I was invited to speak at a women’s Science, Literature & Art Club. The club originated in 1931 and has been active since. This group of women have been gathering together at each other’s homes for many years looking for enrichment, and along the way found companionship. What would I talk about? One of my books allowed me to touch the world of science, so I wove that into my story. I spoke of my encounter with an expert on the northern lights, the director of the International Arctic Research Center. My aha moment was when this man of science admitted that the aurora truly held an other worldly presence. In that minute I understood that science was inquiry.
Seeing all of my books laid out there on the living room floor gave me a curious overview of my life in books. I simply started at the beginning with my first book Coyote In Love and ended the talk with Treasure, my most recent book with West Margin Press.
I shared my journey as an artist, an author, an illustrator, a woman, and a mother. Part storytelling, a bit of comedy, show and tell, watercolor painting demonstration and Q & A, I think the ladies were entertained. I told an unabridged tale of the life of an artist with vivid examples such as living on a construction site in tiny sheds with children hanging in hammocks alongside clotheslines of full sheets of 22 x 30 wet watercolor paper. I told them how we ran away with the circus before settling into Port Townsend, and described the many studio settings created over the years from kitchen table, living room, to garage, porch, laundry room and shed. They had many questions about the stories and the process and admired the artwork in the books very much.
A member of SLA, a chronicler named Sylvia Thomas has been the photographer and keeper of the pictorial history of the club. Sylvia has been a member since 1989 and brought talents that benefited the club as artist (she did and still does all the art work for the year end guest luncheons), photographer, and historian. Here is her summation.
On November 5, 1931, there were 14 women who met to organize a literary club, and decided to call themselves The Science, Literature and Art Club, which met twice a month. In the custom of the day, women were referred formally as Mrs. So and So, and their husbands’ first names were always noted in the members’ directory. Incidentally, not until 2013 or about, the minutes included the change in the directory using the members’ first names instead of their husbands’. As was customary of the 30s’ era, women wore hats and gloves to the meetings which started at 4pm and the hostess served tea and cookies. Eventually, the meeting time was changed to noon, and from cookies and tea, lunch segued to meals. When I joined the club in 1999, someone had just started serving wine for the social period, and it’s been included at every club luncheon.
For many years it was mandatory to attend every meeting unless “you were dying or in the hospital”, as one of the older members once mentioned. Since many members cannot accommodate large number of women at meetings the number was limited to 20 members. If someone quit the club, or died, the next succeeding member from the roster was responsible for finding a new member who understands the commitment of hosting a lunch once a year and doing a program from a science, literature or art category. The purpose of the club was to encourage and support each other in furthering their education. Some of the programs were: Review of American Beauty by Edna Ferber, review of The Normal Mind, by Wm. Burnham, and a discussion on Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather (excerpts from meetings held in 1932).
There were other literary clubs like SLA in Chimacum, and Port Angeles; and guests from other clubs were invited to attend the lunch and meetings in Port Townsend. I am not aware if other clubs organized concurrently with SLA of Port Townsend still exist. The one reason I think ours still exists is because the customs changed with the times. While women in the past were home bound, eventually throughout the years lifestyles have changed and women are free to travel, change from restrictive styles of clothing to casual, and do house duties in place of men. All of which had to be considered if the club were to attract new members. An example is the recent change in the by-law to have a meeting year round on the first Thursday of the month. Formally, the meetings were held on the first and third Thursdays of the month and the fiscal year began in September and ended in May with three months off. Meeting attendance is required.
If a member is absent for more than three meetings she is asked if she is still interested in being a member of the club. However, if that person is on vacation for a length of time or if there is an illness, those are exceptions. We have also changed the by-laws to reduce the number of members from 20 to 15. As the members age, it has been difficult for some to haul out the extra chairs and tables and do the preparations for past the tipping point of 15 members.
Sylvia Thomas has written a summary of SLA from 1931 to 1964 in two volumes and given them to the Jefferson County Historical Society’s research center. If you wish to look in depth in our SLA history the two volumes are available for your research.