Women in the LC?

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

21 thoughts on “Women in the LC?

  1. Bill Pratt

    Those who favor admitting women to the Literary Club for the first time in its history are ignoring history. They seem to forget that we are going on 165 years as a men’s club and are by now not just a club but a cultural institution. Our membership today is as strong as it was in 1849, but they were only thirty strong and we are nearly a hundred strong. We understand that the authors of the letter are naturally sympathetic to women and want women to be part of the Literary Club. We are as just as sympathetic to women as they are. and every bit as naturally, but we joined a men’s club by free choice and do not want that choice to be taken away from us. Most women respect our identity as a men’s club, since they are free to join a women’s club if they choose. Let us go on being a men’s club without embarrassment or apology. Bill Pratt

  2. Jim Myers

    I have been a member of the Literary Club for only a bit more than seven years, and I do remember quite clearly my impressions of the club when I attended prior to being invited to membership. Rightly or wrongly, I took the Literary Club to be primarily a men’s club at which literary excellence was sought and often, although not always, achieved.

    There are many ways to improve our literary output, even to the point at which many rather than few of our papers will warrant publication. We could, as the recent letter suggests, admit women and then we could double, at the same time, the stringency of our writing sample requirement. We could recruit members from the local universities’ creative writing departments. We could require nominees to demonstrate previous commercial publication. Any of these might result in better papers being brought before the club of a Monday evening.

    I agree that being an all-men’s club is “simply out of step with the times,” but so are most of the buildings in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, too. I like Over-the-Rhine and downtown for their history and tradition. I like the Literary Club, just the way it is.

    Best regards,
    Jim Myers

  3. Paul g. Sittenfeld

    I think the aspects of the Club which I have enjoyed and admired would be enhanced meaningfully by the presence and engagement of women. To deny ourselves access to the perspectives and talents of half the population is a loss for us. As the spouse of a professional woman and the father of three professional women, I feel compromised by this exclusion as I would if there were a systemic exclusion of Jews, Catholics, African-Americans or gays. The addition of talented women could energize our institution and make it far more robust. As a twelve year member, I believe a dose of fresh air is our opportunity to make the future of the Club brighter. Paul Sittenfeld

  4. G G Carey

    Belonging to an all-male literary club has been for me a special lifetime experience. The collegiality I have found in this 185 year old band of brothers has been a unique lifetime pleasure which could not be replaced. To preserve it, I am prepared to forego whatever literary benefits may come with the admission of women.

  5. Tony Covatta

    A twenty year veteran of the Club who has counted his membership in it one of his proudest achievements, I am torn by the question and yet could answer it with equanimity either way. But I don’t think I yet have to answer, because there is a prior question that the Club must answer about itself before it seeks to engage the world around it. That is, does the Club seek to be merely a men’s club, or does it indeed seek to be THE Literary Club of Cincinnati? If the former, one question is answered but others remain: What kind of men’s club? How much do we ask of each other beyond cozy good fellowship? A higher standard of literary production would seem to me to be necessary. If the latter, the answer seems to lead inevitably to opening the door to all, as the claim of excellence would demand inclusivity rather than a policy of exclusion.

    A middle ground is available. If the Club is committed to being the best men’s literary club possible, I am prepared to continue things as they are.

    On the other hand if the goal is only preserving a rather musty status quo, with many papers of inferior quality, I believe the time has come to try something different.

  6. James Wesner

    Tony states the central issue very well. Admitting women would be necessary for the club to become THE Literary Club of Cincinnati, which, at present, we are not. I submit it would also mean abandoning most, if not all, of the club-like atmostphere that currently is a defining feature of the organization. Proponents of the change should tell us more about how a mixed membership would socialize, whether meaningful integration could be established without an increase in total membership and, if so, how the facilities could be adapted to accomodate more members. Perhaps the new club would be a better club, if literary merit is the principal objective, but we run the risk of sacrificing much that we now treasure for an aspiration that may or may not be achieved. Although I am conflicted, as many of us no doubt are, my inclination is to preserve the club’s best features while at the same time working for the clearly achievable goal of being the best men’s literary club in the land.

  7. Rick Kesterman

    Samuel Johnson’s dictionary of 1766 defines the word club as “an assembly of good fellows”. It is in this definition of the word that I find the most important facet of my Monday nights: the fellowship that comes when a group from many walks of life assembles to enjoy a drink, hear a paper, partake of a light supper, and regale each other with varied conversation. I have been honored to deliver three papers in my seven years as a member of the Club and I am still awed by the fact that my meager contributions are part of an organization that dates from 1849, and has in its membership rolls many notable men who played a part in both Cincinnati’s and the nation’s history.
    As the question at hand is whether to admit women to the club, I feel the argument that including women as members would improve the quality of the papers is as politically incorrect as our going to an all women’s organization and informing them that they would be better off if they only had some men in it. There is no denying that women as members would add a different flavor to the literary offerings, but to think that men have a monopoly on less than perfect papers is simply not so.
    A river related group that I formerly belonged to had “chapter” groups that served needs that the parent group could not. Since 500 E 4th Street is owned by the club, would it be possible to have a meeting on some other night for both men and women while leaving the Monday night meeting for the club as it is? The logistics of this are beyond the scope of this discussion; however, it might be better to expand rather than trying to fix something not yet broken.

  8. Mark Schlachter

    As the new kid in the club I have some hesitation in joining the discussion. I will however share some thoughts.
    1. There is no prohibition to admitting women as members in the Literary Club constitution…only custom precludes female membership.
    2. If a woman were to be presented to the BOM for membership consideration, and should the BOM present that candidate to the Club membership, a mere 8 or 9 black balls in the ballot box would preserve the custom.
    3. The Cincinnati Art Club (founded 1890) was an all male organization until the late 1970s. The inclusion of women has not had a significant impact on the art exhibited in their clubhouse/gallery. BTW there is an active women’s art club which supports its own club house.
    4. The Cincinnati Woman’s Club sponsors a writers’ circle with a professional editor to provide guidance.
    5. Our membership is limited to a maximum of 100. It has been common to have fewer than the maximum number of members.
    6. Our facilities are singularly ill-suited to a coed membership, although a port-o-let in the alley would be an interesting addition to the Club campus.

  9. Gordon Christenson

    The following email exchange in 2009 was with a woman I’ve never met. We share a common ancestor mentioned in my literary club paper, Evelyn, about my great great grandmother. Evelyn’s father was a Maine sea captain and owned schooners. He’s our common ancestor. The family joined the Mormons in 1844. After reading the paper I posted it on my family website. My correspondent found it in a genealogical search and asked if she might have a copy, which I sent. This led to the following discussion about our being all-male. I thought it might give a little different point of view. My email friend lives in New England. I’ve edited the exchange to preserve her privacy. She is literary, highly educated and writes a lot like Emily Dickinson. In my 34 years as a club member, I’ve never before had such an exchange:

    “When I read about the Cincinnati Literary Club being an all-male group, I felt differently than I do about the Masons’ exclusion of women (but for the Order of the Evening Star to which my grandmother belonged). I wince at that exclusion from a literary club because it excludes my intellect. Sure, there is a separate but equal women’s club, but there are times when, like men, I don’t prefer women’s company, or when, like men, I prefer men’s to women’s company. Typically, in intellectual matters, I have preferred men’s company and feel more of an affinity to men’s discussions. Not always is that the case, especially not when men take up binary thinking with a passion, but often it is the case.

    I was in awe of the fact that the papers that you had shared with me were ideas discussed only among men at one point. I wonder if, in your comfort with the all-male literary club, my comments to your papers, my ways of approaching and analyzing the material, have produced in your mind the thought that my point of view might have been welcomed in that club, at the time of your having presented that paper – or, put another way, that the absence of my voice would have pained you in some way, in retrospect, after having heard my perspective on your papers? Of course, you can’t miss what you don’t have, but as an afterthought, perhaps, you would possibly see that it was for the better that I participated in that reception of your papers?

    “I do think that the presence of women in a men’s club changes the tenor of discussion and the atmosphere, and not always for the best. I can see the respite involved in like minds communicating. So, I’m not completely averse to what you say about the CLC. However, please consider what I’m saying. I wouldn’t suggest that my opinions should change your mind – I think that you should keep the club exactly as it is. Your having imparted the ideas of the paper in the paper, itself, however, is something of which I am very glad you did.”

    My Response:

    “It would pain me most if your point of view could not be expressed to me at all. And I’m not sure it would be expressed in the same moving and insightful ways in the club when read. Some of us discuss this question, mostly having already read our papers to wives, women friends and family members for suggestions before reading to the club. It often comes up when a member regrets very much that his wife, daughter or granddaughter cannot be invited to hear him read a paper in the same way that his son is. We do not discuss papers after they are read except informally around tables where we eat a late supper with beer or soda. Public discussion doesn’t work when your paper can be on any subject.

    “The debates were fierce especially over abolition and slavery in antebellum Cincinnati where the runaways would cross over the Ohio to begin the underground railroad north and feelings were polarized. There were women and men who were radicals and anarchists as well as socialists and racists. Often fights and fisticuffs broke out and duels. In that setting men in the presence of women acted differently. A group of young men who detested the polarization started the Literary Club devoted entirely to literary exercises and informal discussion among themselves agreeably, no matter what their race, religion, politics or belief system. This remains at our core today but membership is still in issue in informal discussions in the club. There is nothing in the constitution or bylaws excluding anyone, only custom does.

    The discussion in our club other than to support tradition boils down to why a club benefits more from keeping its small male character than it would by including women members. There is always a presidential address suggesting benefits in either direction. We generally have resolved the question by consensus of enjoying a limited time for male bonding and companionship through literary exercises every week at every stage of men’s lives not often experienced in any of our institutions today. Grieving, for example, is experienced among males quite differently than in mixed social groups, I find. So might be the male fear that women would expose our bad habits and taste. Our male rituals of memorials and honoring deceased members seem authentically different and do not detract from the more public services and rituals that are needed in their own way and often are more moving. We experience aging in certain ways among males and in other ways among men and women together. We talk differently about the troubles our children and grandchildren have in a society where much of the blame focuses on male bombast and paternalism. We can seem to share compassion and sorrows readily, while still admitting failures to each other and poking fun at ourselves. These seem no more valuable than we experience in the company of women especially when we are open and secure, but they seem different. Both experiences add to our human capacity to deal with exuberance, triumphs, suffering or grief in various human ways through our original papers.

    “I am not so sure we are right in my club but it works and in time another consensus might arise and keep the club alive for another century or two to preserve this quaint and valuable group when others come and go.”

  10. David Reichert

    I am opposed to the admission of women. I will not, in the interest of brevity, repeat what has already been said. However, I detect a guilty conscience on the part of those arguing the admission of women. I believe admission would change the ambience of the club. Apart from the goal of admitting candidates who are good writers, most members proposing the admission of a candidate emphasize their clubbability and their collegiality. This seems to me to be an essential qualification of membership. The club has survived well for 165 years. Let’s not change its character now.

  11. Carl Iseman

    As a member of the club for just a few short years, I continue to be attracted to the central core of my rationale for joining, i.e. to join a “band of brothers” interested in writing and learning about a wide variety of subjects. The history and customs of the club make it unique and add to the enjoyment of my Monday nights. If, in fact, our objective is to increase membership and the quality of that which is presented, then I would continue as we have all these years and focus more energy on building membership and improving the quality of papers presented. However, I also believe that we live in a more inclusive society than when the club was first formed and because of that believe that change is inevitable and to some extent, necessary, if not welcome. To that end I would argue that there are times when the sanctity off the club could and should be broken. I see no negative impact if we were to invite wives or significant others to be present at ones presentation or to have this same group attend the Anniversary or end of year meeting.
    Many mens’ clubs do occasionally grant temporary access to women. As an example while living in New York City in the early ’70s and playing squash at the Yale Club, my wife was allowed admittance to join me for dinner, although she had to enter through the service entrance…Diane thought that was a riot!! I’m sure things have progressed at the Yale Club in the intervening years.
    Finally, do we limit our selves by not allowing women membership? I’m not sure, but would offer a middle ground, i.e. why not reach out to women writers and invite them to present papers and offer some of our best to women’s clubs in return. Also,I think it would be a shame if we didn’t expand our repertoire to allow recognized writers, be they male or female, to present papers when they visit our fair city!
    If a vote were taken today, I would vote against women membership, but would argue strongly that we should explore opportunities for women to participate as described above.

  12. IM durham

    I read the board statements, both positive and negative. I avoided reading the members submittals. My comments may duplicate what other membrs have said, but here they are:
    (a) There were many good points in the BOM statements, both positive and negative.
    (b) I find one of the more positive aspect the TLC is the open communication we have as men. In any organization of mixed genders I have been a member of, all the talk is dominated by women. The men just shut up.
    (c) There are many ‘women’s clubs’ but I know of no ‘men’s clubs’ other than some sports bar, hunting/fishing clubs, and even these are becoming more and more gender integrated.
    A club including women would lose at least 59% of uts vakue for me.
    Therefore I am opposed.


    Ever since I joined The Literary Club in 1978, I have found that the Club has been a significant part of my life. I have anticipated listening to papers read by members and have enjoyed the camaraderie before and after the papers.
    I realize that, in these all-inclusive and changing times, women could add to the breadth and quality of papers if they become members. However, I do not believe that a mix of both sexes would be beneficial because it would change the basic character of the Club.
    The Club as a men’s club has its own character, its own distinctive tradition and should remain that way.

  14. Emerson Knowles

    To my fellow Club members,

    I have the privilege of being a member of three different writing groups in my community in Arizona that are all co-ed. The women bring excellent work and we all participate together. However, the “culture” of the groups is VERY different in that mix. I believe the culture in our Literary Club has a special quality in the camaraderie between of our find collection of gentleman and the inclusion of women will be its end. If we wish to forever change the character of our club and put an end the camaraderie we know, then take this bold step. If we wish to preserve our wonderful heritage, leave it alone. I for one, feel VERY STRONGLY that we should leave it alone. I know what a mixed group is like and enjoy them, but it will be the end of our amazing culture. My long term commitment to our club, if it loses its uniqueness to be just like any other, would be in serious question as our club would cease to be the one that I know and love.

    Emerson Knowles

    1. Tom Bennett

      My thoughts on the future of the Literary Club are driven partly by the current discussions regarding open gender membership, but also by a question our President, Jack McDonough asked of some relatively new members almost four months ago.

      Jack asked what was it about our membership that we found surprising, or perhaps, “What did you expect as a new member?” and “What hasn’t happened?”

      Since I was then quite pleased at having been accepted into membership I had not given much thought to what I might have expected to happen, that didn’t.

      Upon reflection I realize that the suggestion – from the recent letter of 1/15/14 from Messers Franz, Friedlander, Laffoon, Pyle, and Winkler – that the mission of the Literary Club is to be the best literary gathering we can be – is what I find hasn’t, and may perhaps, not be happening – not because of gender distinctions or preferences, but for other reasons.

      While we do seem to be questioning somewhat more thoroughly the “literary” quality of work by prospective members, and while we used to offer a brief seminar on writing to first time paper deliverers, today we make almost no effort to “become” the best literarians we can. By the way, it isn’t just literary excellence that we seek. We also present papers aurally which may make us more the Rhetorical (writing and speaking) Club than the Literary (writing) Club. But, just adding women as the road to excellence seems a little like trying to buy it without doing the work.

      Excellence in these areas does not just happen. First, while some can indeed sit down and spin a fine yarn rather quickly, and some can speak with clarity and liveliness, quite a few of us need work; some a little, some a lot. And while coaching may seem a strange suggestion, I don’t know of many clubs, that have a purpose beyond mere camaraderie, that don’t offer coaching to develop excellence; golf clubs, sailing clubs, chess clubs, shooting clubs, and so on. Second, achieving improvement towards excellence requires a feedback mechanism … to learn what to make better as well as how.

      I think two of our predecessors in this “brotherhood” have provided some guidance as the question of membership gender issues, and I quote:

      “Amid the prevalent over weaning worship of wealth, the tyranny of fashion, the baseness of politics and the false luster of worldly glory, let us, brothers of the Literary Club, hold fast by the unmeasured powers of the mind.” AR Spofford, 10/29/1899

      “The importance of respecting tradition while also staying in tune with the contemporary scene… The everyday living experience of young people today leads me to wonder how often membership in the Club may seem relevant to qualified young people and what might be done to increase that sense of relevance,” J A MacLeod,10/25/1999

      I believe that, with the “unmeasured powers of the mind” that we so honor here, we can find ways to develop our skills in writing and rhetoric so that we are indeed the “best” literary and rhetorical gathering in the region, and thus, provide an atmosphere of learning that might “increase that sense of relevance” to attract to membership “qualified young people.”

      Then, when these young people are hammering at the door to come in, we can welcome them whatever their gender or gender preference.

  15. Richard Hunt

    Fellow Literarians,

    When the letter which has stirred the slumbering beast arrived, my reaction after reading it was: 1. interesting, 2. not so surprising considering society has pretty much accepted equality across the sexes, and 3. well, this is surely going to generate some spirited conversation. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I had anything to add to the mix, plus I wondered whether even if I did have a POV that might warrant inclusion, perhaps I was still too new to comment. But I was certainly ready to listen intently – which is my M.O. – and then decide – which is not always my M.O.

    This is where my rural background has some relevance. The seed had been planted unknowingly and just this morning a thin tendril poked above the surface. Not certain what precisely this will grow into (which is not an uncommon phenomena as such often happened on the perimeter of the garden where last year’s crops had been plowed under). So this is my green shoot of “something” which I don’t want to pull out yet before it’s revealed whether might sustain itself, or possibly us.

    Also let me acknowledge that I have a bias. Rural again. I grew up with four strong, smart females – three sisters and my mother — who were forced and motivated by where we lived in to be tough as railroad spikes and wise as valedictorians they became. We labored side-by-side in the same stinkin’-hot fields where the dirt under our nails paired with the dirt caked in our shoes…although they would be the first to tell you this was not a good fashion statement. They sat in the same classrooms, excelled on the same playing fields, and exceeded my measly output of compassion and conversation. Then they birthed babies on top of it all. Suffice it to say, everything in my life has proved that there is no better or worse, no smarter, no stronger and certainly no superiority; that is, there is no difference between the inherent capabilities of women and men. The only true difference is anatomical, and thank heavens for that.

    But that’s not truly the issue here, i.e., whether by opening the Club’s doors to women we would emerge into the sudden bright sunshine of even-steven. What seems to me it that we first must acknowledge back when the club was formed, society was markedly different. Core to this discussion is that in the intervening decades, rights which were not extended to all genders and races back then have been corrected. Yet as we all know, not all vestiges of prior exclusion have been eradicated. Fair-minded and generous peoples must continue to work as sandpaper (and herein I thank the authors of the letter for acting as such) to smooth the bumps in the wood, for only then can it be sealed, polished, and burnished as the furniture that supports future generations: chairs, tables and ladders.

    In recent weeks, another subject has bubbled up, one which can be overlaid onto this issue, (but at least in my mind, they are not one and the same) — the expressed need for better papers.

    If the former is our goal, the solution is straightforward: just like GE performance reviews, papers should be assigned grades and if they don’t pass muster, new members are brought in to lift the literary output and previous members are released. Thankfully, that is not how this Club operates, nor, do I believe, is that how any of us would want it to be. There’s enough stress and competition in the course of our lives – let our time in these semi-hallowed walls to be moments when we desire to duly rise and perform admirably, but cannot and should not be demanded. So if somehow we’ve stirred together these two issues, i.e., whether by opening the doors to all adults –thereby hopefully, and more likely incidentally getting better papers in the process – is the bastard son of confusion.

    At least in my mind, the axis upon which this debate spins is whether we’d become less supportive of one another if both men and women could be members. It is my experience that when both sexes are gathered in the same room, even if just for casual conversation, both the testosterone and insecurity levels rise. Words suddenly jostle with emotion; the pitch (in its many meanings) and tenor (ditto) of the conversations change. And if and when that happens, the bonhomie of the Club will change.

    This next part is minor: I suspect that in the same way conversations change in mixed company, so does the need for decorating. And while being in the midst of hail-fellow-well-met group-hug appeals greatly to me, I’d really rather not notice about carpets or paint or having a second bathroom. I believe this Club serves as a home away from home for many of us, and we’d like the experience to be comfortable, perhaps even more comfortable than home where if something leaks or rips or stains or breaks, we have to fix it. We have enough of that at home and work…which is precisely the point. This is where we come to get away and I appreciate finding a place of a couple hours a week where nothing by congeniality and exposure to a new subject or insight into a new world entertains us all. Would having women as part of this “change our vibe?” Perhaps.

    Then again, as the ever-insightful Mr. Diehl pointed out, maybe women wouldn’t want to join. Maybe after they visit – which they’d have to do before membership could be considered anyway, just as we did – they’d collectively say “Meh, not for me.”

    So where is all this back and forth tracking? Maybe I am not evolved enough. Admittedly, I am conflicted because I see many facets here, some would say pro, some would say con, I just say complex. So if it’s hard to concretely and absolutely say that “I want it to be X or Y, or more correctly XX or XY.” Where I must end us is as the momentary Buddhist and realize that “I” do not matter.

    And that is true. Our role as parents or advisors or stewards is one the first half of our duties is to honor our history (which does not mean exactly the same as “preserve” our history, which suggests something cast in amber) while the second half of our responsibilities – the yin to that yang of history – is to create a legacy. Just as we love the history of the Club…that’s why we come every week – to learn, to lean, and to carry forward – it is the latter that is most important,; what do we wish to carry forward to our sons…and daughters? In my case, our daughter takes after her aunts – determined, diligent, declining attention while fiercely dedicated. My point of view has always been if she puts in the work, she should not be denied opportunity just because she was born a girl. How then can I “rule” that my comfort should come before her generations chance to do better. So all that said, yes, I definitely want to honor our history, but to create a legacy, that needs to evolve to “her-story” going forward.

    It’s always so interesting not being 100% sure I’m going to end up when I start typing, but I believe this exercise has exorcised an opinion (whereas it would have been so much easier not to put out that effort and stayed agnostic) which I could, and perhaps one day will, share this space with our sons and daughters. I’m pretty sure that my wife, their mother, would have little interest in joining, much less presenting a paper. Even after a career in publishing, I’m not sure which of my female co-workers and peers would care a whit about membership. Both of those two parties have spent enough time putting up with me that I’m relatively confident in saying that they’re not looking to add to that sentence. But I do know of two gentlemen who would be ideal candidates for membership who have told me that they cannot even hope to join because of the rift it would create in their household due to the Literary Club’s male-only policy; from their POV, preserving the peace at home more than outweighs a weekly gathering of the minds. That too is too bad.

    Change is hard, change is constant, and what science has proved is that organisms (and organizations) that do not change tend to die. But to read the future, well, we don’t have a crystal ball, only bifocals. Perhaps it’s best to allow those still to come a chance to envision a clear-eyed, all-in future for the Cincinnati Literary Club, be that what it may.

  16. Lew Gatch

    Without a newcomer disclaimer I join the posting:

    PURPOSE OF THE CLUB In the beginning and today the club does not have a mission to be the best of anything. Rather, its purpose is to provide a forum for men to read a paper they have written with the hope it will be interesting and well read, so as to provide good entertainment. Some Mondays are more entertaining than others. Perhaps the realization that we are all “members” rather than the newly minted “literarians” could calm our expectations and be more accurately portrayed if we merely changed the name to “The 1849 Club.”

    FIDUCIARIES ALL When we joined this mens club with full knowledge of its character, we accepted a fiduciary duty to maintain its customs and traditions. Why? Because the Taft family; Mr. Carr; Mr. Curry; and Mr. Rieveschl gave us the building and substantial endowments to carry out the purpose of the club knowing the gender of the beneficiaries of their gifts. Many of us have given much smaller gifts recently to preserve the building with the same knowledge. All members gladly use these gifts without a thought of inspecting the steeds’ mouths. Let us honor the intent of the donors and the founders of the club and not horse around with an unbroken treasure.

    PS Mr. Carey’s post tops the pile.

  17. paul franz

    Dear Colleagues,

    Having signed That Letter, I debated whether to post. Rich’s thoughtful post prompted me to. Blame him.

    There is of course nothing wrong with all-male (or all-female, all Moslem, etc.) private clubs. The right to associate includes the right not to associate – to exclude. I prize that right – but by background (Appalachian mother, Asian wife, Eurasian kids), I haven’t had the pleasantest experiences with categorical exclusions.

    As matter of structure, as Gordon pointed out, there is no category officially excluded from the Club – a club that started with 12 white, straight, youngish, probably Protestant men. From that start, the history of the place has been one of increasing openness. As both John and Rich noted, it’s unlikely that process has stopped forever.

    The founders did consider admitting women in the Club’s earliest years. Henry Winkler pointed out in his 1999 anniversary address that in the mid-1800’s, that decision was caught up with custom on consumption of “spirituous liquors” in mixed company. Faced with a forced choice between the cults of Bacchus and Athena, our founders made an understandable call.

    Fear of messing up the Club’s tone and fellowship is real. I share it. As Mark Schlachter notes, that’s a question our structure would answer by considering a candidate, not a gender. My experience is that there are women who are good “fellows,” and men who are not. I’ve seen nothing in my 23 years in the Club that I would have found inhibited by the presence of a female good fellow. (More Nora Ephron than Emily Dickinson.) I acknowledge that view is inherently subjective.

    Fear of unqualified spouses seeking membership, and of awkwardness in rejecting them, seems founded, but addressable: a moratorium on spouses’ applications for ____ years.

    What’s to be gained? To me, it’s not so much doubling the numerical pool as the experience pool. I’d like to hear from a few members who are wired that different. Yes, a risk/benefit analysis is needed.

    Other clubs have dealt with The Issue, which sheds some light on risk. The survey “Essay Clubs of the United States,”


    comes from the website of the Chicago Literary Club, which admitted women in 1995 – its 119th year. The author is from the Chit Chat Club of San Francisco, which went a different way. Of course, all of this should be seen more as anecdote than precedent, since we control our own fate.

    Bill Sena and I spoke with the historian of the Chicago Club on Saturday to hear of their experience. Happy to share what we heard.

    As Gordon said, the composition of a private club is determined by the consensus of the members, and consensus may change. Consensus can only be known through communication. This year’s is the broadest communication on our composition that I’ve seen in my score- and-three, and that itself I celebrate.

  18. Ted Silberstein

    In these discussions some of us have referred to the ambiance of the LC. The word “ambiance” is too light a word for my perception of the atmosphere generated by an amazing group of “clubable” men gathered for fellowship and intellectual stimulation on a weekly basis. The intellectual stimulation, and (sometimes) laughter, is not inevitable with every paper, but the batting average is high.

    There are few places in the world where I go wherein good conversation is virtually inevitable, either at the cocktail “hour” before the paper, or when sitting down at any table after the paper. I do not know everyone in the club, even after 15+ years, so there is often someone I need to introduce myself to. No problem. The cordiality and immediate ability to share experiences and thoughts when we sit down together is unparalleled in my experience. The sense of joy I get from being at the LC and the “high” I take home with me to share with my wife virtually always occur. This sense of deep appreciation for these gifts which I receive almost weekly leads me to wish to avoid the gamble that it will persist with women members,

    There are certainly many, many women with whom we have all had great conversations in our lives, and I don’t lack for that now. I’ve polled seven or eight women, some wives of LC members, whom I consider outstanding for their advanced degrees, community and/or business leadership, fund of knowledge, other achievements and insight. Each has replied that she would not want to belong to our organization, that it is a fine outlet for guys who want a little fellowship. No woman has yet applied for membership, so this issue hardly cries out for action.

    As a physician I have noticed that widows take care of each other but widowers are more solitary after the tragedy of losing a spouse. We do not generally, as guys, bond as well as women, making our LC experience that more remarkable and special. This is my first, and only, experience belonging to a men’s organization, and I do not wish to experiment, with no guarantee that we will be any wiser or have any more fun than we do now.

    I do like the idea of daughters being invited to attend when their fathers give papers.

  19. Allan Winkler

    I find myself in a difficult position. I’ve been a member of the Literary Club for the past 25 years, and have valued my membership. It was something I was able to share with my father, and that was meaningful to me. I was grateful for the extraordinary support of Literary Club members when I was raising funds to endow a chair at UC in his name. And in recent years, I have begun to form friendships with other members that have been very important to me. Most of all, I have enjoyed writing and sharing papers of my own, and listening to those of people I like and respect.

    But in the last several years, second thoughts have begun to creep in. I was deeply hurt that I could not invite my stepmother, Bea Winkler, or my wife, Sara Penhale, to listen to the paper I did about my father before he died. I think that was plain wrong, and I still bristle when I think about it. And it was made worse after the fact, when in a casual conversation a past president said that had I asked, some provision could have been made. Given what I have been reading on this blog, I think that would have been a provocative act. I don’t want to have to ask for special permission. I want something so reasonable and natural to happen as a matter of course.

    At our Holiday Celebration, I had originally begun my short paper with the following sentence: “My wife Sara, who alas is not welcome within these walls, even when the paper is about her, was having a hard time.” She persuaded me to take that sentence out, but the uncomfortable feeling remains, and I am still bothered that she could not hear it delivered.

    More recently, I have found myself frankly embarrassed to acknowledge to friends and colleagues that in the 21st century I belong to a group that excludes women. Ten years ago, it was treated as something of a joke. Today, it is less funny, and because I am still working, people with whom I am in constant contact are amazed that I would continue to participate in such a reactionary undertaking.

    At first I thought that small steps were possible, and perhaps the best way to inch toward full gender equality. Maybe if we opened the way to female guests, I thought, that would be enough for now. But as I listened to the conversation on Monday evening, and read through the submissions here, I’m not sure that’s enough. Rather than continue to make excuses for and compromises to sustain an outdated and frankly offensive policy, I believe it’s time to bite the bullet and move forward to full membership.

  20. Rich Lauf

    At the outset I will state clearly that I personally stand adamant in believing that our current traditions on both membership and guests serve us very well and should be honored into the indefinite future. They are not simply an artifact of history: they are a central design feature that has enabled us to be a treasured cultural institution and the wonderful personal experience which we all know and cherish. Others have and will dilate on why this is.
    For now, I will rebut one particular adduced by those urging radical change: namely, that the average quality of papers would go up with the addition of women members because the pool of eligible candidates would grow. The average quality of the papers has generally been high. We have several very talented and experienced writers and many very good writers, with all seeking the Club’s discerning audience as an opportunity to become better writers. That said, I would not try to sustain the argument our Club contains the hundred “best” writers in the Region in some sense, even restricting my comparison just to men writers.
    There is an inevitable reason for not claiming the hundred “best.” If you look at the selection process, most potential members are initially introduced to the Club because they are colleagues, friends or even relatives of our current membership. The first screen we apply is whether this man would be an asset to the Club: someone of broad interests, articulate and engaging conversation, and the ability to interact with our current members as a peer. A diligent member will no doubt take some steps to ensure literary skills before going too far. To my knowledge however, no candidate in recent memory has been unknown to a member until the member read some written production by the person. This is as it should be: only by having a discerning and congenial audience can we have a valuable and enriching experience from both papers and fellowship.
    Once a candidate seems suitable, we ask for writing samples. The Board of Management reviews the writing to ensure that it passes the Club’s writing threshold for quality. By design, this has been an escalating standard as we seek to improve the overall quality of the writing. I personally take comfort that the Board has turned down some candidates for failing to clear this hurdle. Just like the hiring process for an employer, this must remain in part a judgment call, and judgment calls always introduce an element of variability, and yes, even occasional mistakes.
    I imagine that the process for women members would look the same, as indeed it would have to be, with colleagueship, friendship or family relationship indicating overall fit with the Club as the first screening criterion. Unless the advocates for women members plan to introduce an entirely different model for vetting women members, we will inevitably have about the same degree of success in adding good to excellent writers as we do with our current process applied to men.
    The size of the eligible pool is not the limiting factor on the Club’s literary excellence – our recruitment and vetting process is. The argument that admitting women will somehow improve the excellence of the Club’s literary production evaporates when examined.


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