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Women's Clubs

ALTHOUGH the woman's club movement is of recent origin, women's organizations have now become a recognized and important feature of American life. In quiet country places and in small towns they are a real blessing, breaking up sectarian lines, modifying social prejudices, and uniting the women in philanthropic or civic work, or in the pursuit of culture and self-improvement.

Before attempting to form a woman's club, it is well to ascertain what other societies are already in existence in the community and whether there is room for a new one. It is unwise to duplicate the work already carried on by other local organizations, or to increase the number of these unnecessarily.

The next step will be to interest several women of good sense and capacity in the project, in order that they in their turn may interest others. A meeting should then be called, at the house of some person of standing, or at a public library or other place not identified with a single religious denomination. All those invited should be notified beforehand that the purpose of the meeting is the formation of a woman's club.

At the appointed time, one of the promoters should call those present to order, and ask for the nomination . of a chairman. It is a part of courtesy to name for this office, one of the ladies especially interested in the project, and to allow one of her associates to make the nomination. The person who has conducted the meeting up to this time (she is in reality the temporary chairman) now states that Mrs. X. has been named and asks those present to vote on the question " Shall Mrs. X. be requested to take the chair? " She must of course call for the noes as well as for the ayes. There is usually no negative vote at this point, unless some special feeling is involved. If, however, the first nomination is defeated, another person must be named and voted on, as before. The successful candidate takes the chair, and calls for the nomination of a secretary, who is elected in the same way. The meeting being now regularly organized, the chairman asks one or more of the ladies who have called it, to explain their plans, to tell those present what kind of association they would like to form, and to set forth its advantages. When this has been made sufficiently clear, a friend of the enterprise arises and says:

" Madam Chairman " or " Madam President, I move that we now proceed to form a woman's club." If the motion is seconded, the chairman states it and calls for remarks. It is courteous for those in opposition to allow the friends of the movement to state their plans fully, before making objections or throwing cold water. It is entirely proper for the former to call attention to the difficulties or disadvantages of the project, provided they do so in a fair and judicial spirit. The promoters of the woman's club ought to know of the obstacles in their way before they have committed themselves irredeemably to the project.

When the matter has been thoroughly discussed some one, usually a friend of the undertaking, calls for a vote on it, by saying " Question " or " I call for the question." The chairman then may ask if they are ready for the vote. If they are, she requests those who are in favor of forming a woman's club to say " Aye," raise the right hand, or stand, as may be preferred, calling afterwards for the negative vote, in the same way.

If the decision is favorable, a motion should be made, for the appointment of a committee to draw up a constitution and by-laws. It is usually best to post-pone the formation of a permanent organization to a later day or at least to a later hour, in order to give the committee time for consultation, before presenting their report. A constitution should be brief and clear, stating concisely the objects of the society. It must contain provisions for the election of officers and say what they shall be, mention the number of persons necessary for a quorum and the circumstances under which amendments to it can be made. Since women's clubs are very apt to enlarge their work, after a time, it is a mistake to have a prohibitory constitution. All matters likely to be changed, should be treated in the by-laws, which are usually easier to amend than the constitution. In the former, the manual of parliamentary law chosen as a guide, the amount of dues, the time of their payment, the method of electing members, the date of the annual meetings, and any other necessary matters should be mentioned.

It is usually arranged to have the election of officers take place after the adoption of the constitution. The great interest centres in that of the president, who is frequently given more power than the head of a similar organization of men. This may be necessary in the beginning, if the members are not accustomed to the routine of meetings and do not understand parliamentary law. It is surprising, however, the quickness with which our women acquire a working knowledge of its principles. The daughters of a self-governing race learn very readily how to administer their own affairs with dignity and decorum.

It should be at once a duty and a pleasure for the president to train them to take their part in debate and in the work of the club, to accustom them to submit to the necessary discipline, without nagging them or insisting too much on trifles, The larger the body, the stricter must be the enforcement of the rules. In a small and friendly club, the proceedings may be very informal. In a large society, this would not be possible. The members must rise before speaking, they must wait to be recognized by the chair, they must preface their remarks by saying " Madam President" or " Madam Chairman," they must mention their own names, if she is evidently ignorant of these, they must always address the presiding officer, they must take their share in discussion but must not exceed it. No member should expect to speak a second time, unless in explanation of her first remarks, until all the others have had an opportunity to express their opinions. All must pay attention to the proceedings and maintain strict silence, even if the speaker of the moment is dull and prosy. If there is any .whispering, the president should not hesitate to restore order at once by the use of the gavel. This may surprise the members who are new to club life. They may dislike, at first, being obliged to listen to some matter of business in which they feel no special interest. They will soon learn, however, the importance of conducting the affairs of the club with despatch. People who do not pay attention to what is going on, are all at sea, when the vote is taken, as to the policy to be pursued by the club. The whole story has to be told over again, wasting the time of the society, to the annoyance of those who listened in the beginning. Inattention causes misunderstandings and is apt to make trouble sooner or later. Hence it is one of the most important duties of the president, to keep the minds of the members fixed on the question before them. She should of course be wise, gentle and impartial in her method of maintaining discipline. A light tap of the gavel if given promptly is usually sufficient. The chairman must be no respecter of persons. She must not allow the rich and influential Mrs. Croesus to do what is forbidden to Mrs. Lowly. Above all she must always remember that she is not an autocrat nor a personal ruler, but simply the mouthpiece of the organization. It is her duty "To represent and stand for the assembly, declaring its will; and in all things obeying implicitly its commands." (Cushing's Manual of Parliamentary Practice.) A gracious manner and a sense of humor are important qualifications for a chairman. She must remember that she is dealing with her equals, who have delegated their authority to her. She uses it, as their representative, not as a schoolmistress laying down the law to refractory children. A sense of humor will often save a situation that threatens to become strained, by bringing out the funny side of the question. It also prevents the chairman from taking too solemn a view of the little affairs of the club. The president should have dignity but she should be extremely careful not to magnify her office. She must make the members of the club feel that theirs is the real power, that she is always ready and anxious to do what they wish. She must, of course, give er best thought to the welfare of the organization u der her charge. Where it is desired, she will have a policy to propose, a line of study to recommend. But she will not, if she is wise, insist on the adoption of her recommendations because they are hers, nor be hurt nor petulant, if the plans proposed by some one else are adopted.

It is the duty of the secretary to write out the order of the day for the president, as well as to keep the minutes and books of the society and to attend to its correspondence. Hers is an arduous post, for she must do much routine work for which she usually receives little credit. She possesses a good deal of power, if she knows how to use it wisely. One of her most important duties is to report accurately, and at suitable length, the proceedings of the club. She must be neither too terse nor too diffuse. It is usually best not to praise any performance of any member of the society, lest there be heart-burnings because Mrs. A.'s paper was much commended, while Mrs. B.'s was only mentioned briefly. It is better to take notes of all important matters on the spot, rather than to trust to memory. In some societies, it is the custom to copy these at once into the minute-book, ha others the copying is deferred until the minutes have been approved by the club. In the former case, should the society vote to have any alterations or corrections made, the secretary should write, in her account of the second meeting, " The minutes of such a date were read and it was ordered that the following corrections be made." The proceedings of the day are usually opened with roll-call and the reading of the minutes.

The secretary, like the president, is the servant of the club, and should make every effort to serve it well, and to treat all with impartiality. If the society directs her to make certain corrections in the minutes, it is her duty to obey, even if she thinks her record is right. She is, of course, at liberty to resign, if she thinks she is unfairly treated.

It is the duty of the treasurer to see that the members pay their dues at the proper time, and to remind those who are in arrears. This requires some tact and delicacy. Dunning notices should never be sent on postal cards. Some societies have the regulations relating to dues printed on a slip of paper. The treasurer may add a few courteous lines, intimating that the matter has doubtless escaped Mrs. X.'s attention, that she asks leave to remind her of it, or something to this effect. The treasurer should also pay musicians or lecturers, before they leave the club, rather than send a check by mail.

The membership at large should give their officers cordial support, should be loyal to the organization and should beware of the tendency to take things as personal, that were not so intended. Women are so new to club life that they often err in this direction.

In the treatment of lecturers, organizations of women are extremely courteous, receiving them with much kindness and hospitality. The officers sometimes forget, however, that the business of the club is not of especial interest except to club-women. A lecturer should not be kept waiting while the affairs of the society are transacted. Ile should be notified before-hand of the time when he is expected to speak, and not simply of the time of the meeting. Where the speaker is a woman, the secretary, chairman of entertainment committee or some member of the club should meet her at the train and bring her in a conveyance to the place of meeting. She should also be taken back to the station, in the same way.

The president or chairman of the day goes first down the aisle, but on reaching the steps to the platform, allows a lecturer who is a woman, to precede her. It is well to consult a speaker, before arranging a reception or other entertainment in her honor. Club-women do not always realize that lecturing, with the travelling it involves, is fatiguing. A speaker may not have the strength nor the leisure to attend social functions, much as she might enjoy these under other circumstances.

Since women's clubs are usually democratic organizations, where rich and poor meet on a footing of equality, it is well to have the entertainments simple in character, so that no one's purse may be severely taxed.

If a number of persons are invited to speak at a club banquet, care should be taken that guests from a distance should have an opportunity to do so, before the hour of departure of their trains. Organizations of women are apt to make their programmes too long, and to overweigh these with " home talent. "

( Originally Published 1911 )

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