A small group of Whatcom County women has found the secret to eternal life.
It’s not in a fountain or a chalice. For Monday Club members it’s in the pages of a book — and the time spent sharing it with friends.
“Longevity seems to be one of the features of Monday Club and quite a clarity of mind,” says Caroline Kingsbury, who, at 54 is one of the club’s youngest members. “It does seem like people live a long time.”
The lengthy lifespan of its members matches that of the club, which has seen three centuries since its inception in 1892. The Monday Club is the oldest literary club in Bellingham, and as its title suggests, its members have met on Mondays for almost as long as Bellingham has existed. A look at early rosters archived at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies lists Bellingham’s big names among the club’s early avid readers: Mrs. Eldridge, Mrs. Donovan and Mrs. Larrabee, among many others.
“We have records of six or seven women’s clubs, but (Monday Club) is the earliest that we have,” says Ruth Steele, acting archivist at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies. “You had a growing number of people coming to Bellingham. As more women came to town they were looking to meet people and inform themselves.”
Social clubs were blossoming throughout the country, and women were taking the opportunity to join and create stronger connections with one another and their changing world. For Monday Club founders, J.A. Kerr and B.B. Seymour of Fairhaven, the desire to maintain a level of academia and intelligence drove them to organize the club.
“It was the progressive era, and people were starting to take an interest in the world around them,” Steele says. “It would have been fascinating if you could listen back and hear these discussions.”
MODERN MONDAY CLUB
While the world has made quite a few turns and changes since the Monday Club cracked open its first book — Washington Irving’s “Astoria” — the world of Monday Club has stayed true to its traditions.
“It’s a real anachronism,” Kingsbury says with affection.
The club’s nearly 30 members still meet every Monday afternoon from October to April, though they take a break during December. Many of the current members are children or relatives of early club members.
“I was slow at joining, but the elders of the group encouraged me to come,” says Josephine McNeill, whose mother, Zoë Kindall, was a club member.
At 94, McNeill is the club’s oldest and longest-standing member.
“It’s been a while for me; I’m told it’s been 60 years,” she says.
That’s sixty years of Mondays spent with good books and good friends.
“As you get older, your contacts reduce, and I do enjoy the group,” McNeill says. “I’ve grown up with many of them.”
Club meetings usually comprise an hour book report by rotating members of the club followed by tea and refreshments provided by that meeting’s hostess. Though McNeill says she’s is not a fan of giving the reports, she loves to listen to them and get a feel for every book. All the reading has kept everyone’s minds sharp, even those whose business is books.
“It’s an interesting historical club,” says JoAnn Roe Hubbard, a 72-year-old Bellingham writer. “I have to say that even though it’s my profession to know literature, I’ve learned far more than I’ve given back.”
It takes more than an appreciation of literature to get into the ranks of the Monday Club. It takes a genuine commitment.
“Once you’re in Monday Club, you’re never out of Monday Club,” Kingsbury says.
It also takes an invitation, though legacies such as McNeill are automatically accepted into the club. If a member knows someone she thinks would fit in with the spirit of the club, she invites them to a meeting. If all the other members approve, she can is then invited to become a permanent fixture in the club.
“We’re all such good friends; there’s something about it,” says Marian Main, 79, a Bellingham resident who has been in the club for about 35 years. “If somebody likes someone really well and gets to know them, that’s how we get our membership. We all have a feeling for each other. You can rely on each other. The women have just been wonderful.”
Every new addition helps the club strengthen its roots, and it allows the ladies to expand their social circles.
“I enjoy seeing the people, and I’ve known them for so long,” McNeill says. “Once in awhile we get new blood, and it’s nice to know them too.”
In the past when The Bellingham Herald used to write about the Monday Club meetings, Joyce Morse says the articles would always describe them the same way.
“The table is beautifully set with candles aglow,” Morse repeats the lines from articles past.
And at a meeting in January at member Ann Jones-Richardson’s Chuckanut home, the old elegance seemed to have never left. As Marian Main wrapped up her report about Frances Mayes’ “A Year in the World,” the ladies gathered around the dining room table, set with tea, coffee and small sweets waiting by the light of a few candles.
“It’s a little bit quaint,” says Ann Hanson, 67. “It seems like a quiet place in a busy week. It’s kind of like going back in time — you have a little tea and someone reads to you.”