Elsie Owen Hevelin
In a previous post dedicated to the influence of Shakespeare in Yellow Springs history a brief mention was made of the Shakespeare Study Club. What follows is the first part of a paper on the history of the club written by one of its members, Elsie Owen Hevelin.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SHAKESPEARE STUDY CLUB
Elsie Owen Hevelin
Officially, we are The Shakespeare Study Club, but in our minutes we are usually referred to as The Shakespeare Club, and when we talk to each other we simply say “Shakespeare.” “Are you going to Shakespeare?” Or, “I’ll see you at Shakespeare.” But after all, as the great man said, “What’s in a name?”
Our purpose is “the study of literature and the drama.” We have a President, a Secretary-Treasurer, and a Literary Director, and these three officers comprise the Executive Committee. We meet on the first and third Monday of the month, “beginning in October and ending in April.” We limit ourselves to eighteen active members, and we have several honorary members, who pay dues and have all the rights of membership except that of voting, but none of the responsibilities of active members.
The duties of the members consist of attending each meeting, and reading whatever parts have been assigned to them by the executive committee. The duties of the three officers have not been spelled out in the constitution, but are mostly self-evident in their titles.
The executive committee meets during the summer to plan the year’s program, choose hostesses and meeting places, and select a speaker for Guest Day. We start our year with a luncheon, celebrate the Christmas holiday season, and end the year’s program with Guest Day.
This is what we are today. But how did we begin? Newspaper stories which mention the Shakespeare Study Club say it began in 1904. The earliest minutes we have of meeting, however, begin in 1906. Does this mean memory is at fault, or does it mean there were no records kept for the first two years, or are there missing volumes?
Anyway, the earliest minutes we have of meetings are from 1906, and include, at the very front of the book, a typwritten copy of the first constitution, with handwritten amendments. It appears to be the very first one. Probably nobody felt the need for minutes or a constitution at first, (and when they did it was a very short constitution), so we take the word of our earlier members and declare that we are now one hundred years old.
How We Began
In a letter dated March 7, 1954, Mrs. Anna Hirst Groves, one of the founding members, wrote from Arlington, Virginia, to Mrs. Dean Birch. She wrote in answer to Dean’s query, “Was the Shakespeare Club organized in the spring or in the autumn?” Here is her answer:
“For the final meeting of the Library Club, a group of club members acting on the suggestion of Mrs. Higbee (wife of a Professor at Antioch), a member of the club – took part in a scene from Shakespeare – in costume – without scenery – at the home of Ella Humphrey. Ella would not take part in our dramatic effort, claiming very rightly, that it was impossible, as she was hostess. Unlike all the lays, scenes, etc., etc., which I remember being acted in this home, this Shakespeare skit was given in the front part of the room, I believe, because we dressed in our costumes up stairs and more easily came down into the front part of the room – We were all costumed as men – which we felt, at that time – was quite daring! Mrs. Stevenson was the most grotesque and I can visualize her now! Ask Ella and Mrs. Weston what they remember about the event. All the actors enjoyed themselves and were sorry when it was over.
Well – the next evening, Edna Carr, who was of course, one of the cast, called my home – She felt that a club devoted to reading and study of Shakespeare’s plays would be enjoyable and worthwhile. She asked if I would help organize such a group. I said I would be glad to do so. We made plans for the Club and began the readings very soon afterwards. At that early date, we counted the lines each member was to read, so that all would have an equal share in the program. We soon found that was too arduous – as you may imagine!
The plays are long, and have many characters, and the club was small. Members had to take multiple roles. It was arduous enough just to make sure those roles did not conflict.
In those early years there was much more variety in the programs than there is today, and much mor emphasis on social interaction. You will recall, it was to be “enjoyable and worthwhile.” And at that time there was no television and very little radio, to say nothing of computers and the world wide web! Ladies needed ot get away from their everyday surroundings and keep in touch with the wider world.
Each year began with a picnic, outdoors on the Antioch Campus. Time after time the records show “a social meeting” at which no plays were read, but at which games were played or small skits performed. Frequently these social meetings were held in the evening, and husbands attended. In those days, before radio and television turned the world into a vast audience of spectators, people were active players.
Club members had lots of picnics, mostly on the Antioch campus, but frequently indoors. They even had a special committee for picnics, listed in the annual program opposite the executive committee. They had potato races, and something called “Walk to Dublin.”* They played anagrams, where the purpose was to rearrange the letters of a text in order to discover a hidden meaning.
When men were present, they divided into three groups – men, ladies and guests – then played Charades, where a word was represented in riddling verse or by a picture, tableau or dramatic action, so that others could guess the word.
They had “obstacle balloon races” and played Crambo, a game in which one player gives a word or line of verse to be matched in rhyme by other players.
They had a card party, with six tables of six-handed Euchre, and once had a “mock bridge party” which was considered “most amusing.” They set up a series of tableaus representing scenes from Shakespeare, which were interspersed with songs by Miss Clara Hirst, who was accompanied by Mrs. Howard Little.
In 1916, “Shakespeare characters in real life assembled, and gossiped, laughed and philosophized.”
The stated object may have been “study,” but it is quite apparent that the social aspect loomed large.
Attendance was taken at every meeting, (and still is), and four absences without a good reason were grounds for expulsion from the club. On October 25, 1910, according to the minutes, the names of Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Chambers were “stricken from the Club Roll making Miss Fogg a regular member.”
I want to tell you more about these ladies later on, but for now I will only say there was a good reason for dropping people who took their assigned roles so lightly. Reading was a serious business, and since all the parts had been previously assigned, sometimes several parts to one person, the smooth flow of the reading was spoiled if one or more roles had to be compensated for at the last moment.
Each member present responded to her name in whatever fashion had been decreed at the previous meeting. One time with quotations from Hamlet. Once with some current event from the field of drama. Another time, with summer reminiscences, or with a humorous quotation, frequently with “a favorite verse” and finally, simply with “items of interest.” One wonders what some of those items of interest might have been.
* Definition of “Walk to Dublin” according to The Book of Games and Parties for All Occasions by Theresa Hunt Wolcott, Entertainment Editor of “The Ladies Home Journal,” 1920:
“For this a string is stretched tightly across the floor from one end to the other. The traveler is given a pair of opera glasses and is bidden to walk the length of the string looking through the large end of the glasses. Toes and heels must be kept exactly on the line and touching the floor with the free foot to steady oneself is strictly forbidden. As soon as an error is made the traveler must give place to someone else. All will be surprised at the difficulty of the feat and everyone who reaches Dublin should be decorated.”