One characteristic of the early 1900s was the development of women's organizations focusing on self-improvement. It was during this time that book clubs began to flourish, and many continue today. One, the Twentieth Century Book Club, has marked its centennial year with a year-long celebration.
Founded in 1911, the Twentieth Century ladies would gather each month to present a "paper" on books related to that year's theme. Themes ranged from "The Renaissance in Italy" in 1927-28 to "The World at War" in 1942-43 and "The Making of Tomorrow" in 1945-46. Charter members included Miss Rosa Paschal, who went on to earn a degree in Mathematics in the first graduating class at Meredith College and to become dean of Greenville Woman's College (now part of Furman University) and later dean of Meredith College. In addition, the wife of North Carolina's sitting governor was always invited to be a member.
In 1977, Raleigh Times writer Judy Bolch reported on the many active book clubs in Raleigh.
Miss Rosa Paschal
Some groups have been meeting since before the turn of the century. (There's polite disagreement as to which actually holds the record for longevity.)
And initiation into the ranks of the leading sects is one of the more telling indications of social acceptance.
A few of the groups, those made up primarily of younger women, require that all members read the same book, then discuss it in depth at their meetings. These women even delve into academic subjects like literary style and structure.
But the great majority of the 58 clubs meet once or twice a month for a program on topics like Hepplewhite furniture or Africa or "Happiness Is in Knowing" or "People Who Have Influenced My Life." Each woman then passes on the particular book she's been reading to another member.
At the Village Book Store, which maintains a list of the groups and the books each member has purchased to avoid duplication within a club, a clerk said that "good, clean fiction" is the choice of most of the groups. Some of the more puritan members stick to non-fiction, she said, in order to escape prurient passages. They are displeased when biographies of the famous sometimes reveal lascivious episodes. -- The Raleigh Times 6/15/1977
Names of the book clubs at the time included Olla-Podrida (named for a Spanish dish that includes a mixture of items), Johnsonian, Canterbury, Cosmos, Sesame, Tea and Topics, O'Henry, Arts and Travels, Twentieth Century, Wednesday Morning, and Blue Stocking. Many of the clubs produced neatly printed "yearbooks" with the programming for the upcoming year and listing its members.
The Tuesday Afternoon Book Club, which formed in 1903, was also typical of these organizations.
The club got its start ... as a group of "companions that do converse and waste time together," according to its history.
It has continued to meet from September to June with dues of $1 per year. It claims to be the fourth oldest of a number of Raleigh book clubs, but starting dates are a point of contention.
In the old days, the club chose a literary topic to guide its programs each year. The 1904-05 group studied Shakespeare; the 1922-23 club picked Russian literature.
... but they also frequently wandered to events closer to home: a club member who was sick, a husband who was overseas. Mrs. John Harden ended the Nov. 26, 1918 entry [in the club minutes] with: "We had several guests and enjoyed Mrs. Riddick's chicken salad with a good conscience and a light heart. The war is over."
In some past years, the members had left out the books completely. An excerpt from the minutes of the first meeting in 1919 said, "The question as to whether we should have books for the year was brought up -- and the club went on record as being too weak mentally and physically to either read the books or 'tote' them back and forth to meetings." -- The News & Observer 9/24/1985
By 1921, the books had been reinstated.