Center Woman's Reading Club Collection, 1906-2010 | East Texas Research Center
By Kyle Ainsworth
Extent: 4.5 Linear Feet
The collection is housed in 3 boxes, processed at the item level, and arranged in 7 series:
1. Club History
6. Club Governance
Date Acquired: 09/30/2011
The Center Woman’s Reading Club Collection documents a century’s worth of the club’s civic and social activities. The collection contains a variety of materials, including but not limited to: club histories, certificates, correspondence, minutes books, newspaper clippings, notes, photographs, scrapbooks, thank-you notes, and yearbooks.
Items researchers might find of particular interest include yearbooks dating back to 1916, minutes books beginning in 1906, several years of proceedings for the Lucy Bridges Junior Reading Club, a membership chart (1914-1975), and three scrapbooks covering the club from 1908 to 1971.
Organized in 1896 and federated in 1904 as part of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs (TFWC), the Woman’s Reading Club (CWRC) has a long and important history as a social and civic organization in Center, Shelby County, Texas. It was members of the Woman’s Reading Club that held the first public debate on women’s suffrage in Center (1907) and who leased the first “Women’s Rest Room” in town (1914). From 1928 to 1955, the only place to check out a library book was from the unofficial county library—stocked, funded and manned by CWRC members. Among its diverse civic engagements, the Woman’s Reading Club organized the first parade at the Shelby County Fair (1928), erected historical markers, helped fund construction for the community center, sponsored a junior reading club (1931-1935), and raised money for various causes and charities.
Club historians often attribute the Woman’s Reading Club’s dedication to the community as reflective of the vitality and beliefs of one of their early presidents, Christina Bryarly. She was a true social progressive at a time when women’s public lives were still highly circumscribed. Educated in New Orleans, Bryarly wrote for The Champion as the social columnist; was the first female member of the Press Association, and the first woman to be on the Farmers State Bank Board of Directors.
The CWRC is not just a civic organization, however. As noted above, beyond their various outreach initiatives, there is a social aspect to club membership. The Woman’s Reading Club meets roughly twice a month on Thursdays from October through May. The reading for each year is thematic and ranges widely from English literature to Native American history. After taking care of CWRC organizational business, the majority of each club meeting is the presentation a pre-selected book by a designated “hostess,” as well as follow-up discussion. Nowadays the Woman’s Reading Club meets at the home of the “hostess” or at the public library, but this was not always the case. Originally, the CWRC met in public spaces—like the Opera House (1907-1914), the “Women’s Rest Room” (1914-1917), and Polley Hotel parlor.
Membership in the CWRC is highly predicated on participation. At one time, members faced expulsion from the club if they missed 3 consecutive meetings, did not pay dues, or did not volunteer at the library. Women even had to contact the president before leaving town on vacation. While the rules are not quite as strict today, active membership still carries with it the expectation of frequent attendance. Membership in the Woman’s Reading Club is also not an honor to be taken lightly. From 1907 to present, the club limits has limited its size to 20 active members. Associate membership is available only to those women with fifteen or more years of active membership.
“History of Woman’s Reading Club.” Compiled by Catherine Davis Pinkston, 1996.
Acquisition Source: Center Woman's Reading Club
Appraisal Information: One of the folders inspected during processing was labeled to contain yearbooks for 1908-1909 and 1914-1915, but the material found inside was not either book.
Preferred Citation: [Item], Center Woman’s Reading Club Collection (B-128), East Texas Research Center, Ralph W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University.
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