Wednesday, April 04, 2012

More sociable times

This is a week of many meetings, all directed toward one good purpose or another, but none with specifically social elements. We're interacting to get something done --- or try to --- not interacting for the sake of just interacting. Which isn't exactly how it used to be around here.

I also had the chance Tuesday to look through two beautifully maintained scrapbooks from earlier years of Chariton's P.E.O. chapter, 1890s forward, a local and still existing expression of what now is P.E.O. International, an organization for women founded by women during 1869 at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant and now headquartered in Des Moines.

A little later, there was a blog-based discussion about a vintage building in southern Illinois constructed during the late 19th century as a "gentlemen's club," a term that caused some confusion in the 21st century. No, as some thought, it wasn't built as a whorehouse --- just as a place where men could get together to socialize.

"Gentlemen" used to get together in places other than saloons and golf courses to do that, you know --- and so did the ladies. But those days are largely past, or passing. Rapid transportation, the rise of the electronic media and accelerating pace of general busy-ness have killed off or severly diminished a good share of them, which probably is a shame.

Positively, men have for the most part finally acknowledged the equality of women so there are fewer gender-specific organizations around. On the other hand, both men and women are so busy now that there's less time to get together, so every year it seems another book club, garden club or neighborhood club bites the dust.

Lodges were big business back in the day and in Lucas County Masonic lodge buildings in Chariton and Lucas are the most prominent reminders of their heyday. It used to be a mark of distinction to be invited to become a Mason --- there even was a lodge in tiny Freedom, a town that never got off the ground, which later was transferred to Derby, then died.

Back in the day, a step-grandfather of mine (generations removed), E.E. Sargent, introduced to Masonry in his native England,  rode horseback from Cedar Township into Chariton to participate in meetings of Chariton Lodge No. 63, which dates from 1854. I'm not sure how many would go to that much trouble these days. But the Chariton lodge still soldiers on, as does Paul Revere Lodge in Lucas. Women generally were (and are) involved in Masonry through the Order of the Eastern Star and other organizations.

But around the square and there are reminders of other lodges, long departed. "K of P" is embedded in the cornice of an east-side building (above), signifying Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization founded during 1864 in Washington, D.C. The Knights and their auxiliary, the Pythian Sisters, met on the second floor here before moving to grander lodge rooms on the south side of the square, which later burned.

"I.O.O.F." is inscribed in stone in the cornice of a north-side building, a reminder of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (and its auxiliary, the Rebekahs) who once met in second-floor lodge rooms.

Other lodges or lodge-like organizations also flourished for a time in Lucas County, including Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal life insurance society still headquartered in Omaha.

Chariton's "gentlemen's club" was called Noxall, and operated out of club rooms in the west-side Mallory Opera Block --- until that structure burned at the dawn of the 20th century. These were young men who considered themselves to be at the upper end of the city's social scale and got together regularly to socialize, entertain their "ladies," organize athletic teams and engage in a few good works.

There was a separate subculture of women's clubs, including P.E.O. Some leased meeting and social rooms, as P.E.O. did, and others met in homes to socialize and focus on good works. My favorites, long departed, were the Zetamatheans, Chariton's first federated woman's club, and the Pandoras. We have records of both at the historical society.

Rural areas, in large part because of the time it took to travel into towns, specialized in neighborhood clubs, and a few of these continue to hang on. And of course there were garden clubs, also fading.

Veterans associated themselves socially for the first time in Lucas County after the Civil War in Daniel Iseminger Post, Grand Army of the Republic, an organization that died with the last Civil War veteran. Carl L. Caviness Post 102, American Legion, was organized after World War I and remains active, although fewer and fewer veterans join. Both veteran organizations had their auxiliaries and the Legion Auxiliary continues.

There used to be active local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. But no more.

The old days of socializing are gone now and there's no point in crying over spilled milk. But how in the world did folks find time to attend all of those meetings?

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