A Good Read from the March 1997 Newsletter

Celebrating a Century of Sisterhood

By Ursula Smith

February 11, 1997, marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Fortnightly Club of Middletown Springs. The event passed quietly, however, for several years ago the members of the club gave up meeting in the winter months. It was at about that same time that they gave up fortnightly meetings, deciding that monthly sessions were more appropriate for their busy schedules. One other change marks the passage of 100 years: annual dues have risen from ten cents in 1897 to two dollars today.

In all other ways, the club retains the character with which it was endowed by its founding members, who were motivated by the spirit of community that swept this country in the last half of the nineteenth century and led to the formation of women’s clubs in many towns and villages. In fact, the Fortnightly Club of Middletown Springs took its constitution from the Fortnightly Club of Rutland, which in turn was the offspring of other New England Fortnightly Clubs, all associations of churchwomen who came together “to aid and increase the religious, social, and intellectual” lives of their members.

The founding members of the Middletown Springs club bore the names of some of the earliest families of the town-Buxton, Gray, Green, Grover, Harrington, Hoadley, Leffingwell, Norton, Prindle—names straight from the Hon. Barnes Frisbie’s History of Middletown, Vermont, a book incidentally that would later serve as a topic of discussion at a series of Fortnightly meetings. Other club programs were devoted to the reading of papers composed by members themselves-papers on politics, history, science, and the arts. Poet Edgar Guest once sent the members a note of “sincere appreciation” for their interest in him and his work. Early in the century, the club devoted a program to a report on the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and years later, the club heard a report on the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962.

Continuity is to be found in membership as well as in programs. Today Hazel Grover’s name on the rolls connects the club directly to its founding members in the person of Katie Grover, Hazel’s mother. But the club, like the town, reflects now an easy mixture of “newcomers” and “natives.” Names like Forbes, Gager, Hughes, Lennox, and Roach mix with names like Fenton, Moyer, Norton, Parker, and Spaulding.

Gwen Wilder, herself a 50-year resident of Middletown, serves as the club archivist. As someone who has “always loved history,” Wilder has not only maintained the club records, she has also written two histories of the society-the first in 1958 and an update in the early 70s. It is in such records that one finds the embodiment of the spirit of the club. Though the group has waxed and waned in numbers from its original membership of twelve to a zenith of thirty in 1971 to the twenty enrolled today-its focus has continued to be on “imparting and receiving,”as its motto specifies. Its only fund-raising activity is an annual “silent auction,” traditionally held at the first meeting of the club year in September. Earlier this century the club’s major philanthropy was the Children’s Aid Society. However, when that became a United Way agency, the women began to channel their monies instead to helping the Middletown Grange summer swim program, which provides Red Cross swimming lessons for the town’s children at Lake St. Catherine. Through their Christian and Social Committee, the club also makes up Christmas baskets each year for shut-ins and nursing-home residents.

In such ways the members of the club today carry on the proud tradition that was established one hundred years ago when twelve women gathered in the lecture room of the Congregational Church to establish the Fortnightly Society of Middletown Springs.