Archive for Friday, February 7, 1992

OLDEST STUDY CLUB

February 7, 1992

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Helen Pritchard describes her nearly 50-year membership in a women's study club called Friends in Council as "a sugar-coated education."

Barbara Shortridge, president of the club this year, calls it "a very pleasant association; very civilized.'' And Betty Laird, club historian, says "The purpose has been education, and we've stayed to that pretty cleanly."

Early-day Lawrence women organized several study clubs in an effort to make the settlement city seem more like home. Of the original groups still meeting, Friends in Council is the oldest.

Last weekend, the group celebrated its 121st birthday, and current members say their organization, officially established Dec. 5, 1871, remains amazingly unchanged.

ACCORDING TO a history compiled by Mrs. Laird, founder Elizabeth Perkins Leonard formed the club as a refuge "for ladies missing the cultural amenities of the East."

Miss Leonard had come to Lawrence in 1869 as a professor of modern languages French and German and drawing and painting. KU's first female faculty member, she patterned the new group after a study club in Quincy, Ill., to which she also had belonged.

"Accustomed to the cultural life of her native New England," Mrs. Laird wrote in her history, "the dignified lady must have found this frontier town, just six years after Quantrell (William Quantrill) had virtually destroyed it, drab indeed."

The club's first members, in addition to Miss Leonard, were Jane Snow, whose husband, Frank, would be appointed chancellor of the university in 1890, Emma Thacher, Mary Frances Simpson, Sarah Brown, Isabel Tenney, Kate Simpson, Mrs. George Allen and Lucy Stanley.

STUDY AND companionship were the group's primary purposes, and early-day study topics included philosophy, pantheism, which is the belief that God and nature are one, and art and sculpture.

In November 1886, Mrs. Laird said, the first ``true research paper" was presented by a member to the club. The subject was ancient music.

Through the years, though, many papers have been presented as every active member is required to research, write and present one annually.

Mrs. Shortridge said this year's topic of study had been "home," which members examined from such perspectives as architecture, specific homes such as Monticello, the influence early women's magazines had on home decorating, and even home gardens.

Last year, the club studied exile and alienation. Other recent topics have included 18th century Italy, India and Imperial Russia.

"WHATEVER WE do," Mrs. Shortridge said, "we're all going to learn a lot."

Mrs. Pritchard recalled studying the United States by sections, researching old letters and journals and learning about the ancient Greeks.

World War II had quite an effect on the club, she said, noting a number of members went back to teaching or took other jobs to help the war effort "but we never thought of giving up the club."

Although the group is limited to 24 "active" members, she noted "associate" members, who are not required to present papers, also attend and can be involved in other ways.

Most of the topics the group chooses to study, Mrs. Pritchard added, are ones that individuals wouldn't ordinarily take such an in-depth look at, "but usually it's very interesting."

MRS. LAIRD, who joined in 1960, said over the years, members have begun using word processors and acid-free paper, and employing slide projectors and video machines in the presentation of their papers.

Sherry and vodka are now served along with the more traditional tea, she added, and meeting dress has become more informal.

The group even voted in 1969 to give up the blackball method of admitting new members.

"The thing is," Mrs. Laird observed, "we waited so darned long to do it."

In her history, she wrote, ". . . as a group we are dedicated to pursuing knowledge to the best of our ability given the time that life affords.

"We derive satisfaction from sharing the results of our labors with other women with similar interests, needs and intelligence."

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