, supporting committees in Colonial and Revolutionary history, Letters and Autographs, and “Unfamiliar Records.”
Each January beginning in 1902, the Club held an annual Twelfth Night Celebration, an elaborate dinner with a musical program and a Christmas cake baked with souvenirs that was paraded through the gathering. On All Souls' Day, November 2, the Club members decorated the graves of authors and artists buried in Maryland. Among those honored were Edgar Allan Poe, Junius Brutus Booth, John Pendleton Kennedy, Sidney Lanier, Col. Richard Malcolm Johnston, William H. Rinehart, and founding Club member Mary Spear Tiernan. In 1907, members of the Club organized the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association in advance of the centennial of his birth in 1909.
The Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore completed its final season in May 1941. Louisa C.O. Haughton, one of the founders of the Club, served as President for much of its final 23 years. Notices of meetings and events published in the Baltimore Sun indicate that the Club stayed true to its mission of supporting women writers and their literary pursuits. The Club’s final meeting celebrated National Poetry Week with a contest for the best poem written by a Club member.
--Text adapted from Cynthia Requardt's "Club History" from The Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore Archive website: https://wlcb.github.io/archive/
 WLCB minutes, March 19, 1890.
 WLCB minutes, March 19, 1890. The founders were Christine Ladd-Franklin (mathematics, psychology); Elizabeth Graham (poetry, founder of Lend-A-Hand Club); Louisa C.O. Haughton (stories); Lida Acheson Goddard; Alice Emma Sauerwein Lord (novels, plays); Lizette Woodward Reese (poetry, stories); Hester Dorsey Richardson (history); Mary Spear Tiernan (novels, stories, history); Francese L. Turnbull (historical novels); Mrs. George Whitelock; and Katherine Pearson Woods (stories, novels, history).
 Emily Lantz, “Woman’s Literary Club Thirty Years Old This Week,” Baltimore Sun April 4, 1920.
 Emily Lantz, “Twenty-Five Years Old Today.” Baltimore Sun March 23, 1915.
Language of Materials
- Guide to the Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore records
- In Progress
- Sandra Glascock
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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