Soon after Colorado Springs was founded, the community’s movers and shakers found refuge, friendship and direction in gender-specific membership clubs. Among them: the El Paso Club (established 1877), the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club (1891), The Tuesday Club (1895), the Women’s Club (1902) and the Cooking Club (1911).
The men’s clubs were strictly social. They were secretive, exclusive and inaccessible to those who were unworthy of membership. And how did the club’s founders and officers decide who was eligible to join the power elite?
Here’s the Cooking Club’s origin story, as recounted in a privately published paean celebrating the club and its founders.
“...It was proposed to have a Cooking Club composed of a small membership and to be run in a modest and inexpensive manner. A meeting was called in December, 1911 by Chester Alan Arthur, Horace Devereux, Joseph Harrison, Jay P. Lippincott, Francis Drexel Smith and Spencer Penrose.”
Requirements for membership? There were none, only those setting forth the legal structure governing the club.
“The principles upon which this Club is founded are well understood and appreciated by the members, so it is not deemed advisable to have any further written rules. Unwritten Rules and Traditions will be the guide.”
Penrose served as president of the club from its founding until his death in 1939. A memorial tribute noted that “From the year of its founding the Cooking Club was close to the heart of Penrose, and it was he who was the moving spirit behind the construction of the clubhouse and the perpetuation of the organization to its present membership and world wide fame.”
Worldwide fame?! C’mon, that couldn’t have been true. Yet it may have been, at least sort of. The members in attendance on the July 20, 1940 “Club Day” included leading state and local businessmen Claude Boettcher, William W. Grant, Chas. H. Collins, former Springs Mayor Victor Hungerford, W.F. Nicholson, Thayer Tutt and Raymond Lewis. Guests included Republican Presidential Nominee Wendell Willkie, Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr and airline entrepreneur J.E. Braniff. The event was captured on film by Springs photographer Harry Standley, showing all of the 63 participants dressed in matching white chef’s hats and aprons.
So who’s missing? There are no women, people of color, Jews or Hispanics. Were there any Democrats or Catholics? Probably not. The El Paso Club and the Country Club were equally discriminatory in that era.
The Women’s Club and the Tuesday Club had both loftier ideals and arguably greater lasting community impact than their male counterparts.
The Tuesday Club was founded by Elizabeth Solly, whose spouse, Dr. Samuel Solly, had been one of the founders of the El Paso Club. Its members were intelligent, educated women of the city’s upper class. They met at each other’s homes when the men were at work, and discussed current events, city issues and books.
“First and foremost it gave us all a good time,” wrote Marion Noyes on the club’s 20th anniversary, “and it afforded us an agreeable outlet for ideas we had on many subjects.” In an 1898 meeting, Ms. Solly led a discussion that is still relevant today: “Reform in city government; shall we advocate fewer men in office and adequate payment for the same?”
By contrast, The Woman’s Club of Colorado Springs (still a lively and relevant organization!) preferred action to polite conversation. Consider that in 1902 the Country Club decreed that women could only smoke in the ladies’ restroom since the “practice of smoking by ladies was very repugnant to the board.” Your spouse might be rich and powerful, but as Percy Hagerman wrote in a privately printed history of the Country Club, “Women were expected to act like small boys going out behind the barn to smoke corn-cob pipes.”
Lillian Kerr, the first president of the Women’s Club, was passionately engaged in the community. As summarized on the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum website, “She and her colleagues advocated for food and drug standards, lobbied for national parks, organized the first free kindergarten in Colorado Springs, provided fresh milk to school children, lobbied for a public library and raised money to purchase books for it. Additionally, the club’s nearly 200 members advocated for national women’s suffrage. Lillian co-founded the Colorado Springs Civic League, served as chairman of the Council Proceeding Committee, and was appointed by the mayor to the City Planning Commission.”
Her activism inspired and empowered Colorado Springs women, including my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother (who was a founding member of the Tuesday Club). Thanks, Lillian!