“Fortnightly History at 100 Years”
by Jean Snoddy, October, 1985
It was the brain child of young Mrs. Albert Baker, who, early in 1885, had just returned from a visit to Crawfordsville, Indiana. While there, she had attended a meeting of the Athenians, a women’s literary club. On her return she mentioned to her mother- in-law, Mrs. Conrad Baker, how impressed she had been with the club, and asked” Why can’t we have a club like that?”
Mrs. Baker, Sr., wife of a former Indiana governor, replied “Well, why don’t you start one?”
February 24, 1885, eight founding members met at the home of Mrs. Charles Warren Fairbanks to form the “Nameless Literary Circle.”
Those present were Cornelia Cole (Mrs. Charles Warren) Fairbanks, Charlotte Clute (Mrs. Conrad) Baker, Anna Campbell (Mrs. Albert) Baker, Kate Noble (Mrs. E. H.) Dean, Alice S. (Mrs. H. C.) Allen, Annie Holton (Mrs. J. T.) Dye, Ida Linn (Mrs. Charles E.) Henderson, and Miss Laura Ream. A ninth potential member had been invited, but because of illness, Miss Alice Finch was unable to attend. However, her name was later included in the list of founders.
Mrs. Fairbanks, whose husband would later be elected vice-president of the United States, lived in a large, imposing brick residence at Park Avenue and Seventh Street (now Sixteenth Street). At that time, the homes of most Fortnightly members were in the area now known as “The Old Northside.”
Minutes of the first meeting list the names of those present, then state: “It was decided that the officers should consist of a President and a Secretary. On motion Mrs. Fairbanks was elected President and Mrs. A. Baker, Secretary. After much discussion the following by-law was adopted. That the object of the ‘Circle’ was literary culture. That the search after knowledge should be unlimited, the field universal. That the program of each meeting should consist of a sketch of the author chosen, written by one of the members, followed by the reading of selections by the members and general conversation. That the meetings be held twice each month on Monday afternoon at the home of a member. Longfellow was chosen for the next meeting, Mrs. Fairbanks writing the sketch. Miss Laura Ream was appointed to prepare a constitution to be presented at the next meeting. The naming of the Circle was discussed. The meeting was then adjourned to meet at the home of Mrs. C. Baker on Monday, March 9 at three P.M.”
This is copied exactly as it was written in the first secretary’s book. Handwritten, of course, with no paragraph indentations, and not too much punctuation. Obviously, the circle’s objective was considered to be quite a formidable challenge.
At the second meeting, in addition to Miss Finch, two new members, Mrs. W. A. Woods and Miss Alice Baker, were present. The club grew rapidly and the first printed “Programme” dated October 13, 1885, lists twenty-two members.
There is no record of how the name “Fortnightly” was selected, but it first appears in the minutes of the October 27, 1885, meeting, and on the printed program for that year. It has been suggested that it might have been the result of a timely quote “We fetch fire and water, run about all day among the shops and markets, and are the victims of these details, and once in a fortnight arrive at a rational moment.” As the club met bi-weekly, the name seemed appropriate.
The club motto, a quote from Shakespeare, was “Light Seeking Light, Doth Light of Light Beguile.” It was followed by adoption of the club symbol, a lighted lamp with a book for a base. These were first printed on the program for 1887-1888. On March 14, 1894, rose was officially made the club color, and the rose the club flower.
No copy of the original constitution, written by Miss Laura Ream, has ever been found, but the constitution was subjected to many revisions. Minutes of early meetings show that at almost every meeting someone had a new idea for a change in the constitution.
For several years, the club met at members’ homes, but by 1892, membership had outgrown the capacity of private residences. In the fall of 1892, Fortnightly moved to the newly built Propylaeum at 17 E. North Street. In 1896 a need to economize necessitated a temporary move to the, Parish House of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, but after one year the club moved back to the Propylaeum, where it continued to meet until 1923. At that time the old Propylaeum was razed to provide space for the Indiana World War Memorial, and the Propylaeum purchased its present building at 1412 N. Delaware Street (formerly the Schmidt/Schaf house). Fortnightly moved with it, and continues to meet there today.
The first ballot box was purchased in 1886, and each member was taxed ten cents to pay for it. The second box, which may be the one still in use today, was acquired March 14, 1893. On that same day a small writing desk was presented to the club by Mrs. Fairbanks. It was intended to house the club records and archives, but within a few years the archives had outgrown the storage space. During a recent search of the Propylaeum attic and storage closets it could not be found, and no present member of the club or the Propylaeum staff has any idea of what eventually happened to it. It was considered to have simply vanished.
However, a more recent reading of the minutes of November 12, 1935, led to an interesting discovery. The minutes report “the gift of a chest of drawers from Miss Helen Jacoby for the safekeeping of club records. It was given in memory of her mother.” There followed a discussion of the disposition of the desk given by Mrs. Fairbanks. It was decided that the Finance Committee should decide.
At the next meeting it was printed “Programme Finance Committee had decided that the desk should be given to Marie, who had expressed a desire for it and would cherish it for its association. The club moved that this should be done.” There is no mention made of Marie’s last name.
Minutes of January 7, 1936, state that the chairman of the Finance Committee “read a letter from Marie Scott, expressing her appreciation and that of her grandchildren for the desk given them by the club.” Today, no one in the club has any knowledge of the identity of Marie Scott.
While the original meeting called for the program to consist of a sketch of a specific author, the club apparently strayed from this format fairly rapidly. The first printed program for 1885-1886 lists, in addition to “George Eliot,” “Victor Hugo’s Works,” and”Does Goethe Rank the Peer of Shakespeare?” such intriguing subjects as “Housekeeping in the Nineteenth Century,” “Florida, Past and Present,” and “Women Prominent as Philanthropists.” Later, some programs consisted of musical selections, and occasionally outside speakers were invited to address the club.
The club celebrated its first anniversary on the evening of March 2, 1886, with a “banquet” at the home of Mrs. Fairbanks. Members’ husbands were invited and the men joined in the program. One of the first club parties was a picnic, in June, 1886, at the farm of Judge and Mrs. Solomon Claypool. It was attened by members and their families. The picnic was such a success that it was repeated the next year.
In 1885 “ladies” were not expected to work outside their homes, and it was practically unheard of for a middle or upper class married women to be employed. But one Fortnightly founder was a career woman.
Miss Laura Ream was one of the first newspaper women in the Midwest. She was a member of the editorial staff of the Indianapolis Sentinel, and Indianapolis correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette, for which she reported Indiana political news. Later she became known nationally as a writer.
Mrs. Conrad Baker had had a brief career as an army nurse. During the Civil War, prior to her husband’s election as lieutenant governor and later governor, Conrad was a colonel in the First Indiana Cavalry. He wrote her of the need for women to serve as nurses behind the lines, caring for wounded soldiers. She left her baby with relatives and traveled by river boat to Missouri where she volunteered as a nurse.
Within a few years, the Fortnightly roster included the names of a number of members who became prominent for their personal accomplishments.
Miss Eliza Browning was a city librarian and was appointed head librarian in 1892. She helped plan the library building at Meridian and Ohio Streets, introduced modern circulation techniques, and was responsible for the establishment of the first children’s reading room and first branch library. She headed the library until 1917 when it moved to St. Clair Street, then became assistant librarian and served in this capacity until her death in 1927.
Miss Fredonia Allen was a teacher in the old Girls’ Classical School, and in 1902 founded Tudor Hall, the city’s most prestigious private school for girls. She served as principal for twenty-five years. In 1970 the school merged with Park School for Boys, to form the present Park-Tudor.
Mrs. Kate Milner Rabb, a columnist for the Indianapolis Star, was one of the best known newspaper women in Indiana, and her column “A Hoosier Listening Post” enjoyed a wide readership for many years. She was an authority on Indiana history, and the author of a large number of books, short stories and essays.
Dr. Kenosha Sessions was Superintendent of the Indiana Girls School at Clermont. A physician, she was recognized nationally for her efforts and success in the rehabilitation of delinquent girls.
One early member, Martha Whitcomb Matthews, had the distinction of being the only woman in Indiana history to be both the daughter of a governor (James Whitcomb) and the wife of a governor (Claude Matthews).
A truly remarkable member was Mrs, Demarchus Brown, one of the city’s best known literary and travel lecturers. She traveled the world, then returned to hold audiences enthralled as she painted verbal pictures of what she had experienced. Her unexcelled memory, vocabulary, and descriptive powers were matched only by her somewhat startling size, which was rumored to approach three hundred pounds. An article in the Indianapolis Star, dated November 9, 1969, which reported the club’s eighty-fifth anniversary, described Mrs. Brown as “a mental and physical Goliath.”
One of the most colorful of the early members was Mrs. Ovid Butler Jameson, known to her friends as “Haute.” Mary Booth Tarkington Jameson was the daughter of a judge, the wife of a prominent Indianapolis attorney, and the sister of Booth Tarkington, who was twice a winner of the Pulitzer prize, and Indiana’s oustanding novelist during the first half of the twentieth century. She was responsible for the publication of his first novel Monsieur Beaucaire which she took to New York and presented to the McClure Publishing Company.
She was somewhat of an accomplished writer herself, and was the author of several stories which were published in national magazines. She was one of the city’s outstanding hostesses, and for years conducted a virtual “salon” for prominent figures of the literary, theatrical, civic, and cultural world. Many of the country’s best known authors, actors and actresses were entertained in her home.
In her later years she became somewhat eccentric, particularly in her dress. Mrs. Jameson was never influenced by current trends in fashion: she preferred to create her own fashions, and some of her creations were rather spectacular. When she swept into a room, everyone there was aware of the fact that they were in the presence of a presence.
As the club moved into the Twentieth Century, the scope of its interests broadened. Minutes of the October 4, 1904 meeting state that the president suggested that”the ladies avail themselves of the opportunity to attend the Federation of Clubs at Elkhart.”
October 11 minutes report that a letter from the Indiana State Federation of Women’s Clubs was read, and the president asked for a volunteer delegate to represent the Fortnightly in the Federation. Minutes of meetings for many years contain references to the club’s association with both the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Indiana Union of Literary Clubs. In 1906 the Indiana Union was dissolved and the two organizations merged under the name of the Indiana State Federation of Clubs.
Fortnightly members were concerned with civic and social issues, and to some degree, women’s suffrage. At the November 8, 1904, meeting “A letter concerning the admission of Arizona to statehood was presented. The clause in regard to representation being of special interest, a clause debarring women from suffrage, and classing them with idiots and criminals.” A motion was passed that the matter be referred to a committee appointed by the chair.
Quote from the November 22 minutes: “The report of the committee appointed to consider the admission of Arizona as a state debarring women from suffrage was given. The report in the form of a letter addressed to Senator Beveridge, a protest.” A motion was made and seconded that the report be accepted and the letter sent. After a lengthy discussion the motion lost.
A motion was then made that “the delegate to the Local Council be instructed to strike out the word “sex” in section 5 in the bill for admission of Arizona to statehood.” This motion prevailed. Apparently the subject of women’s suffrage was a highly controversial one.
An early paper written by Miss Laura Ream bore the intriguing title “As Long As I Count the Votes, What Are You Going To Do About It?”
The program of November 30, 1909, was devoted to a debate: “Women in Politics, Are Women Qualified to Hold Office?” Four members argued the affirmative, four the negative. A vote on the question was taken by the members and guests before the debate. A second vote, after the debate was over, showed that an equal number of persons had been convinced by each side. Unfortunately, the minutes do not record whether the debate caused any change in the voting.
Feature paper of February 27, 1912, was “Women in the Business World, the Opportunity.”
During the early years of the “Great War” in Europe, little mention of the war appears in the programs, but after America’s entry, minutes of 1917 and 1918 show that many members were active in Red Cross work, and were asked to participate in Liberty Loan and Red Cross parades.
Programs from October 15 to November 26, 1918, featured a series of papers entitled “The Great War.” They included “The Political and Social Background of the War, in France and England,” “War Essaysists,” “The Idealists,” “The Statesmen,” “Personal Narratives of the War,” and “The Spiritual Forces in the War.”
These were followed in early 1919 by five papers featuring “Social Forces in Literature,” in Scandinavian, American, French, English and Russian literature. March 19 was devoted to “Russia, Past and Present.”
The “Return to Normalcy” heralded by the 1920 presidential election, brought a large number of changes, in fashion, music, literature, art, social customs, and in some opinions, in morals. Many were somewhat abnormal when judged by earlier standards.
What had once been considered to be”a woman’s crowning glory” gave way to a shingled bob, and she became adept in the use of rouge and lipstick. Skirt lengths rose to the alarming height of eight inches above the ground; by 1928 they had reached the knee.
Popular songs of the war years were replaced by “Dardanella,” “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” “The Sheik of Araby,” and” It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More.” The works of Mark Twain, Gene Stratton Porter, and the Victorian poets were forgotten as everyone dashed out to buy a copy of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Michael Arlen’s “The Green Hat,” and, somewhat surreptitiously, Elinor Glyn’s “Three Weeks.”
Young women danced the Charleston, snuggled in rumble seats, wore flapping galoshes, smoked cigarettes, and it was rumored that some even dared to sample the contents of hip pocket flasks.
Fortnightly minutes do not record whether these changes were Viewed With Alarm by members, but certainly they were aware of them. Undoubtedly many were the mothers of teen agers or young adults. Their awareness is reflected in the titles of some of the papers read during the period: “The End of an Epoch,” “Modern Young People,” “Modern Etiquette vs. Old Time Etiquette,” “The Old Order Changeth,” and “The Changing College World.”
During the twenties, Fortnightly seems to have been inundated with constant requests for financial donations to a variety of educational, philanthropic, and charitable organizations, but due to the extremely limited funds in the treasury, few could be granted. However, the club donated fifty dollars to the new Riley Memorial Hospital for children. By 1926, it was reported that a total of $2300.00 had been subscribed by individual members to the Elva Riley Eitel Memorial Fund for the hospital.
Mrs. Eitel, an early Fortnightly member, was the sister of James Whitcomb Riley for whom the hospital was named.
March 27, 1923, was the last meeting held in the old Propylaeum.
Several meetings were held in temporary quarters, and on October 16, 1923, the club met for the first time in the new Propylaeum at 1410 N. Delaware Street.
In 1927, L S. Ayres & Co. held a “Book Fair” which featured the works of Indiana authors, and a number of well-known Indiana writers were present to autograph their books. The store asked for Fortnightly members to volunteer as hostesses, and seven members served in shifts during one day.
Quote from the minutes of November 1, 1927: “Mrs. Doner made an interesting and amusing report on the meeting of the Federation of Clubs at Terre Haute. It seems that as far as Fortnightly was concerned, the affair was a series of tragedies. Our delegates arrived after the time was past for registration, they discovered that their credential cards had been left at home, and that the election was all over anyway!”
At the end of 1929, Fortnightly resigned from the National Federation of Clubs, but retained its membership in the State Federation. Club minutes do not show exactly when its association with the State Federation ended, but in January, 1934, it was recommended that the program begin at 2:45 rather than 3:00, “the reason being that less time is required for the transaction of club business since it is no longer a part of the Federation.”
Apparently personal finances were beginning to feel a bit pinched even before the crash of October, 1929, for there are several references to delinquent dues in the minutes of the late twenties. Minutes of January 22, 1929, report that one-half of the members had paid their dues, but the club was still solvent.
In 1931, the Executive Committee recommended, “That the greatest economy be exercised in handling the club’s finances for the coming year, and that any surplus funds be held available for meeting any emergency of the club. It also recommended that the Executive Committee of next year be empowered to grant remission of dues if so requested by any member of the club.” The recommendation was adopted.
Although it was not a club policy to make charitable contributions, in December, 1932, it was decided that “owing to the unusual and urgent need, we would this year depart from precedent and give $25.00 to the Community fund.” In October. 1933, a second donation of $25.00 was made.
The gloom of the Depression was forgotten on March 19, 1935, when Fortnightly celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. One hundred-twenty members and guests met at one o’clock for the Golden Anniversary luncheon at the Propylaeum.
The “golden” theme was carried out in table decorations of yellow roses, smilax, and gilded English ivy, and the luncheon dessert consisted of ice cream served in nests of golden spun sugar, and cake iced with deep yellow frosting. Mrs. Harry Miesse, club president, wore an afternoon dress of old gold, with dark brown accessories. Mrs. Ovid Butler Jameson had decorated both her hat and her shoes with yellow ribbons.
After greetings by the president, the program opened with a series of four brief sketches under the overall heading: “My Shadow As I Pass.” “I Am Born,” was given by Miss Gertrude Baker, a daughter and granddaughter of club founders, “My Age Of Innocence,” by Mrs. Kate Milner Rabb, “My Age Of Confidence.” by Mrs. Charlotte Jones Dunn, and “My Age Of Confusion,” by Mrs. Emma Knowlton Doney.
These were followed by “Greetings” and personal reminiscences by Mrs. Jameson. Guest speaker was Professor Francis C. Tilden of DePauw University, whose subject was “American Literature in the Period of Change.”
It was quite an auspicious occasion, and received a large amount of publicity in Indianapolis newspapers. William Herschell, well-known feature writer for the Indianapolis News, devoted almost a full page to the event. His story gave a brief history of the club, listed all past presidents, and was complete with several photographs, including those of the old Propylaeum on North Street, the Fairbanks home on Park Avenue where the first meeting was held, Mrs. Fairbanks, and Mrs. Miesse, whose mother, Mrs. Elva Riley Eitel, was Fortnightly president in 1899-1900.
There was also a photo of Meredith Nicholson, prominent Indiana author, who was the first man to speak at the club, and one of Mrs. Jesse Cameron Moore, corresponding secretary, seated at the little writing desk which was given to the club by Mrs. Fairbanks.
The first mention of World War II to appear in the minutes was the meeting of February 11, 1941, when a letter from the Bundles for Britain organization was read requesting a donation. It was decided to break precedent and donate ten dollars. Also, the amount was supplemented by individual contributions totaling ten dollars. Additional small collectidns were made during later meetings that spring.
The paper read January 6, 1942, was entitled “Dunkirk.” At that meeting a letter from the Marion County Civilian Defense Volunteer Office was read, asking the club president to meet with an organization of presidents of all women’s groups in the city, stating the qualifications of the club and its individual members for active part in defense work It was approved that she do so.
On January 20, she read a report of the meeting, but as Fortnightly was not the type of club that did volunteer work, it was decided to do nothing as a club. Individuals who wished to serve were asked to register.
It was decided to withdraw $150.00 from the club’s savings account and invest it in two $100.00 defense bonds, purchased at $75.00 each.
Club papers written during the war years included “Blue Print for Peace,” “Behind the Russian Front,” “In Praise of France,” and on October 31, 1944, “The Fortnightly Goes to War.” This last consisted of two papers, one describing the experiences of a Fortnightly member who volunteered at the Service Men’s Center, the other an account of a member’s work with the Red Cross Gray Ladies. Several Fortnightly members were active in each organization.
“Time to Smile” told of the experiences of a Gray lady working in an army hospital.
Peace was celebrated at the meeting of October 2, 1945, with two papers: “We Look Back At the War,” and “We Look Forward to Peace.”
On April 27, 1948, the constitution was amended to create two classes of membership, active and privileged. Privileged membership was open only, upon written application, to members who had completed twenty years of active membership.
In the fifties, the constantly increasing number of women’s organizations and activities competed with Fortnightly for members’ time and attention, and attendance began to dwindle. Many of the younger members were the mothers of small children, and found it difficult to arrange to attend many afternoon meetings. Several suggested that meetings be reduced to one per month, but this was met with strong opposition by some of the older members.
After many discussions over a period of several years, the wishes of the younger group prevailed, and in 1955, the club changed its schedule from fifteen to eight meetings per year, held on the third Tuesday of each month, October through May. Fortnightly ceased to meet fortnightly, but the name remained the same.
Most club papers written during recent decades have been quite different from the original concept of a “sketch of a literary figure.” Subjects have covered the entire gamut of members’ personal interests, and those interests are highly diversified.
Many papers have been serious, many others highly amusing, and a few, delightfully hilarious. They have ranged from travelogues, biographies, and book reviews, to antiques, collections, and members’ hobbies.
One fairly recent paper described the trials and tribulations of dieting, another explained the tremendous number of uses for wheat, and one was a humorous account of the Oklahoma land rush of 1889, when the “Sooners” dashed out to claim free land.
At the present time [ed. note – this piece was written in 1985], a number of Fortnightly members are actively engaged in, or recently retired from careers in teaching, newspaper work, public relations, advertising free-lance writing, music, art, business, and non-profit organizations.
Many others devote countless hours to volunteer work for such organizations as the Indiana State Symphony Society. the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Children’s Museum, and a wide assortment of other philanthropic, cultural, civic, patriotic, and church groups.
Certainly, Miss Laura Ream, once the club’s sole career woman, would be amazed at the limitless variety of opportunities available to women today. Undoubtedly, she would agree that the club has achieved the objective defined in the original meeting, “That the search for knowledge should be unlimited, the field universal.”
Fortnightly looks to the future, but cherishes and carefully preserves its past. The archives contain every book of minutes, and every printed yearbook for its entire one hundred years.
The club is fortunate to have among its members three who have been members for more than fifty years [in 1985]. They are Mary Jane Carr McClure (Mrs. Horace R), Eleanor Burrill Green Roberts (Mrs. John H., Jr.), both of Indianapolis, and Margaret Hornbrook Coppock (Mrs. Maxwell), a sixty-four year member, who recently moved to Fairfax, Virginia.
Fortnightly Club celebrated its one hundredth anniversary, April 16, 1985, with a Centennial Luncheon at the Propylaeum. On the Sunday before the luncheon, the Indianapolis Star ran a lengthy article, written by Carol Elrod, under a headline, partially lifted from the title of a recent bestselling novel. “The ‘Ladies of the Club’ Will Celebrate 100 Years.”
While they were gathering, prior to the luncheon, members were entertained by a pianist who played a selection of popular songs from the Gay Nineties and early 1900’s. Several members wore dresses of the Victorian era, and many others brought family heirlooms and mementos of the period. Carrying out the club color of rose, table decorations were large bouquets of pink roses, tulips, and other pink flowers.
The paper for the day, written and read by Mary Ellen Blasingham, was entitled “Indianapolis in 1885.” Mrs. Blasingham had spent many hours in viewing microfilm records of Issues of the Indianapolis News during the year of Fortnightly’s founding, and her paper was a factual, yet nostalgic and witty portrayal of the city at that time. For a brief period, she succeeded in transporting members back a full one hundred years.
Fortnightly’s roots are deep, and are steeped in the history of Indianapolis. The club enters its second century with confidence, enthusiasm, and anticipation of the future, firmly convinced of the possibility that in 2085 another generation of Fortnightly members may be preparing to celebrate its Bicentennial.