The year was 1912. William Howard Taft was our nation’s president. Arizona and New Mexico became the 47th and 48th states, and the 48-star flag would be our nation’s standard until 1959. China became a republic. The RMS Titanic sank. The Summer Olympics took place in Stockholm.
The eight-hour workday was established in the United States. The Girl Guides, later the Girl Scouts of the United States, was founded. North Carolina Mutual, now the oldest and largest African-American life insurance company, reported its financial progress. Woodrow Wilson was elected president by a landslide on Nov. 5.
Meanwhile, three Lumberton ladies, Mmes. John S. McNeill, C.V. Brown, and M.F. Caldwell, conceived and carried out their idea of a book club since there was no literary club in Lumberton at the time.
First 25 Years, 1912-1937
Charter members of the club were Mmes. S. McIntyre, R.C. Lawrence, H.T. Pope, W.A. McPhaul, H.H. Anderson, C.V. Brown, A.W. MacLean, T.C. Johnson, W.L. Grantham, G.Y. Jones, N.A. Thompson, T.A.
McNeill, J.S. McNeill, A.E. White, C.B. Skipper, J.A. Sharpe, M.F. Caldwell, B.E. Page, J.Q. Beckwith, and L.R. Varser.
The club met for the first time on Nov. 12, 1912 with N.A. Thompson at the original Thompson Hospital in Lumberton. John S. McNeill was elected president. One account says the first meeting was held at her home. Charter members named their club the Lumbee Research Club. Its name was changed to the Lumbee Study Club in 1927.
All meetings have been on the second Thursday of the month. The club met for many years from October through June, and then from September through May. The hour was 3:30 p.m. until 2007 to 2008 when it was changed to 2:30 p.m.
Meetings have included three parts: business, literary program, and social hour. Business includes the reading of the minutes of the previous meeting, a financial report and anything that comes before the club membership for a decision.
Mention was made in records that the club became a Federated one in 1919 and was part of the 12th District of Federated Clubs of N.C. It was host to the district meeting in 1920 at the Municipal Building. The “Federation Song” was sung at each meeting, but that practice disappeared from club records.
Records from 1920 indicate involvement with the Lumberton schools. Prizes were awarded students in different categories, such as English, the highest average in the school, or another one, depending on the club’s decision. Garden parties were given for high school seniors and the entire graded and high school faculties. There was a discussion (the result unknown) of members speaking with high school seniors about college and encouraging them to attend.
At the November 1921 meeting, members discussed the local Woman’s Club movement to establish a public library and “heartily endorsed the club magnanimously pledging its loyal support and cooperation in this undertaking.” Books were purchased by members, shared with other members who were encouraged not to linger in reading them, and then donated to the library for the public to enjoy.
In December 1921, a Christmas box of miscellaneous articles was sent to Oteen, a Veterans Administration hospital in Asheville, for the treatment of respiratory ailments.
On Feb. 22, 1932 a cedar tree was planted on the county courthouse square in downtown Lumberton to commemorate the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth. In November 1937 the club marked the cedar tree, and, in accordance with a national plan, planted and marked a native holly tree on the square “to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the framing of the Constitution of the United States …. as a living memorial to our much beloved Robeson County.” It was accepted by the chairman of the board of county commissioners.
Programs were literary ones in the early days. The club constitution stated that “any member failing to prepare her paper shall be fined $1.00.” At some meetings, several members, rather than just one, presented papers. One program of note in 1920 was about the problems of immigration, a topic of concern today.
The following poem was often printed in members’ yearbooks.
Who hath a book hath but to read
And he may be a king indeed;
His kingdom is his inglenook
All this is his who hath a book.
The social hour was usually the last part of a meeting. In the first and second versions of the club constitution is stated, “the hostess must not serve refreshments exceeding two courses.” Often sandwiches with salted nuts, ice courses, and sweet courses were served with coffee or tea. But records indicate there sometimes were lunches of three courses, and a four-course dinner once was served at 7 in the evening by candlelight. Club minutes mentioned that daughters of hostesses and their young friends assisted with serving in homes at daytime meetings.
The Lorraine Hotel, for years a favorite dining and gathering place at Fourth and Chestnut streets in downtown Lumberton, was used for many Lumbee Study Club functions. The 1928 club constitution states that “an annual social meeting shall be held in October to which each member may invite one gentleman.” This constitution is the only one in which this statement appears.
The number of allowed members changed as club constitutions were amended. Since the ladies most often entertained in their homes, the number was somewhat based on the size of homes. Numbers ranged from 21 to 16 and holds steady at 20 today.
Second 25 Years, 1937-1962
No formal event was planned for the club’s 25th anniversary. An article, “Lumbee Study Club Has Met For 25 Years,” written by A.T. McLean was published in The Robesonian Feb. 2 , 1938. One of McLean’s statements has been repeated many times as years go by: ” …. since its organization, this club has never disbanded, has never failed to meet from month to month, and claims the distinction of being the only social club in Lumberton to carry on during the dark period of the World War.” (World War I)
During World War II, 1941 to 1945, members bought war bonds with money from the club treasury and their own money. They entertained at the USO club, subscribed to Life magazine and Reader’s Digest for the USO and worked in the local hospital’s surgical dressing room. Refreshments at meetings were simple for the duration of the war. Members remained interested in community appearance. One member noticed in 1943 that a shrub had died at the courthouse square and replaced it.
There is mention of one Christmas luncheon during World War II, and the same year two patriotic programs were given at club meetings titled “America Must Decide” and “The American Army.”
Financial records were complete in 1951. The ledger states that 15 books were purchased for $30.89, including postage, from The Personal Book Shop, Inc. in Boston. In September 1957 dues were doubled, to $2.
There was a 43rd anniversary celebration in 1955. In planning notes, it was to be an informal Christmas event at Pine Crest Country Club on Dec. 8 with additional guests. By this time, several charter members had moved away from Lumberton or were deceased. Today’s woman would not describe the occasion as informal from the newspaper coverage and its photograph.
The article in The Robesonian about the tea stressed the club’s close association with the library in Lumberton. Members contributed both financially and with gifts of books, often as memorials to deceased members. The library staff prepared and presented to the club a scrapbook of clippings from newspapers about activities of the club during a period of several years.
In 1959 the records mention a book club council in Lumberton. A receipt for dues from seven book clubs made out to the treasurer of the Lumbee Study Club is in the financial records. This council is not mentioned again.
The Lumbee Study Club celebrated its golden anniversary on Nov. 8, 1962. Plans began in April for a tea with invited guests, to be held at the home of Mrs. Jack Coffey. Daughters of the club’s charter members and members of other book clubs were guests.
3rd 25 Years, 1962-1987
The club continued monthly meetings with the December celebration becoming a tradition, based on the bylaw “an annual social meeting may be held to which each member may invite guests.”
A notable tradition began in the 1970s. Members and guests celebrated the holiday season on the second Thursday in December with the Ceremony of Lighting of the Yule Log, choreographed by member Evelyn
Reynolds. The Pine Crest Country Club, which has a large fireplace in the ballroom, was the venue. The ceremony has its roots in the Middle Ages, and medieval music was provided by musicians in period dress.
All present were given a sprig of holly and the Yule Log was brought into the room by young guests in period costumes. Everyone cast their holly sprigs upon the log burning in the fireplace, “thus banishing last year’s woes.”
Christmas luncheons later were celebrated in the Scottish Way. A bagpiper dressed in his plaid kilt would greet guests by playing carols, and the food and decorations were Scottish.
Club member Mrs. J.L. (Mary) Stephens Jr. appeared before the N.C. History Commission to assist in appealing for funds to renovate the Carolina Theater, now the Carolina Civic Center, in downtown Lumberton. In 1981 the club donated to the Carolina Civic Center Foundation, Inc. for its successful renovation efforts.
Program themes in the 1970s were often contemporary instead of literary. Examples are: “Contemporary Women,” “Countries in the News,” “Countries in a Troubled World” and “Successful Americans Born in Another Country.” A timely subject for the year 1975-76 was “Bicentennial Celebrations Across the Country.”
During the 75th year, 1987-88, the theme of programs was “The Way Things Were … Our 75 Years.” Program leaders were assigned time periods during the 75 years of the club’s existence beginning with “1912 - The Year We Began.”
The Diamond Anniversary of the Lumbee Study Club was celebrated with a tea on the afternoon of Nov. 12, 1987, the exact date of the first meeting 75 years before. Members planned long and well for this celebration, which was at the home of Mary Stephens. The event was in the year of the Bicentennial of Robeson County.
4th 25 Years, 1987-2012
The last 25 years have been years of the loss of long-time members, interesting new and sometimes short-term members and maintaining, in a fast-changing world, the traditions of the great ladies who began the club. Meetings are sometimes at a retirement facility, Wesley Pines, and the residents who remain members seem happy to be attending a meeting of the Lumbee Study Club. Younger and newer members benefit from their wisdom.
Life is busier now for members, and meetings are held in restaurants, as well as homes. Business is simple in the current economy, but members remain civic minded. Minutes now are prepared on computers, sometimes at the meeting. A bank account was opened for the first time, funds formerly having been kept in a box or an envelope.
Monthly programs continue to be taken seriously by those responsible. Members who elect to invite speakers choose well. A program committee of three members is appointed by the president to report the theme in May, giving members time to prepare for the next year. In club archives and minutes, program reviews have always received the most coverage of events that take place at meetings.
Programs during 100 years have been historical, contemporary, and global. They were literary and arts oriented in the early years. Later themes have included: “Great Religions of the World,” “Inns of America,” “Women in History,” “Presidents or Presidents’ Families” and the ever-popular “Program of Your Choice.” Recently, current members studied the arts — arts of many kinds — for several years running.
Often guest artists are invited to present the Christmas celebration program. For example, the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus gave an outstanding performance in a recent year. A presentation by members titled “The Holly and the Ivy,” made the spirit come alive. John’s restaurant was a favorite location for the Christmas luncheon for several years. Use of club talent is encouraged.
The club currently has two members who are worthy of note. Anne Culbreth is a true daughter, her mother having been a long-time member of the club in the early years, as well as two of her
aunts, a niece and a cousin, who was a charter member. She joined in 1978. Another daughter, Helen Sharpe, was invited into the club after her mother, Eva Pat Seawell, moved from St. Pauls to Lumberton in the late 1970s and became a member. Helen’s historic connection is that her mother-in-law, Mrs. J.A. Sharpe, was a charter member.
Mary Stephens at the age of 103, closer to 104, is older than the club. She joined in 1947 and was made a life member in 2009.
The members of the Lumbee Study Club will celebrate the club’s Centennial on the same day and month it was begun 100 years ago, the second Thursday of November.