Sunday, March 13, 2011

Around Town: The adventures of Elizabeth Frances Knight

The spirit of Elizabeth Frances Knight inspires the La Canada Thursday Club.

Her portrait hangs on the wall. She is distinguished, in a dark dress with white ruffles at the neck. Her hair is white. There is a book in her hand. From her vantage point she watches over parties, teas and lunches, the drinkers and the dancers, the rummage sales and the speeches.

The lady in the portrait is mature, sedate and distinguished.

The portrait sets a certain tone.

And yet, there is a twinkle in her eye as she watches over us.

It is a club that she founded.

In a club house that she dedicated.

At lunch, we say her favorite prayer.

Suzanne Tutt, a past president, says, “The Thursday Club was one of the nicest gifts my mother, Kelly Juett, ever gave me. The words of the club blessing say it all: ‘We thank Thee, Lord, that gathered here we find good companionship of mind with mind; and that this food we share is doubly blessed because warm friendship is our constant guest.’”

I knew the blessing. I knew Sue's mother, Kelly, who lived to be a lively 100-year-old. We all miss her.

But I never knew that Elizabeth Knight came to California in a covered wagon.

Thursday Club member Joani Bartoli-Porto was the one who clued me into Elizabeth Knight's adventurous spirit.

“Our founder was born on March 5, 1845 in a log cabin on a barren prairie in Missouri as the second of 10 children. She grew up on a farm,” said Joani. “Not having many school advantages while young, she acquired her education, which was limited, mostly after she was grown. She was 16 years old when the Civil War started, and that changed her plans and progress in life.”

Joani told me that Elizabeth began teaching in a country school. She met a teacher from another district named Jesse Knight at a spelling bee. They soon married and lived on a farm, where their six children were born.

“Mr. Knight got the California fever and sold the farm and livestock. They crossed the country in a covered wagon and arrived in Los Angeles on Christmas Day in 1886,” Joani said. “They lived in the village of Pasadena, with no paved streets and only one grocery and dry goods store, for one year before moving to the wilderness of La Cañada. They bought a 40-acre ranch — which was nothing more than sagebrush — and planted grapes, lemons and oranges.”

Joani told me that the Knights dug wells and began to prosper.

And then, in October 1912, Elizabeth invited interested women in the community to gather at her home for what would be the first meeting of the La Cañada Thursday Club.

Of course, I knew about the founding of the La Cañada Thursday Club. And that the Club Flower is the Camelia. But how did Joani find out the other stuff?

Joani explained that it's all in the book. Her friend, John Knight, had given her a copy.

What book? I asked.

The book is Elizabeth Knight’s autobiography, published in 1927, titled “Meanderings of 83 Years.”

John Knight and other descendents will be at the La Cañada Thursday Club next October for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, when members dedicate a Centennial Garden to mark the beginning of the club’s centennial year.

There’s more. A lot more. It turns out that Mrs. Knight was pretty cool.

To be continued

By Anita Brenner

11:48 AM PST, March 2, 2011,0,5832804.story

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