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Book club celebrates 100 years

Every year, the Friday club creates a program to designate meeting locations, hostesses, books and reviewers for the year. This year, as the club celebrates 100 years, the women are focusing on books that have been reviewed by the club in the past 100 years. The photo on the cover of the program is the 1921 Program committee which consisted of Jane Crasweller, cofounders Ethel Phillips and Rose Phelps, and Jessie Cronk. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 4
Ruth Ann Eaton reviews "Advise and Consent" by Allen Drury as Mavis Whiteman listens at a recent meeting of the Friday Club. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 4
Rebecca Lynn Peterson takes notes and Mary Jo Gould listen to Ruth Ann Eaton's review of "Advise and Consent" at a meeting of the Friday Club. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 4
The current members of the Friday Club at a recent meeting at the Women’s Club. This year the club celebrates 100 years of existence. Back row from left to right, Mary J. Sedin, Mary Jo Gould, Marcia Kohlhaas, Rose Drewes, Sheryl Jensen, Joyce Hickman, Ruth Ann Eaton, Judi Hermans, Rebecca Lynn Petersen and Christabel Grant. Front row, seated left to right, Sharon van Druten, Kay Gower, Nan Asperheim, Joanne Hagen and Carol Kelley. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 4

When Rose Phelps invited a group of friends and neighbors to her Lakeside home in October 1915 to discuss a book, she probably had no idea that a group of women would continue to the exact same thing 100 years later. But with that first informal meeting, the Friday Club was born and lives on to this day.

"It's really quite remarkable and I think it shows the dedication that we all have to reading," said member Christabel Grant. "We used to be told that you needed a note from your mother if you were not able to come. And really I think that's the sort of attitude and enjoyment that we all get from being part of this group. We wouldn't think of missing it."

Of course, in 100 years, a few things have changed. For instance, although it is called the "Friday" club due to the original meeting day, the group now meets exclusively on Thursdays.

This change was noted in the club's history records with a bit of humor: "In January of 1950, the Friday Club united with a different day of the week — Thursday. But following the example of Lucy Stoner, and a few other independent women, she (the club) felt the name she had borne for so many years was too much a part of her personality to be lightly discarded and has kept her maiden name. Since then the Friday Club has flaunted her illogical name proudly."

"It's fun for us," said club president Kay Gower. "It's the little things like that which we greatly enjoy."

Another momentous change for the club occurred in 1994. Prior to that, club members were assigned a book to read and required to review the book. Some of the members remember being assigned difficult books.

"I was given these Russian authors all the time. Like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Why, I don't know. Great literature, but they were not books I would have chosen," said longtime member Ruth Ann Eaton.

Today, club members can choose which book they report on. However, many still choose books they wouldn't normally read.

"The one that I found most interesting and made me do a lot of research, was, believe it or not, Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol.' I wouldn't have read it otherwise," Grant said. "I'd seen it at the Guthrie; I've seen several variations of the play and the movie. But I had never read it. And as with every book, they can't fit in everything in the movie. So reading it, it really expands your mind."

The Friday Club meeting is still essentially the same format: the women meet at someone's house or at the Duluth Women's Club, one or two members share their reviews of a book and then tea and refreshments are served for social time. The club still consists of only women who have been invited by friends and acquaintances to join the exclusive group of 21 members.

"The idea, I think, when they formed the book club, was that you were presenting a book that the others would then want to go and read. It's kind of like a book report in school," said member Sheryl Jensen.

What is it that keeps this group going? There are different things for each member. For Jensen, it's the sense of tradition. For Eaton, it's all about the books and their literary value. To Gower, it's the honor of being invited into the group. And Grant? She loves the company of her fellow women.

"I have met many great women who I would never have had an opportunity to meet otherwise. I think that making it to 100 years really shows the importance of the companionship between us women," Grant said.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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