Above, The Propylaeum, formerly on North Street, where many years of Women’s Club meetings occurred.
Women’s Clubs have existed in Indiana almost as long as the state itself. The first foray into that world appears to have been in New Harmony, Indiana in 1825 with the “Female Social Society.” Following that, “The Edgeworthalean Society” a women’s literary society of Bloomington started in 1841; the “Clionian Society” of Vernon, Indiana; the Minerva Club, again of New Harmony, organized in 1859. According to History of Indiana Federation of Clubs compiled by Grace Gates Courtney and edited by Arcada Stark Balz—these are all exceptionally noteworthy considering they pre-date The Sorosis (Club) of New York City which was formed in 1868 and is considered “The Mother of the General Federation” (of women’s clubs).
In February 1875, Indianapolis shows up on the radar with the “Indianapolis Women’s Club.” The first meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Martha Nicholson McKay on what is now Carrolton Avenue (formerly Ash Street) and as of 2007, was the oldest women’s club in Indiana.
The patriarchy of yesteryear is revealed in this excerpt written by founding Women’s Club Member, Martha Nicholson McKay: “The difficulties encountered in those days in securing membership among married women is well illustrated by some of the stories related by the Indianapolis Women. After weeks of effort, the organization meeting of the Woman’s Club was scheduled for February 18, 1875 and only seven women could be prevailed upon to come. One wrote, ‘I find my mission in taking care of my several little girls, and I do not wish for other work. Nor do I think I could either give or receive help by aiding your project.’ Another one, in a critical tenor, admonished, ‘I should think you could see that your God-given duties point in another direction,’ and so in the face of infinite explanation and information, giving repeated assurance that it was not the purpose to form a suffrage society, or a branch of the then newly organized temperance crusade; that its work would not be irreligious; that it was not likely to be followed by strange climatic changes or terrestrial convulsions or immediate mental revolutions, seven women, in most sincere and serious mood, founded the Indianapolis Woman’s Club.”
What a reaction to a club whose mission was to “form an organized center for the mental and social culture of its members and for the improvement of domestic life. To this end the Association shall encourage a liberal interchange of thought by papers and discussions upon all subjects pertaining to its objects.” As if a woman should bind a child to their back, a la Sacagawea? Unthinkable today.
The Indianapolis Women’s Club met at the Propylaeum, and still does. What organizations do you feel most help advance women today?