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Meeting since 1898: Schubert Club continues legacy


Associate Editor

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The Schubert Club was organized in Jonesborough in 1898.

“We have inherited a rich legacy, and we honor the traditions of past years while embracing the present and looking toward the future,” said 94-year-old Doris Dean, a member for more than 30 years. 

Dean is now the club’s Custodian of Records. An upcoming project is to digitize the Schubert Club’s 121 years of records, which are currently in proper archival storage at the Washington County/Jonesborough Library. Member Kathy Mays has completed much of this work.

The library has had a special place in the club’s history. Former Club Historian Audrey Kaiman explained the relationship in the “History of Washington County” (2001, Washington County Historical Society): “One of the Schubert Club’s first projects was supporting the town library, which had been started in 1896 by the local group of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Joining with the WCTU, but soon taking over the entire responsibility, the club helped in fundraising, buying books, providing rooms for the library, even physically moving books and shelves when the library had to move from one building to another, working at the desk, and seeing to it that the library was open regular hours.”

“We have always supported the library,” said Virginia Kennedy, who joined the group in 1985. She and her husband, William Kennedy, moved to Tennessee’s oldest town in 1973.  She stated that at the beginning, the library was located in the upper floors of various store buildings downtown, then at the Banking & Trust Building on Main Street, next at the new Jonesborough High School in 1926, and from 1950 until 1984 at the Chester Inn.

“Two Schubert members, Betsy Cooke and Margaret Henry, were the paid librarians,” she added.

Many members worked at the library, and librarian was an office of the club at one time. Since 1984, the library has been housed in a separate building at 200 Sabin Drive. At least three members of the club have served on the Board of Trustees of the Library and others have been active in The Friends of the Library.

Explaining the club’s origins and purpose, Kennedy said, “Afternoon teas were social events when the club was formed. The group was composed of young, mainly unmarried women who valued education and many of whom were musical. These were women who could put on musicals and plays to which they invited their friends, at a time when there was not a lot to do socially in Jonesborough.”

The club was affiliated with the Federation of Music Clubs from 1923 to 1961, and members performed music at every meeting. Until 1962, the club met twice a month, on Saturdays, permitting members who had jobs, such as teaching or clerical work, to attend.

Kennedy said early club meetings included several papers written by members along with one or more musical selections. 

“Our archive has a number of these papers,” she said. Today, a new member must present at her initiation a paper of her own research, give a talk, or perform a musical selection. The Schubert Club now meets once a month on the first Saturday of the month. The club does not meet during the months of January, February and July.

In order to accomplish the club’s purpose, soon after its formation, the women shifted the emphasis from being a purely social club to being actively and socially aware in the community.  A year after the birth of the Schubert Club on Oct. 4, 1898, they joined the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs. A 1902 yearbook of the Federation lists 31 clubs in the state belonging to the organization. Later, in 1923, the club joined the national General Federation of Women’s Clubs to strengthen its commitment to be concerned in civic affairs.

In connection with the Federation, the following is a partial list of issues to which the group petitioned state and national legislators: 1903, protection of the state’s song birds; 1909, passage of a compulsory education law; 1913, petition regarding unjust laws about women; 1915, support of accurate weight and measurements; 1925, National Child Labor Law; 1927, renewed appropriations for maternal and infant care; 1930, reduction of the tariff on rayon; 1930, urged support of the World Court; 1931, wearing cotton to improve the economy of the South; 1942, condemnation of the banning of recorded music; 1950, protestation of the abduction of 28,000 Greek children by Russia, and 1956; repeal of the cabaret tax on artists.

In 1989, the group dropped its affiliation with the GFWC. Then beginning in 1997, they joined with the town’s Tuesday Garden Club, organized in 1928, in co-sponsoring a garden tour. 

The event, now called The Garden Gala, takes place on the first Saturday in June and includes a garden tea. The two clubs take turns in providing leadership for the Gala. Proceeds provide major funding for the Schubert Club and the Tuesday Garden Club to support local causes and town beautification. 

Both clubs use a large part of the funds raised to benefit the Washington County / Jonesborough Library. Other organizations receiving Schubert Club funds have included the JAMA Food Pantry, Jonesborough Repertory Theater, Senior Center, McKinney Center and the trees for the Visitors Center’s exhibit during the Christmas Holiday. In 2018, the Schubert Club donated more than $3,400 to various organizations.

Past club projects and concerns have included beautifying and cleaning up the town, asking the mayor to finish the driveway to the cemetery, objection to expectoration on the sidewalks, protesting a pool room in town because “minors are using it,” purchase of a grand piano for the schools, holding a number of teas and showers to benefit home economic classes in school, purchasing new school desks for second graders, asking the highway department to route the road from Johnson City to Limestone through Jonesborough, urging that a road be built from Bristol to the Great Smoky Mountain Park, supplying a huge birthday cake with 150 candles for the town’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, endorsing local school building programs, donating money for school band uniforms and petitioning the town board to allow only small children to participate in “trick or treat” at Halloween.

Current officers of the Schubert Club are Marcy Hawley, President; Virginia (Sissy) Mattie, 1st Vice-President; Pamela Pope, 2nd Vice-president; Joletta Woodward, Treasurer; Kathy Mays, Recording Secretary; Katy Rosolowski, Corresponding Secretary; Doris Dean, Custodian of  Records. The club has three membership classifications:  Active, Associate and Honorary. 

“The object of the club shall be to bring together women interested in fine arts, music, literature, and civic and international affairs with a view of rendering themselves more helpful and useful to society,” Kennedy quoted from the club’s constitution.

Dean, Kaiman and Kennedy explained the reason the club limits membership to 35 women. It is not to be exclusive, but rather that members of the Schubert Club are committed to meeting in homes. The group’s size permits using members’ houses while a larger group would require utilizing public venues in the community.   

There was a time when meeting at locations outside private residences was attempted and attendance during these occasions declined.     

“We still have programs,” Kennedy continued.“Several members serving as hostesses provide refreshments, which can be somewhat simple or more elaborate.” 

Kennedy has for a number of years hosted the December meeting at her home. She likes to serve what she describes as a “Victorian tea” with sandwiches, cookies, fresh fruit and savory items. Other festive offerings have included a “Bouche de Noel” or Yule Log, an elaborate chocolate-filled, rolled chocolate sponge cake;  an English trifle; and “Victoria Sandwich Cake.” Kennedy customarily bakes Stollen, sweet yeast-raised German bread containing fruits and nuts. At one December meeting featuring Christmas musical traditions, a vocalist portrayed  St. Lucia, in true Swedish tradition, wearing a crown of candles on her head and carrying a tray of pastries. 

Among Historian Dean’s memories are teas that were “hat and gloves meetings.”  She has several colleagues in the Club’s 90-plus age group. Betty Neeley  is 94 and Mary Nelle Roberson is also 93 years of age. Roberson has been a member since 1960.

“We always had a project,” Dean said. Her current project is organizing the Schubert Club Records.

“I was in charge of the 100th Anniversary of the Club’s celebration at the Visitors Center. The club was 120 years old in 2018. We are going to wait until our 125th year to have another celebration,” she said. The 100th Anniversary Celebration in 1998 when Neeley was President included  papers about past club activities, a singing group, and a costume exhibit. Dean, Roberson, and Neeley have all held the office of president in the club.  At least 3 members have been active in town government: Grace Haws and Tobie Bledsoe held the office of mayor and  Charlotte Lavender was an alderman.  Recently Rachel Conger was the town’s Parks and Recreation Director.

The membership still has a ‘hat and glove’ meeting, usually in March, but these days the meetings are more relaxed. There is not as much dressing up. Since the 1960s, the organization has invited outside speakers to present programs.   

“But we still encourage members to present programs,” Kennedy said.    

Finally, in assessing the benefits of her membership in the Schubert Club, she said, “The friendships with members are a part of what is so special about the Schubert Club. It’s just a lovely, interesting group of women. We honor our past and traditions and celebrate them, not only on special occasions, but in the many ways we as women today continue to fulfill the club’s purpose.”