Thursday, February 26, 2009

La Canada Thursday Club: Feminists put down roots in La Canada

Think back to another October.

The year: 1912.

The time: a few weeks before Halloween.

The event: Mrs. Jesse Knight invites 14 local women to tea.

The purpose: mutual improvement in the subjects of literature, art, social culture, as well as discussion of all vital and important questions of the day, and the imparting to others of the knowledge and benefits thus acquired.

Thus began the La Canada Thursday Club.

Elizabeth Frances Knight resided, of course, in a house on Knight Way. That house still stands at the corner of Oakwood. Eventually, the Knights moved down the street to another house. That house was a "tear down."

Knight's portrait still hangs at the clubhouse. The club's motto is from Emerson -- "Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm."

Her enthusiasm was catching. Knight was an educated woman. She liked to read. She liked to travel. But why did Elizabeth Frances Knight found the La Canada Thursday Club in 1912? And did she have a feminist agenda?

Local historian June Doughtery says that the decade between 1910 and 1920 was a period of growth in the La Canada valley. The town of Montrose, connected by a streetcar line to downtown Los Angeles, was founded in 1913. The elementary school was built. Water began to be pumped with electric pumps. Our town began to change from a purely ranching community into something else.

Not all of the early club members were well educated, but most of them were readers.

Club member Mary Wilbur Pate met her husband Charles in La Canada. He was a "remittance man" from England, which meant that he did not work -- his family sent him money every month. The Pates lived on the monthly remittance.

Mary Pate was a local schoolteacher. In 1919, she became eighth president of the Thursday Club. Her husband stayed busy with his writing, but Mary took the club up a notch. She instituted printed programs and presented the first paid program for members.

Thursday Club board member, Lynn Duvall, says that idea of forming a woman's club to discuss "important questions of the day" was significant.

"In the early 1900s, it was not considered proper for a lady to read the daily newspaper. At home, the man of the house would read the morning news or would return from work to peruse the afternoon newspaper. Whatever items of interest he felt were appropriate for the women of his household, he shared with them. Even though some women were college educated, they were not encouraged to be active in discussions of world affairs or national news in their homes.

"The purpose of our club, written by our founders (and recorded in the bylaws) fascinates me. It is 'the consideration and discussion of all vital and important questions of the day, and the imparting to others of the knowledge and benefits thus acquired."'

Duvall believes that this statement "directly relates to our founders' desire to be ready to accept the responsibility of the vote for women."

The timing was certainly right. The 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, had its roots in the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. It was finally passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on Aug. 19, 1920.

Duvall sees a direct connection. "Some women tease me when I take advantage of an occasion to publicly read the club's purpose at our gatherings. They say, 'Lynn, how can you paint a picture of our early clubwomen as feminists?' The word 'feminist' was transformed in the '70s to equate with 'bra-burner'. It still carries overtones that make women uncomfortable and unwilling to be labeled as feminists. A feminist believes that women should have political, economic and social rights equal to those of men. Our early founders absolutely were feminists. Their goals are recorded in our purpose.

"Membership in a club like ours gives women an opportunity to speak in public, to meet other women of all ages and backgrounds, to learn, to challenge themselves. Nearly all of our members have held positions of leadership in a wide range of organizations stretching all the way back to their college years," says Duvall.

And it all started right here. In these hills. In La Canada.

October 21, 2000 -- Foothill Leader

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