On a rainy October afternoon during the administration of President William McKinley, fourteen ladies gathered at the 314 East Washington St. home of Mary Griesinger, wife of a prominent businessman in Medina, to found a literary society.

The house —  which had achieved some level of fame  before the Civil War as the home of Congressman H.G. Blake and, as a stop on the Underground Railroad —  had eventually passed into the ownership of the Griesinger family.  On October 21, 1898, it  became the birthplace of the Friday Afternoon Club, a ladies’ literary group that is still in existence today. (The name was later shortened to “Afternoon Club”.)

The end of the nineteenth century was not  an era that offered women many outlets. They had their assigned roles in the kitchen or the schoolroom, and little else.  But these fourteen women — some of them teachers and all of them educated — decided to create for themselves an opportunity to grow intellectually.

The club was the brainchild of Bessie McDowell Hewes (standing in the center in this 1886 photo) who had known of a similar group called the Boston Saturday Club when she attended the Musical and Art Conservatory in that city as a young woman. She enlisted the aid of her life-long best friend, Mary Shepard Griesinger (seated beside her husband, Christian Griesinger) who offered her home for the initial meeting. The rules they set up for the club were simple, austere and rigorously enforced.

And so they remain to this day.

The group meets every Friday from November to April – excluding, of course, Christmas and Easter and allowing for one snow day.

Meetings begin promptly at 3:30 and end promptly at 5:00 P.M.

Each  meeting consists of a book review presented by a member. A brief discussion follows.

No refreshments are provided — except for a glass of water on request.

Membership is by invitation only and is limited to 25. (Until recent decades, the ladies were very secretive about the membership. Before the 1960’s, the only way to know for sure if a lady was in the club was when you read it listed in her obituary.)

Program booklets stored at the Medina County Historical Society attest to the intellectual liveliness of the group. In that first year, 1898-1899, the program reads like a college seminar: Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton were read and discussed.

While WWI raged in Europe during the 1914-1915 year, the ladies read the plays of George Bernard Shaw.  But in 1917, when the U.S. entered the war, the programs included “The  Russian Revolution in the Making” and “Women’s Economic Service in the Time of War.”

The terrible influenza epidemic that killed thousands in the wake of WWI is briefly alluded to in the club notes. Six weeks of meetings were canceled due to the influenza quarantine.

By the 1930’s, the club had committed itself to the format of contemporary literature, which continues to this day. The advent of the Book of the Month Club made it possible for members to obtain the latest books quickly and easily. (Today, members consult the “New York Times Review of Books” and order their selections  from Amazon.)

Old timers are fond of relating that one always knew that it was Friday in Medina because suddenly, groups of formally dressed ladies in hats and gloves would be seen scurrying across Public Square on their way to a meeting.  On the other hand, ladies who were not fortunate enough to be offered an invitation hid in their homes. Since the membership was kept secret, they did not wish it to be know that they were NOT members. The small town pecking order being what it was,  usually, only the wives of the most socially prominent citizens were asked to join.

Usually. Not always. Unfortunately, there was the cruel issue of the blackball. One “no” vote could permanently block a lady’s entrance into the Afternoon Club, no matter how socially prominent she was.  This was done away with in the 1960’s.

These days, although the structure remains basically unchanged, there has been some progress. Afternoon Club is far more democratic in its invitations — a majority of two votes will get you in.  Some people actually decline the invitation — something that would  have been UNHEARD OF decades ago. And wine is actually served at the Fall Dinner and Winter Picnic !

And so, as the Afternoon Club moves through its 113th year, the machinery set in motion by its feisty Yankee founders still operates steadily and punctually.  The members continue to be faithful, the books interesting, and the environment stimulating.

6 Responses to “The Book Ladies”

  1. Rita Glanc Says:

    I have read about the ladies Afternoon Club, and would love to be considered for membership, if ever there is an open spot. I enjoy reading books of all types, and have been a member of a book club for several years.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Sincerely,

    Rita Glanc

  2. Sara Nettleton Abroms Says:

    Is there any way now to learn who early members were other than obituaries?

    Thank you

  3. Ted Kraver Says:

    Sara, my mother Elizabeth Gaits Urch Kraver, County Librarian was.

    Who ever is running the club, I have a few decades of Booklets: Calender, Officers, and Members starting with 1964-1965, including the 1980 bylaws.

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  6. Jeffrey Levin Says:

    Does anyone know of the whereabouts of Mary Shepard Griesinger born in the 1950’s who lived in Medina? Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

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