Please do not quote without permission.  Author Contact:  Charles L. Newhall, CLNewhall@gmail.com. (c) The Whiting Club & Charles L. Newhall, 2016

For citation:  Newhall, Charles L.  “‘For the purpose of general culture and congenial fellowship’: A History of The Whiting Club”.  Salem, MA:  The Whiting Club, 2014.

“For the purpose of general culture and congenial fellowship”:

A History of The Whiting Club

By Charles L. Newhall


It is fortunate that Dr. Philip Williams, having obtained the records of the Whiting Club from Charles Haywood’s widow, proposed depositing them in the archives of the Lynn Historical Society in October 1976.  Thanks to the work of Diane Shepard, who undertook the job as her very first archive project, the records of the Club have been carefully stored, first in cabinet drawers in the exhibit halls on Green Street, then on compact shelving on the third floor at the renamed Lynn Museum and Historical Society.  It was there that I read them first, then supplemented my research with the Records passed from Trustee to Trustee.  The entire historical collection of the Lynn Museum is now housed at the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum.  More recent Minutes, Essays and Correspondence are among the Trustees.  The volumes of red leather and canvass covered books hold the history of the first 50 years.  In the last decade, the Club has moved to digital correspondence and there is an effort to preserve these records as well.

I.  Introduction

What inspires association?  Why, for example, would a gentleman, if he indeed be one, step out of his castle eight times a year of a weekday evening to listen to some fellow pontificate on a topic on which he is rarely if ever an expert?  Further, this first gentleman chooses to spend countless hours worrying about and finally preparing—perhaps in the last few days or hours—his own pontifical essay every third year.  Unless, of course, you bargain to host Ladies’ Night in exchange for a five-year hiatus from preparing an essay such as my grandfather, Charles Boardman Newhall, was able to negotiate.  Why indeed!  Why just a few years ago, a quizzical Boston Globe reporter conceived of a piece in which he compared a women’s evening basketball team to our Club.  The idea:  breaking gender stereotypes.  However, the concept was fundamentally flawed, at least on our end.  Our activity is in no way unique to this group of 30 some gentlemen, nor is it particularly gendered.  Men and women have been doing such literary and convivial activity for centuries, as I will elaborate in this essay.  And, upon completing of the talk, I invite all the ladies to a spirited game of hoops in the Pages’ former driveway just up the hill.

The Whiting Club appears to many to be idiosyncratic; however, its establishment and development fits well into a wider cultural history.  In recent years, it is fortunate that historians have become interested in the power of culture and the institutions which shape it.  Called by academics “associations”, clubs, literary societies, and other self-improvement collectives are now studied with regularity beyond the confines of institutional histories.  It is my hope to give you a sense of both:  that is, both some insight into how The Whiting Club might be situated within cultural history as well as some of the more interesting facets and characters who shaped our legacy.

II.  The History of Clubs

Peter Clark, a British historian, in his British Clubs and Societies, 1580-1800:  The Origins of an Associational World (2000), provides the wider context for the germinal seed of clubs in general.  Quoting one John Macky from Fog’s Weekly Journal of 2 May 1730, Clark tells us that “Already in the 1720s John Macky could speak of London having ‘an infinity of clubs or societies for the improvement of learning and keeping good humour and mirth’, while a decade later another writer exclaimed ‘what numbers of these sociable assemblies are subsisting in this metropolis!  In the country not a town or village is without its club.  [C]lubs and societies became one of the most distinctive social and cultural institutions if Georgian Britain.”[1]  In the medieval era, religious societies fulfilled the function of association; however, in the early modern era and with the rise of political parties, the middle class and bourgeoisie, and urbanization, voluntary associations became a vital part of civic life.  With the emergence of what historian David Shields has called “cosmopolitan learned culture”, new institutions and new models of discourse took shape.[2]  Men and women gathered in conventicles—or private Christian meetings.  Primarily men gathered in taverns and coffeehouses.  Clubs and societies developed around politics early on.  The Whig Kit-Cat Club, organized in 1699 was the essential gathering point for parliamentarian Whigs until it was surpassed by the Hanover Club.  Anotehr Whig club was the King’s Head Club.  Jonathan Swift’s Scriblerians was one of the early literary clubs.  Its goals were deep friendship among “like-minded wits.”  In London in the 18th century, men formed associations such as The Club to discuss and debate issues of the day.  This self-conscious group’s history has been well documented by James Boswell in his gossipy Life of Johnson.  Music, science, moral reform, bell-ringing, hunting, Roman and Egyptian historical revivalism, cock-fighting, bowling, books and libraries, horticultural, and temperance were just a few of the reasons the British formed clubs and societies.   Pointing to their emergence after the English Civil Wars and rapid growth after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Clark estimates the astounding number of up to 25,000 clubs and societies in the 18th century British world!

Across the pond, so to speak, in outposts of British culture, men of letters and laws struggled even more so to keep themselves abreast of current thinking.  Far from the metropolis and feeling provincial, colonials in the British colonies formed clubs to keep themselves intellectually active as well as socially engaged.  Perhaps one of the most renowned was Annapolis’ Tuesday Club, which was founded in 1745 by Dr. Alexander Hamilton (not the famous one).  Hamilton dubbed himself the “Loquacious Scribble, Esq.”  He conceived of his club of 15 men as one of literary wit.  In his remarkable record of the first eleven years of the club, Hamilton writes:  “Human wit…is an active and restless principle, it can never be kept quiet or still, but will always be nibbling…What then must take place for this disclaiming humor, now ceased among the members of this ancient and honourable Club [the club was but a year old at this time] for, it cannot be supposed, that their wit can lie fallow or Idle no, it must have something to nibble at, or a crust to chew, and accordingly we find the humor of Epistolary writing take place among the members of the Club.”[3]  Thus, the Tuesday Club began the practice of delivering essays.  By the way, if you are in search of a good read, I highly recommend Hamilton’s club history to you.  Its tongue-in-cheek tone will send you over the edge on more than one occasion.  Other clubs emerged in British America, including several which Benjamin Franklin promoted, including his Junto at which Philadelphia tradesmen sought to better themselves.  Boston had a Long Room Club in the 18th century, and in the 19th century a number of “evening clubs” sprang up.  The prestigious Club of Odd Volumes, though technically a collectors’ club, was (and is) essentially an essay club.  By the way, it is worth mentioning that COV recently reaffirmed itself as a men’s club, losing some members as a consequence, but quickly replacing them with new gentlemen.  These groups flourished well into the 19th century, taking on the forms such as the Lyceum and the social library.  After the Civil War, the proliferation accelerated.  In the second half of the 19th century, associations experienced a renaissance or golden age.  Shields writes:  “Clubbing became immensely popular during the course of the nineteenth century, practiced by all classes and ethnic groups except native Americans.  It ceased to be practiced exclusively by men; indeed, by 1910, women’s clubs might have eclipsed men’s clubs in numbers—this despite the exponential growth of clubbing among men.”[4]  The intellectual origins of The Whiting Club lie in this history.

The earliest men’s club I know of on the North Shore was the Civil Society, formed in Salem in February 1744/5.  This group met regularly and held, in its constitution, that “if any member swears, or Curses, he shall pay for every such offense one shilling old Tenor towards the Reckoning”, likewise for those who quarrel or “gives another the Lye”.[5]  No records for this group exist for dates after 1750, but that same year witnessed the founding of another Salem men’s club, this one of particular prominence, for its members were the most respected gentlemen in town.  It may have been called the Monday Evening Club or perhaps—like its London counterpart—just The Club.  This group formed together to discuss, according to James Duncan Phillips, “literary and philosophical subjects”.[6]  Members included:  “Benjamin Lynde and Nathaniel Ropes, both members of the Supreme Court of the colony, William Browne, judge of the Superior Court, Andrew Oliver, judge of the Court of Common Pleas, the Reverend William McGilchrist, rector of Saint Peter’s Church, the Reverend Thomas Barnard of the First Church, and Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke, whose long life of serve as a physician had made his name famous in Salem.”[7] It was out of this group that the Social Library emerged in 1760.  Knowing the need to acquire the most important books of the day and understanding that by pooling their resources, they could establish a collective library and all make use of the books, they put out a notice for subscriptions in March 1760.  This was the genesis of a recent favorite haunt of The Whiting Club:  The Salem Athenaeum.

More recently, The Salem or “Putnam” Club was an associational fixture in North Shore society.  Founded in 1916, the Putnam Club followed the “evening essay club” format.  However, the formal structure of the Club was a bit looser.  Writing in 1941, Alfred W. Putnam declared “a benevolent dictator elects and retires all members and elects himself to all offices.  He assigns all duties to members and none hardy enough to balk have yet to be found.  When he wishes money members are ordered to form in line and file by depositing the necessary sums.  There are no accounts and no questions are answered with regard to use of funds.  The privileges of members are to cry ‘Heil Hitler’ and do as they are told when they are told.”  In fact, The Whiting Club twice entertained the members of the Putnam Club at our meeting.  Describing one of those evenings Putnam writes:  “Twice we have been invited by the Whiting Club of Lynn to Dr. Cobb’s house in Lynnfield.  That is a Club similar to ours, but much more highly organized.  They have such things as by-laws, officers, and elections:  details which we do not aspire to.  We did once undertake electing members by ballot.  The result was shocking and appalling.”[8]

Lynn, too, has had many associations; however, the colonial and early national records are spotty.  It was during the golden age of associations that Lynn spawned quite a few clubs.  At the Lynn Museum, there are records of the Harvard Laughing Club (1792), Lynn Female Benevolent Society (1814-1914), the Lynn Female Fragment Society (1820-1880), the Lynn Lyceum (1828-1834), the Lyceum of the Town of Lynn (1840-1874), the Exploring Circle (founded in 1850 for the “self-education” of 20 members who read papers on natural science), a Reading Club (1864-1980), Lynn Women’s Club (founded in 1878 by Sarah E. Starr and so popular that it expanded from 65 to 100 member limit quickly and then spawned the North Shore Club for women unable to get into the Lynn Women’s Club), the Oxford Club (1880, perhaps the most prominent men’s social club in Lynn), the Political Science Club (1912), the Maine Club of Lynn (for those born or who had lived in Maine), the Tavern Players (1933, a home stage directed by Marion Benvie), and, of course, The Whiting Club.

III.  The Legacy

To prepare this essay, I read the ten (10) volumes of Record Minutes, reviewed the ledgers, and dug into the manuscript files of the first century of The Whiting Club.  Many of these are housed at the Lynn Museum[9] (formerly the Lynn Historical Society), and I would like to thank publicly Diane Shepard, the archivist at the Lynn Museum, for her careful archiving (this was the first archival project she encountered some 20 years ago) and her assistance during my visits.  In addition, thanks to Frank Healey who preceded me as corresponding secretary, I am in possession of a two-foot long box of hanging files which contain numerous other Club documents which proved engaging.  My greatest debt, however, lies with past members who 1.) kept accurate and entertaining records, and 2.) prepared similar talks for the benefit of the membership.  I will speak later about the work of several recording secretaries; here I wish to acknowledge the previous histories.

Is seems as early as March 1931 and perhaps even earlier in 1925, Benjamin Newhall Johnson, a founding member, delivered an essay entitled “The Whiting Club, 1903-1931—and after”.  Though I have not uncovered a full copy of this talk, the Minutes record a quote from it which suggests the legacy from which we all benefit and contribute:  “Every institution is the lengthening shadow of some one or more of its members.”  How true, indeed!

A decade later, Edward V. French, another founding member, crafted another history on which I have drawn extensively, for both its form and its content.  Entitled “The Founding and Early Days of The Whiting Club.”  French situated The Whiting Club among other similar North Shore associations, including the Lawrence Monday Evening Club and the Monday Evening Club of Haverhill, both of which were direct influences upon the formation of the traditions of our Club.  He also provided several quotations from Johnson’s essay which provide insight into the purpose of the founding.  I quote Johnson extensively here, saved by and likewise extensively quoted by French:

“It was De Senancour, I believe, who said that ‘in the world a man lives in his own age; in the solitude of books he lives in all the ages’.  And it is right here that the real purposes and program of The Whiting Club begins.  Reading is not enough for the culture of men.  Reading alone makes men one-sided, the victims of fixed ideas.  Solitary meditation inivolves the same danger.  A full mind must find congenial intercourse.  It is one of man’s best teachers.  Conversation is as necessary to culture as is reading and reflection…Let us read and talk by all means and that our talk may be true recreation let us talk with congenial spirits.  It has been well said that ‘such spirits may be met with singly in the ordinary intercourse of life, but the full play of the mind demands that they should be encountered not in singles but in battalions; and hence the necessities of clubs to bring together like steel filings out of sand at the approach of the magnet men of the most opposite pursuits and tastes, the attrition of whose minds may brush away their rust and cobwebs and give them edge and polish’…But, even so, reading followed by talking is not enough.  Let Lord Bacon’s wisdom govern you:  ‘Reading maketh a full man.  Conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”  Without now and then taking one’s pen in hand, no man can thoroughly know, with all the reading and talking in the world, how far he may have strayed fro the straight and marrow way of exact truth and correct process of thought.  The provision in our Constitution and By-Laws that members shall write and read papers at our meetings was thus founded on the soundest principle.”

S. Whitney Bradley updated the history of the Club for the 75th anniversary in 1978, and may of you may be familiar with that version as it was once widely distributed.  Further, Dr. Chauncey C. Sheldon in 1904 and my grandfather, Charles B. Newhall, in 1940, prepared biographical essays of the Reverend Samuel Whiting, for whom the Club is named.

In short, this is an association keenly self-conscious and willing to pause now and again to reflect on its heritage.  It seems fitting, then, for the Centennial Celebration, to remind ourselves of that past.  It is my hope to elucidate it writ large.  Let us turn to the beginnings.

IV.  The Origins and First Decades

The Whiting Club, to a large measure, is the brain-child of the Reverend Augustine H. Amory.  Having moved from Lawrence, Massachusetts to Lynn in the first years of the 20th century, Amory brought with him a keen intellect and a desire to gather with other educated men to share ideas and to learn.  In Lawrence, this Episcopalian minister had been a member of the Lawrence Monday Evening Club.  That group took owed its genesis to the Monday Evening Club of Haverhill, founded in 1860.

As I have suggested, evening clubs proliferated in the late 19th century.  With self-improvement as the central aim, these associations provided the rising middling class—or “middlebrow”—with the opportunity to socialize and continue their education with folks of the same class, and most importantly, “influential” people in their towns and cities.  According to French’s history, it was one Dr. James R. Nichols who organized the Haverhill Evening Club to be comprised of a “select 25 gentlemen of fair culture and intelligence.”[10]  This Club excluded politics and theology from available essay topics, and began a practice that has been used now and again at The Whiting Club:  that of giving each member some minutes to present a topic or open a discussion, followed by an original essay.  French quoted Nichols’ history of the Haverhill club:  “Its work has stimulated inquiry, created a taste for reading and for research in directions which would never have been known but for information imparted in club meetings.  Many of its members not accustomed to place their thoughts in paper in the form of extended essays, not accustomed to search for and read rare and important books, find that new tastes have been acquired, new sources of knowledge opened, and new capabilities awakened.”[11]

The Monday Evening Club of Lawrence, which began in 1871, followed the same format at its parent in Haverhill.  Amory had been a member while serving a minister of Grace Church in Lawrence and brought that format to Lynn.

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt—who had assumed the presidency upon the assassination of William McKinley just three years prior—was President of the United States.  The average life expectancy in the United States was 47.  Only 14 percent of American homes had bathtubs, and just eight percent had telephones, with a three minute call from Denver to New York City costing eleven dollars.  There were 45 states in the Union and only 15 Amendments to The Constitution (it was pre federal income tax).  Plessy vs. Ferguson, the landmark Supreme Court decision which legalized “separate, but equal” facilities for whites and blacks (segregation) was less than 10 years on the books.  The average wage of a United States worker was 22 cents per hour and the maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 miles per hour.  Most women washed their hair once a month, using borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

It was in this socio-economic landscape that the first meeting of The Whiting Club was hosted by Amory on May 26, 1903.  The topic was organizing the Club.  That meeting was in the Rectory of St. Stephens.  The object was to form an association “to meet informally during the winter season.”[12]  Present at the meeting were 21 Lynn gentlemen, many suggested by Howard Mudge Newhall[13], including:  Waldo L. Abbott, Isaac F. Baker, Rev. Augustine H. Amory, Albion Hale Drainard, William Burrill, Philip A. Chase, Capt. Henry N. Comey, J. A. Dalzell, Edward V. French, Charles Fuller, Benjamin N. Johnson, Thomas D. Knight, Dr. William B. Little, Prof. Geo H. Martin, Howard M. Newhall, James Newhall, Benjamin F. Spinney, Rev. Samuel B. Stewart, Henry F. Tapley, C. J. H Woodbury, and Louis A. Wyman.  Thirteen others sent regrets, asking to be recognized “to be endowed with the same privileges as if present”[14].  Howard Mudge Newhall was secretary pro tempore.  Five men were appointed to draft a constitution:  Rev. Amory, chairman, Prof. George Martin, Howard Mudge Newhall, Rev. Samuel B. Stewart, and C.J.H. Woodbury, secretary.

The second meeting was not until November 9, 1903, hosted by Henry F. Tapley at his home (280 Ocean Avenue) at 8 p.m. and the topic was the constitution.  A slightly different group appeared, including Prof. Elihu Thomson, but basically the same folks.

Constitution stated the purpose:  “This association formed for the purpose of general culture and congenial fellowship shall be known as The Whiting Club in memory of the Reverend Samuel Whiting, a learned minister of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, who gave to Lynn its present name.”[15]  Membership was limited to 35 and confined to “those living within five miles of Lynn City Hall.”[16]  Fees were set at $2.00 per member for an admission fee and meetings were set on the second Monday of each month.  A by-law stating that “meetings shall be preferably held at the houses of members”[17] was proposed, but rejected.  There were simply two officers:  a chairman and a secretary-treasurer.

The Club has met thereafter, virtually each November, December, January, February, March, April, and May since 1904, except December has been dropped and September and October have been added as meeting months.

The first actual essay given before the Club was delivered by John Woodbury, Secretary of the Metropolitan Park Commission, on the topic of the Metropolitan Park System.  Other early essays were given on the telephone system (with stereopticon views) by C.J.H. Woodbury, on radiant matter (with experiments) by Elihu Thomson, the Political aspects of the Louisiana Purchase by Albion Hale Brainard, Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute by George H. Martin.  At the 8th meeting, Dr. Chauncey Sheldon read a paper on the Reverend Samuel Whiting.  This was May 16, 1904, and the talk was followed by discussion, then three violin selections played by Frederick Plummer of Auburndale with Franklin Burnam on piano.  The first musicale.

Samuel Whiting was November 20, 1597 in Boston, Lincolnshire, England.  He graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge and later emigrated to Massachusetts Bay in 1636 (the year of Harvard’s founding).  Once in Saugus, Whiting suggested the name “Lynn”—in rememberence of King’s Lynn in East Anglia—for the growing town, giving Lynn its name.  Whiting also served as an Overseer of Harvard College, as did many community ministers.  He died in Lynn in 1679.  In 1907, Frederic J. Whiting of Cambridge, a lineal descendent of Rev. Whiting, was a guest of the Club, and other  descendents have been members.

Though the original group was a mix of ages, it was within the first year that two members died.  Philip A. Chase, an original member, died in 1904.  A wreath was given by the Club and a extended note of appreciation inscribed into the Minutes, noting his success as a business man, to the Lynn Institution for Savings, to the Lynn Woods, to the Lynn Hospital.  Amory also died in 1904 (on April 9).  The meeting was postponed a week and a memorial was also written for Amory.  In part, it read:  “He was the founder of the Whiting Club, the purpose of which is to promote an intelligent interest in the moral, educational and social problems of the day.”[18]

The description of Amory would flatter anyone: “His eager mind was always on the alert to improve every opportunity of usefulness.  His heart and hand was ever open, and many a family could hear witness to his unstinted generosity in their time of need.  The extent to his charities will never be known,—they were so quiet and unostentatious.  His influence was felt beyond the limits of these two cities.”[19]

Some interesting Club happenings in the first years include when Henry Tapley shared a 1827 bank book with one deposit for $2. made July 18, 1827…Woodbury commented on semi-annual compounding interest would have averaged 4.67% (106) as of 1906.  Do check out the mathematics.

The Club quickly began the tradition of memorializing its members.  For Phillip A. Chase a tablet was put up in the Lynn Woods (Febuary 1906).  I do not know if it is still there, but I’d love to see it if it is.  Throughout the Minutes, there are Memorials to members.  It seems that when a member died, the Chairman would appoint another member to write a short (1-4 page) memorial.  These are wonderfully glowing pieces that speak almost as much to the high character of members as they do to the literary styling of the memorializers.

Perhaps one of the most interesting questions put before the Club came in 1905 when members were asked to considered the question:  “For what manner could $100,000 be best applied to Lynn public or charitable uses.”  (110)  28 members replied with suggestions ranging from the Lynn Hospital and other established organizations to the City Missionary, Books for the Blind, Day Nursery, Playgrounds for Children, Firemen’s Relief, Trade School for Shoe Workers, etc.  (114-115) This would be a great exercise to repeat.

[1] Peter Clark, British Clubs and Societies, 1580-1800:  The Origins of an Associational World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000): 1-2.

[2] David S. Shields, “Salons, Coffeehouses, Conventicles, and Taverns” in Encyclopedia of American Cultural & Intellectual History, edited by Mary Kupiec Cayton and Peter W. Williams (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001), Volume III: 343.

[3] Dr. Alexander Hamilton, The Tuesday Club:  A Shorter Edition of The History of the Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club, edited by Robert Micklus (Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995):  84-95.

[4] David S. Shields, Civil Tongues & Polite Letters in British America (Chapel Hill: Institute of Early American Culture, 1997):  326.

[5] Salem Miscellaneous MSS., I, as quoted in:  James Duncan Phillips, Salem in the Eighteenth Century, Salem:  Essex Institute, 1969, p. 180. (Houghton Mifflin, 1937)

[6] Ibid, p. 182.

[7] Ibid, p. 181.

[8] Alfred W. Putnam, The Putnam Club of Salem, Massachusetts (Salem:  The Putnam Club, 1941) 5.

[9] The Minutes of October 25, 1976 state: ” Dr. Williams reported that the old records of the Whiting Club have been obtained from Mrs. Haywood, widow of our late Secretary of may years.  He suggested that they would be deposited in the archives of the Lynn Historical Society.  A motion to this effect was seconded and passed.”

[10] Edward V. French, “The Founding and Early Days of The Whiting Club”, Essay read before The Whiting Club, April 25, 1941: 3.

[11] As quoted in French: 3A.

[12] Minutes: 3.

[13] French: 6.

[14] Minutes: 3.

[15] Minutes: 9.

[16] Minutes: 10.

[17] Minutes: 12-13.

[18] Minutes: 53.

[19] Minutes: 53-54.

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