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Clubs of GR

The following is an excerpt from the same chapter draft as last week’s post.

Grand Rapids’ Club Scene

According to the Peninsular Club’s constitution, the club’s primary function was “to promote social intercourse amongst its members.” In order to accommodate the city’s preeminent elite on both sides of the political aisle, the club refused to express any “opinion on any religious, political or social question.” On everyday but Sunday, members could frequent the club house from seven in the morning until midnight, though special occasions could keep the club open until four in the morning. The club was still open on Sundays, from 9:00am until 10:00pm, but the club did not allow games or alcohol. During the other days, the club allowed card games, though only gentlemanly ones. The constitution outlawed “the games of Poker, Loo, and other games of hazard” or gambling. Every Saturday evening was “Club Night,” during which the club wanted its members “to make a special effort to be present.”

The Peninsular Club was one many social clubs in the city. However, unlike the Lakeside Club, which had hundreds of members, the Peninsular Club only kept dozens of members.The club maintained this exclusivity through strict admissions policies and fees. For a man to gain membership, he needed a current member to submit a written proposal, which then needed a second member to second the proposal. Afterward, the applicant’s name, as well as the names of his two sponsors, would be posted at in the club house for ten days. Finally, the members would take a vote, with only two negative votes required to deny an applicant membership. If the members did approve the applicant, he would then owe a fifty dollar initiation fee, after which he would be responsible for the annual dues of forty dollars.

Though exclusive, non-members could still access the social power of the Peninsular Club. Members could invite non-members to enjoy the social club, though only twice in one year. For many of the city’s leading citizens, like Mayor George Perry, who knew several members, two invitations could be come a dozen rather quickly. In addition to his own social relations with members like Thomas McGarry, Perry appointed several Peninsular Club members to city government positions while mayor, including Dudley Waters, Charles Phelps, William Boyns, and David Uhl. Though George Perry was not a member during his time as mayor, he could easily socialize at the Peninsular Club.

The masculine club house allowed the city’s elite men to socialize over a drink, smoke, and game of cards or billiards. The Peninsular Club also provided a space acceptable for women and children. The ladies dining room was the acceptable space for members of the club to entertain women, as well as the only area permissible for children. However, the Ladies’ Literary Club (LLC), a separate women’s club, provided a more complete feminine space. While the Peninsular Club had an explicitly social purpose, the LLC’s function was the “promotion of literary, scientific, and educational purposes,” as well as “the bringing together of women that they might be helpful to one another and to society.” The LLC hosted national renown speakers in its auditorium and held classes on Shakespeare, short stories, and the Bible.

Though the LLC had an educational foundation, it clearly had social inclinations. Examining a 1926 inventory, the gentility of the LLC becomes very clear. Some of the kitchen items included two lunch clothes, two silver tea urns, two small china plates, three dox tea towels, one sugar tong, four lemon forks, four glass lemon plates. The LLC also had other, more expensive items, such as a grand piano, thirty-six books by Shakespeare, a Wilton Rug, and a silk American flag, estimated at $1,125, $100, $257, and $75 respectively. The ladies discussing Shakespeare in the tea room were the wives and mothers of the city’s elite. Wives of furniture magnets, such as the women of the Widdicomb and Gay families, politicians, like Mrs. William Stuart, Mrs. George Perry, and Mrs. William Alden Smith, and lawyers, bankers, and other businessmen like Mrs. Edwin Uhl, Mrs. Harvey Hollister, Mrs. Dudley Waters, and Mrs. McGeorge Bundy.

Published in Research Urban

2 Comments

  1. I wish more people would write sites like this that are actually helpful to read. With all the garbage floating around on the web, it is a great change of pace to read a site like yours instead.

  2. mel

    One of my first “afterschool” jobs in 1980 was as server in the main dining
    room of the Penn Club. I waited on Sammy Davis Jr. and the Amway founders. Weges, MacInerneys and Samuelsons were regulars.

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