The Contemporary Club, as the name suggests, was, and one might suppose, still is, concerned with contemporary events and people. It is one of the oldest clubs still in existence in Indianapolis, having celebrated their 120th anniversary last year. In its early years, the club was considered innovative for being open to both men and women on equal terms. Today, frankly, I have no clue. Presumably, this club is like a number of the other older clubs of the city where you have to run into someone who belongs or knows about it in order to learn about it. A cursory online search did not yield much.
The Propylaeum, on North Street, where meetings were held.
The object of the club, as stated in the early programs found, is to “consider and discuss philosophical, religious, social, political, economical, aesthetic, scientific, literary, or other questions, in a catholic spirit, and in general to take advantage of all opportunities for information and culture that may from time to time come within its reach. The meetings of the Club shall be of a social character, so far as may be consistent with and helpful to the object above stated. The Club as such shall express no opinion on any subject.” It is difficult to imagine any club today discussing a current event without injecting opinion. The meetings were held in the Propylaeum. An Indianapolis Star article reported that their 120th birthday was celebrated at the IMA in May 2010.
The membership was originally limited to 200, but this was increased by March 1910 to a maximum of 300 and you weren’t required to be a resident of Indianapolis to qualify as a member. Meetings were held in the evening of the fourth Wednesday of each month, from September to May. As with many clubs of this nature, a booklet was published with a list of club officers, club constitution, directory of members and pas officers of the club. There is also a list of every topic, or paper, presented up to that date (as of the 1912-1913 program). The oddest part is the ommission of the current year’s schedule of events.
Highlights of the past program included presentations and presenters such as:
“Russian Literature,” The Princess Engalitcheff of Moscow, Russia (1893)
“The Mark of the Tool,” T. C. Steele of Indianapolis (1894)
“Money and Morals,” Honroable Henry Watterson, of Louisville, Kentucky (1894)
“The Origins of Gothic Architecture,” Professor William R. Ware, of Columbia University (1895)
“Solving the Negro Problem in the Black Belt of the South,” Professor Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee, Alabama (1896), BELOW
“The Artistic Temperament Psychologically Studied,” Mr. William Armstrong, Chicago (1899)
“Novels and Novel Writing,” Mr. Dean Howells, New York (1899)
“What it Means to be an American,” Dr. Woodrow Wilson, President of Princeton University (1902)
“Social Settlements,” Jane Addams, Hull House, Chicago (1903)
“The Lesson of Balzac,” Henry James, London, England (1905)
“Lincoln as a Man of Letters,” Ida Tarbell, New York (1906)
How fascinating it would have been to attend any of these. The group was reportedly entertained by “many of the most brilliant thinkers in the fields of science, philosophy and literature,” and these examples give credit to that assertion. And of course, this was among the many clubs started by the indomitable May Wright Sewall and her husband, Theodore in 1890.