Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Around Town: The women's club that could

As a past president of the Thursday Club, I am privy to bits of its history. The club, according to our records, began like this: “Upon invitation sent by Mrs. Jesse Knight, interested women of our valley met at her home in October 1912 and formed this club with a membership limited to twenty-five. Monthly meetings were held at the homes of members.”

One problem with the Thursday Club records is that the women always used their husband’s names. Mrs. Charles Pate. Mrs. N.A. Maynard. Mrs. S.J. Evans. Those are the names of some of the early presidents. It would be nice to know more about these ladies.

The founder, Mrs. Jesse Knight, was the club’s third president. She was born Elizabeth Lily Knight in 1845, the daughter of John Pleasant Lilly and Amanda Hardin in Gentryville, Mo. She was the second of 10 children. Elizabeth was 16 years old when the Civil War started. As a result, she had little formal education, but became a school teacher after the war.

While teaching at a country school, she met future husband, Jesse Knight, another country teacher, at a spelling bee. It was love at first sight.

The Knights moved around the Midwest, eventually to a farm in Alanthus Grove, Mo. The family consisted of their four surviving and one adopted child.

Seeking new vistas, in 1886 the Knights traveled by covered wagon to Pasadena. At that time, Pasadena was not yet a city. It was not yet a town. Pasadena had dirt roads. Pasadena had no sidewalks. There was one dry-goods store and only two grocery stores.

A few months later, the real estate market crashed and there was high unemployment. All hope of business opportunities in Pasadena vanished.

Jesse Knight had a solution. It was his idea to move to the wilds of La Cañada. Elizabeth initially objected, but soon relented. The Knights bought a 100-acre tract, formerly known as the Haskell Ranch. The year was 1887.

One nearby rancher was Will D. Gould, a Vermont-born lawyer and a Michigan grad who had moved to Los Angeles to practice law.

One day, streets would be named after the Knights, the Goulds and the Haskells, but in 1887, the valley had a one-room school house, which unfortunately caught on fire in 1893. A 14-year-old named Lem Veilex would be tried as an adult for burning down the school. Although the jury was unable to reach a verdict and the case was dismissed, no one has ever named any streets after the Veilex family.

More people began to move west.

The late local historian June Dougherty wrote that the decade between 1910 and 1920 was a period of growth in the La Cañada valley. The town of Montrose, connected by a streetcar line to downtown Los Angeles, was founded in 1913. At that point, La Cañada began to evolve from a ranching community into a rural town.

It was in this environment that Elizabeth Knight, who died in 1937, founded the La Cañada Thursday Club “for the purpose of 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.”

In 1917, the club began its support of the military during World War I. Two locals joined the Army. One was Pvt Willard Griswold Barnum, the son of Cortez and Alice Barnum, who was reported to have died at Fort Oglethorne, Ga. in 1918, apparently from the great influenza epidemic. The second, Sgt. Howard O. McMullin, also was reported to have died at camp.

After the war, the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, finally was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on Aug. 19, 1920. In 1920, the Thursday Club began its support of local charities. By 1923, the Thursday Club had paid for the installation of street lights on Foothill Boulevard. A scholarship fund was created in 1927.

Elizabeth Knight’s great idea for a club took hold. Today, as set forth at www.lacanadathursdayclub.org, the Thursday Club is a dynamic community organization whose membership includes nearly 250 women in La Cañada and its surrounding areas. Program teas and luncheons are held monthly, scholarships are awarded annually. The organization offers many other activities and philanthropic and service-oriented opportunities for its membership.

And this is its centennial year.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.com and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

Around Town: The women's club that could

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