Poking Around at the library


Busy bibliophiles and lifelong learners trying to squeeze in a quick read or a weekly study club take note—you are joining generations of intellectually curious and engaged Minneapolitans who shared the pleasure of a good read or a deep thought with friends and neighbors.

Discovering the Collection: Consider the scores of boxes that cram the shelves of the Clubs & Organizations Collection in the James K. Hosmer Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library. The collection reveals much of the city’s history through the largely unpublished legacy of neighborhood and professional groups that thrived in an earlier day. Within the hundreds of archival boxes are the scrapbooks, directories, minutes, ledgers, programs, letters and ephemera that tell the story of the city’s social, learning and professional organizations dating from the mid-nineteenth century.

Best of all, library staff and supporters have created a beautifully annotated index of the contents of those boxes. The indispensable guide provides a thumbnail sketch of each organization and an inventory of the treasures buried in the archives.

Perusing the Online Inventory: The good news is that the well annotated index is available online where you can learn a good deal about the club before you attack the original files. The index provides an overview of nearly 200 organizations, their mission, officers, membership, years of operation, what they read and discussed, where they met, and anything else you could have ever wanted to know about the famed study and social groups of an earlier time—the roots of which live on in this city of reading groups, neighborhood councils, ethnic gatherings and just plain clubs of every conceivable stripe.

A note from the editor of the Northeaster

With the draw of the internet, sometimes one wonders whether it has substituted for face to face intelligent exchange. Mary Treacy, Poking Around (she has a blog by that name) the libraries, discovered a study club whose “doings” dated back as late as 2001. She takes a different tact on history this month, with a “how to” on researching these social/ study clubs. Northeaster readers are invited to contact us with suggestions for groups to feature in the future. Of particular interest are groups and social customs existing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Northeaster’s formative years. Email contact@nenorthnews.com or call Kerry Ashmore at 612-788-9003.

Note also that Special Collections at the Central Library also have other types of historical files, call ahead to see what is on hand and what can be pulled out for your use by appointment. We often hear that a Northeaster article is the only piece, or one of just a few pieces, in the files on some topics. Nice that someone is keeping track by subject.

These snippets from the files whet your curiosity to dig deeper:

  • The Prospect Park Study Club, founded in the tradition of other Federation of Women’s Clubs, discussed current interest and academic topics, with programs presented by club members. The five (huge) boxes cover the Study Club’s doings from 1896 to 2001.
  • Or consider the Ramblers, folks who liked to travel and to discuss the “topography, art, literature, and music of different cultures. Those files cover 1896 to 1949.
  • No surprise, the Saturday Lunch Club, 1927-1952, was an all-male upscale club founded by Stiles P. Jones (1862-1920), a prominent Twin Cities newsman. The five boxes of club records list the membership which includes many familiar names while the list of speakers includes some of the nation’s most prominent leaders—W.E.B.DuBois, Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan. Is it any wonder the city created a reputation for engagement and big picture thinking?

Active Minneapolitans didn’t think deep thoughts all the time, though—The collection includes the files of the Kennel Club, the Apollo Club (1895), the first male chorus, the Hostesses, founded in 1898 to make arrangements for a ball, with the idea of making them a permanent social event each winter, and then there is the Lake Harriet Yacht Club, founded “to promote the physical and mental culture and the social interests of members.”

On a personal note, one issue that strikes me at first blush is that the majority of the files reflect the stories of women’s clubs—the question in my mind is whether there were more women who wanted to read good literature, discuss history, world affairs or social concerns—or did these women just keep their files in better order?

You can bury yourself for untold hours in the online inventory online—I know from experience. If you don’t have a home computer, your neighborhood library offers a good option. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and you’ll develop a keen appreciation of intellectual and social vitality that shaped today’s cultural, social, political, and recreational profile.

Exploring the Collection: When you’ve focused on clubs that call out for further study, you’ll pine to dig into those file boxes and folders. The James K. Hosmer Special Collection is housed in elegant and temperature controlled splendor at the Minneapolis Central Library, 4th floor, behind the ornate carved arched entryway. (The archway was transported originally from the late lamented Library at 10th and Hennepin from whence it has migrated over time to its present site in this ultra-21st Century setting.)

And then the fun begins.

  • Call ahead (612-657-8200) to give staff time to pull the files you seek—it seems like magic but in fact it’s the result of a skilled and extraordinarily committed staff that runs miles to gather the files from their secure location.
  • Assuming you called ahead, you’ll find materials waiting for you—in this case, archival boxes filled with files maintained by the club in their day or a sheaf of envelopes filled with carefully dated clippings and photos—always a delightful surprise.
  • Then marinate your mind in the stories that leap from the often hand-written notes, membership lists, minutes, and other treasures that divulge the stories of the club about which you want to learn more.
  • If you need a coffee break (1st floor) or have to leave the Library, tell staff and your materials will be waiting for your next trip (assuming it’s soon.)
  • If you need photocopies, you’ll find a low cost and efficient copier that takes coins and even gives change. If you want to scan something, talk with staff. Tip: you will need to copy anything you want to take with you—nothing in the Special Collections Library circulates.
  • Suggestion: Leave yourself time to browse the stacks. Though what’s on the open stacks is a smidgen of the archives’ holdings, there are unexpected finds. If you’re interested in Minneapolis clubs you’ll want to peruse the shelves of the Minneapolis Collection.

My personal hopes:

  1. That this small snippet whets your mental appetite to learn more about the history of this city—the neighborhood leaders, special interest proponents, ethnic groups, readers and writers, politicians and good government advocates, education supporters and others who took time and made the effort to think big thoughts about their era and about the future.
  2. That I can and do make time to plumb the depths of many of these energetic organizations. My plan is to start with learning all I can about the Polanie Club, a social club founded in 1927 by 12 young women who wanted to learn more about, share and preserve their Polish culture. Polanie, meaning ‘people of the plains, aptly describes their interest in the Polish language, literature, music, food, history, art, folklore and more. The Polanie Club has played a significant role in preserving the Polish legacy which is alive and well in my Northeast neighborhood, celebrated in grand style at the annual Polish Festival on the Mississippi Riverfront.