LIMA — A “transformation” was occurring in the health of women, the ad in the Feb. 15, 1890, Lima Daily Times proclaimed.
“Pale, haggard and dispirited, they have become bright-eyed and healthy,” the ad read. “The secret: Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription, which cures all those ‘weaknesses’ and distressing ailments peculiar to women.”
Dr. Pierce’s dubious claims notwithstanding, a more likely cure for dispirited women could be found on the same page of the Daily Times. “The Chautauqua circle known as the Octaveens met last Monday evening at the home of Mrs. D.J. Cable, West Market Street. The circle is composed of 18 ladies who are studying the course of the C.L.S.C. for the year 1889-90.”
The Octaveens, organized in 1889, were among a wave of women’s clubs that formed in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Club members, comprised mainly of middle and upper-middle class women, met to discuss literature, history and fine arts, later branching out to become involved in philanthropy and social movements such as women’s suffrage.
In Allen County the first such club formed about 10 years before the Octaveens. According to the 1976 history of the county Judge and Mrs. Charles M. Hughes and Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Baxter, journeyed to Chautauqua, New York, in 1879 for the Chautauqua Summer Assembly, which had been organized just two years previously. The women returned to Lima with a missionary zeal, organized a “Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle” with 17 charter members and designed a course of study “to give a woman the outlook of a college graduate.” Chautauqua is an adult education movement which was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Those who completed the four-year course, the history noted, were awarded graduation certificates from Chautauqua headquarters and called themselves Argonauts. The name eventually was changed to the Woman’s Club, which may have been the second oldest women’s literary club in the United States, according to the county history. In 1886, the Woman’s Club was joined by the Lotus Club. Over the next few years the Sorosis, Philomathean, Round Table, Bay View, Wimodaughsis and many other clubs, including the Octaveen, formed.
By 1904, there were approximately 500 club women in Lima and they formed a federation of clubs to, achieve a specific set of goals: “to secure a public library, to form a YWCA, and to try to solve the servant problem,” the 1976 county history noted.
The Octaveen Club, which, according to a story in the Oct. 14, 1959, edition of The Lima News was originally assembled in September 1889 by Mrs. S.S. Wheeler, became the Twentieth Century Club in 1896. The club’s motto was “Study to Be What You Wish to Seem.”
“In the beginning,” the News wrote, “the group met every Monday evening and made extensive study in the books suggested by the Chautauqua course.” From late September until early May, the group would meet at the home of a selected member to read out loud books and plays.
In its “Social Whirl” column of Oct. 24, 1896, the Lima Times-Democrat wrote, “The Twentieth Century Club is the outgrowth of the Octaveen Club and it has started in with every promise of being a success.”
If large social gatherings were a measure of success, the Twentieth Century Club was. In a story on Feb. 12, 1901, the Times-Democrat described an annual banquet of the club. “The Twentieth Century Club, one of Lima’s most prominent literary clubs, last evening enjoyed their annual banquet at the home of Mr. and Mrs. T.H. Jones, of West North Street. Around the beautifully appointed long tables were gathered the members and their husbands and intimate friends, numbering in all about 50. Four courses were served at the dinner which was one round of pleasure from beginning to end.”
An account in the Times-Democrat of the club’s annual picnic in 1919 gives an idea of its scope. “Reliable estimates place the number of chickens that perished on the block last week to gratify the epicurean tastes of those suburban day merchants’ wives and the good ladies of the Twentieth Century Club at Springside Farm last week at 500 …,” the newspaper wrote Aug. 19, 1919.
However, edification, not entertainment, remained the club’s focus. “Mrs. L.H. Rogers discussed ‘Ohio Laws for Women’ at the meeting of the Twentieth Century Club, held with Mrs. D.J. Cable, Monday evening, and Mrs. John Davison told of the Growth of the Suffrage Cause in the past few years and the steady advancement of it the country over,” the Lima Daily News reported Nov. 2, 1915.
At a meeting in January 1916 club members discussed “the most famous and familiar operas, in a most interesting fashion, selections from each were played on the Victrola, making the descriptions much more vivid,” the Daily News wrote Jan. 5, 1916. “The program was one of the most interesting ever given at a Twentieth Century Club meeting.”
Club meetings also often mixed a little learning in with the evening’s more serious fare. At a meeting before Lincoln’s birthday in 1920, members responded to roll call with quotations from the 16th president, the Daily News reported Feb. 10, 1920.
In 1929, the club celebrated its 40th anniversary. “This club, one of Lima’s most prominent literary circles was founded 40 years ago by the late Mrs. S.S. Wheeler, when 18 young women met in the home of Mrs. R.D. Kahle, a former member, for the organization meeting,” the Lima Morning Star & Republican Gazette wrote Nov. 5, 1929. “Mrs. Kahle, who resides on South Cole Street, was a guest at the gathering last evening.”
Besides delving into history, literature and culture, the club also was involved in philanthropy. “Sewing for the visiting nurses occupied the evening at the meeting of the Twentieth Century Club Monday evening … ,” the Lima News reported March 7, 1922. Likewise, on Dec. 14, 1930, with the United States in the depths of the Great Depression, the club announced in the News that for its annual Christmas party “instead of the usual exchange of gifts the money formerly used in that way is to be given for food and clothing for needy children.”
The club marked its 60th anniversary on Oct. 3, 1949, with a discussion about “With Eyes on the Future” and a presentation titled “Reminiscing in the Twentieth Century.” The club would mark several more decades before, a little more than 80 years into the century for which it was named, it held its last meeting.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.