January 25, 2014
Dear Fellow Literarian:
Now that the vote on the revised Constitution, Bylaws and Customs has taken place, a few of us would like you to know of some additional discussions that occurred within the Board of Management during the process of readying the various revisions. These discussions regarded the topic of women and the Literary Club; they were the cause of two special meetings of the Board. (This letter was prepared last spring, at the time of those discussions. Albert Pyle, then the club president, asked that we not send it until the vote had taken place.)
We believe these discussions were meaningful, and we want to share with you their major themes. To be candid: The five of us believe that finding some way to allow women into the Club – even as guests – could be a positive development and is the course we should pursue. We will state why shortly.
At the same time, others on the Board disagree. They feel strongly that allowing women in under any circumstances – as guests, let alone as members – would irreparably damage the character of a cherished institution.
Those making the case for women (as members) argue that:
(a) The Club’s literary offerings would improve because we would be drawing on one-half the population now off limits. If the mission of the club is to be the best literary gathering we can be, then cutting ourselves off from the many vital, intelligent, literate and accomplished women who might be interested in membership is hurtful to our own best interests.
(b) In 2014, filtering candidates for a “literary” club by gender is simply out of step with the times. Increasingly, the practice will make the club less attractive to qualified male candidates.
(c) We call ourselves “The Literary Club” with the implication that we serve all of Cincinnati. Currently, however, we are the Literary Club of only half of Cincinnati. If we called ourselves something else, or thought of ourselves less as “The Literary Club” than as a men’s club, then excluding one sex would make sense. All-male and all-female clubs definitely have a place, e.g., The Women’s Club (headquartered in Clifton) and Gyro (a men’s fraternal organization drawing on the region). We don’t believe The Literary Club, with its aspirations to fine prose and eloquence, is in the same category.
Those objecting to the introduction of women to the Club (in any form) do so on grounds that:
(a) They do not want to see the current character of the Club altered. They believe, validly, that having women present at our meetings would notably alter the chemistry of what now occurs.
(b) They are concerned that bringing up the issue in any serious way – say, proposing a vote – could be so divisive as to have a permanently damaging impact on the current good fellowship of our gatherings.
(c) There are not, to our knowledge, people criticizing the Club for discrimination, nor are there groups of women who have shown that obtaining access to the Club is of any real interest to them.
The discussions in the BOM were calm and respectful of one another’s points of view. Ultimately, however, Albert Pyle felt the antipathy to women in the Club – in any form – is so intense on the part of some that to bring it up in any formal way before the membership as a whole could, indeed, be divisive – and to no productive end. Each of us respected Albert’s decision.
So why are we writing this letter? Each of us believes deeply that the Literary Club must change over time or it will marginalize itself as a vital institution. Already, it is not easy to find enough qualified men to maintain our membership at full strength; it is currently at under 90 percent. That deficit imperils both the richness of our literary bench strength and our future as an important part of our town.
More than that, we feel that all of you deserve to know how we feel – that the issue deserves to be aired to at least that degree. While we don’t intend to take any additional steps, we do suspect that a general understanding of our convictions could be the catalyst for conversations on this topic amongst the membership. And if that is so, we believe it could be a good thing.
Paul Franz, Bill Friedlander, Polk Laffoon, Albert Pyle, Allan Winkler