Two St. Paul groups started by women are celebrating important anniversaries this year. The older group, the Schubert Club, was founded to promote recital music and is in its 125th year.
The other group is less well-known but still vital enough to have reached its 100th year. The Froula Reading Circle was founded in 1909 by Mrs. Vincent K. Froula to promote “sociability and intellectual improvement.”
The original group of 12 members met bi-weekly in St. Anthony Park homes for enlightenment and intellectual stimulation — but not for discussion. One member would read a book — or several, depending on the topic — and make a presentation to the group.
Members were assigned subjects from specific genres such as poetry, essays, biography, drama, history, current events and travel, but rarely fiction. After the presentation, other members could ask questions or make comments for a few minutes, but involved discussions about the book’s contents or aesthetic qualities were not allowed.
The meetings were extremely civil in every respect. Members referred to each other only by surnames (preceded by Miss or Mrs., of course), punctuality was required and three successive absences resulted in loss of membership unless there was a valid excuse. Members did not go upstairs in each other’s homes, the point being that housekeeping was secondary to intellectual pursuits. The group had a constitution and procedures for voting in officers and new members. A short business meeting was held at the beginning of each session.
Though refreshments were not a part of the meetings, the original group met three times a year for luncheons, which were occasions to bring out the linen tablecloths, sterling and the best china. The women took this opportunity to present a special menu: creamed chicken in party shells or seafood Newburg, homemade rolls, molded salads, fancy desserts.
Some things have changed over the years. Now the club holds only one luncheon a year, either at a restaurant or the dining room of 1666 Coffman. Members are on first-name basis and occasionally have a cup of tea together after the meeting.
The original membership of 12 has expanded to a limit of 20 members and now stands at 15, plus two honorary members. Presenters are no longer assigned topics but instead choose books they think the group will find interesting.
Monthly meetings are held from October to May on the second Friday. Annual dues, which were 50¢, are now $5 and are used to donate library books in memory of deceased members.
But the core values and purpose of the group remain unchanged from the days of Mrs. Froula. At a recent meeting, member Dadee Reilly summarized and read from “Moloka’i,” by Alan Brennert. Everyone listened attentively.
Social connections are paramount to the group’s longevity. Many of the women have been members since early in their marriages. Doris Manson, a member since 1966, turned 100 this year along with the club. Many others have been members for over 20 years.
Current president Ann Bursch is a second-generation member of Froula. She remembers fondly the meetings at her home when she was growing up and appreciates being part of a group that includes her mother’s friends. She also enjoys the variety of books she discovers through the group.
“Everyone chooses such great books,” she said. “They are often very inspirational and motivating.”
Recent books include “A Sense of the World,” by James Roberts; “The Florist’s Daughter,” by Patricia Hampl; “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir,” by Kao Kalia Yang; and “Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners,” by Laura Claridge.
Bursch sometimes worries about the future of the group and wonders if it will still be around 100 years from now.
“Because so many women are working and everyone is so busy, it’s a little hard to find new members,” she said. “Women don’t have the same need to get out of the house and find intellectual stimulation that the founding members did.”
Nevertheless, Bursch has high hopes that an organization that has survived for 100 years will continue to thrive. She encourages anyone who finds the idea of a women’s reading circle compelling to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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