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The Social Set

Study clubs were designed to broaden women’s horizons

November 30, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

The names are quaint and speak of another time - Maquaes Study Club, Eclectic Society, Coterie, Aldines, Clio, Cosmopolitan, Heli and even the Sassafras Bird Club.

Formed for social connections and to further women's horizons, some of the clubs still meet and may even find new venues towards the future.

Mary Ann Harzinski of Johnstown is the president of the Clio Study Club and said whereas members once met for high tea at 3 p.m., due to work and tighter schedules, they now meet in the evening.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Carol Russo, left, and Jean Quinn, both of Johnstown, are served by Clio Study Club member Maureen Skoda at a high tea in Johnstown Nov. 18 honoring Rose Knox.

She said she has been a member of the club for 26 years and that the club took on a different theme for study each year. For 2008 the theme was regional writers and their homes. She spoke of visiting Emily Dickinson's home as part of the study.

"In the past we've studied first ladies of the U.S., local museums and famous women through the ages," Harzinski said.

At the Nov. 18 celebration of Rose Knox's legacy, members of the Clio Study Club were treated to high tea in Knox's memory. While most meetings are hosted by a club member at her home, high tea was served at St. Patrick's Masonic Lodge in Johnstown. Special guests at the tea included Rose Knox's great-granddaughter Roseann Beaudoin and a cousin of the Knox family, Rosemary Walsh of Maryland.

Harzinski said the membership is limited to 25 for the Clio Study Club, so the entire membership could attend any meeting at a member's home. She said they also sponsor a scholarship each year in memory of past members.

"We also pick a charity to sponsor each year," Harzinski said. "This year we are sponsoring the regional food bank."

Harzinski said one benefit of joining a study club is the resulting friendships that arise.

"Lifelong friendships have formed through the club," she said. "We also have cultural events and often raise money for the [Johnstown Public] library."

Harzinski said the Clio Club regularly puts together a raffle basket for the Johnstown Library's annual fund raiser as well.

Anita Hanaburgh has been a member of the Clio Club about 15 years.

"I think the club was named for a Greek goddess," Hanaburgh said.

According to www.godchecker.com, Clio was the muse of history and epic poetry.

Hanaburgh said at each meeting, someone is responsible to present a program on the yearly theme.

"Last year the theme was tastings," Hanaburgh said. "I did the program on cheese."

Hanaburgh said the group meets the first Monday of the month and that the club is both social and informative.

Maureen Skoda has been a member of Clio for nearly 30 years. She said the club members were glad to host a special event recently in honor of Rose Knox.

"[Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland] asked us to do something to coordinate with Johnstown's 250th celebration," Skoda said. "The Clio Study Club is mostly social but also helps widen women's horizons."

She said the study clubs still tend towards traditional views of society.

Perhaps the oldest study club is the Aldine Society, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2006. It was founded in Johnstown in 1881 as a women's reading club. The group traces back to women's suffrage activist Sarah Hawkins.

Chloe Correll has been a member since 1974. She remarked that women at the time of the club's founding had little opportunity to further their education or have independent means of livelihood.

"They didn't have the Internet or Google," Correll said. "They only had their libraries."

It was the Aldines that raised money to buy a statue of Sir William Johnson that stands along Hall Avenue.

She said the $2,500 raised to have the statue made would be the equivalent of $50,000 today.

Correll said the early founder challenged the status quo with political and artistic studies.

Slingerland said that not only are some of the former study groups alive and well, a new group studying women's rights is the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Women's Symposium. She said the symposium was an outgrowth of the American Association of University Women, an advocate for women's issues. They had their first meeting at the Fulton-Montgomery Community College in 2007.

Nine charter members formed the Coterie Club in Johnstown in 1923.

"We are women from all walks of life," President Janet May said. "Many long-lasting friendships were formed through the club over the years."

May has been a member of the club for 50 years. Publication coordinator Christine Sutton has been a member for 44 years.

"We always meet in members homes," Sutton said. "The club started in the eastern end of Johnstown at first, then expanded. We run the meetings with Robert's Rules of Order and used to give a Latin prize to the high school. That was back when they still taught Latin."

The members met for social and educational presentations and made donations to local community agencies such as Mountain-Valley Hospice, Salvation Army and Literacy Volunteers. A high of about 25 members was reached in 1957 and the active membership is back down to a dozen.

Many things have changed for the group over the years. A lot of those changes have to do with societal changes, Sutton said.

"People are so busy today with other things," She said. "They don't have the time for social clubs."

According to a report by Melvil Dewey, director of the Home Education Department of the University of the State of New York in 1900, there were 391 study clubs in the state at the turn of the century, with 60 new ones added that year.

Each club was registered with the NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF Regents and had to present at least 10 weeks of study on an approved subject to be certified.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at ga@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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