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CLUB AND SOCIETY LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES
BY WARD MCALLISTER OF NEW YORK.
A club in a metropolis is a positive necessity to the social and the business man. As common ground on which one meets one's friends, it may be termed an epitome of the world. No one should be admitted to a club in good standing without a careful investigation, nor should any one be expelled from a club but for the commission of a crime, for to expel a man from any club is a stigma which attaches itself to him for life ; hence an institution which should consist of the worth, intelligence and probity of a city, should never take from a man his club membership, thus tarnishing his good name, until he has by crime made himself a social outcast. For a club is founded on the principle of benefiting and improving men, strengthening and upholding them in the social and business world, and in no sense ever jeopardizing their good name and position. Like a family, it never should destroy its own members ; this loyalty and fealty should always be a feature of every club. Both in London, Paris and New York many men take standing from their club. This is more the case in Paris and London than in New York. At one time it was understood that men resorted to clubs simply for the purpose of playing cards and drinking whiskey. This idea has now been completely done away with. It is true that card-playing forms an important feature in a number of our most prominent social organizations, and I do not think that I am deeply in error when I surmise that whiskey and other things are drunk to a greater or less degree. But it is now pretty generally felt that the chief aim of an organization is to bring its members together for amusement, recreation, and instruction. With the indorsement of a respectable social organization, a man may often occupy a position to which his own individual attainments would not naturally have entitled him. Such a membership is a guarantee to the world at large that the person is fit to be recognized as a proper associate for gentlemen. Club membership may then be said to be a social passport. Numerous instances could be cited of the truth of this proposition, and if you are desirious of knowing the social status of any
citizen you have merely to take down the club register and see how many clubs lie belongs to.
Men whose personality is not remarkably briliant, and wlio, standing by them selves, would not be apt to arouse a great deal of enthusiasm among their associates on account of their intellectual capacities, very frequently counteract these drawbacks by joining a wellknown club. Being unable to stand alone, they mount the kindly pedestal of such social organization as they may succeed in becoming admitted to.
CLUB AND SOCIETY LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES.-Continued.
Thus it will be seen that our clubs often lend a generous hand to persons who, without this assistance, might ever remain in obscurity.
To seek meinbership in a club and be denied it, must be very discouraging, and such a rebuff casts a slur on a man which requires great force of character to overcome. Therefore, great care should be taken when one proposes a friend for membership that the pulse of the executive committee be felt and the proposer convinced that his man would be an acceptable candidate for admission, before he permits his name to be voted upon. It is a very rare case, indeed, when a man should be blackballed, and whenever this occurs, under no circumstances should the fact be revealed to the public. This is one of the strictest rules of club etiquette, and yet I regret to find that it has been violated several times of late. Persons who would reveal the name of a blackballed candidate should themselves be blackballed.
Some of the changes that have taken place in club life in this city during the past quarter of a century are not quite so pleasant as the breaking away from the oldfashioned card-playing and whiskey drinking. In old times it was always club etiquette never to mention a lady's name in the club. I make bold to venture the assertion that this rule is not now regarded with conscientious precision. I have reason to believe that there have been some exceptions to it. Indeed, it is often said that some of our swellest clubs are resorts for men gossips, where women's reputations are tossed about and exploded as a child would toss about and explode soap bubbles. No doubt this is greatly to be deplored, but women as a class may have the one satisfaction of knowing that whatever is said at the club is not repeated elsewhere, though I must confess this is rather cold comfort.
I will not go so far as to say that all clubs are of this gossipy character. There inay be some that are not. It cannot be denied, however, to be perfectly frank, that gossip and confidences constitute a strong bond of sympathy between members of social clubs. To hold otherwise would be foolish and in contradiction to what every clubman in this city knows perfectly well.
Granting this, the interesting question arises. Why have women never been able to form strong social bodies? I do not wish to be understood as casting a reflection upon the several organizations of women which already exist and appear to be in a thoroughly thriving condition in this city. These organizations, however, are not strictly social. They have in view the accomplishment of some particular design having no connection with social intercourse. It is generally conceded that women are especially fond of exchanging confidences. It might naturally be supposed, then, that they would form themselves into social clubs, such as their husbands, brothers and fathers belong to. And this would seem more likely to be the case when we take into consideration what a very large number of strong-minded women there are now at large.
But there is something indelibly born in a woman's nature which will always pre
CLUB AND SOCIETY LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES.- Continued.
vent her from entering into a thoroughly agreeable social intercourse with the members of her own sex. Women will never band together in a successful social club. The majority of women never seem to be perfectly happy and contented unless they are in the society of men. This rule is subject to exceptions, as all rules are, but it holds good in most cases, strong-minded women to the contrary notwithstanding. It is perfectly reasonable that this should be the case, for the chief object of woman's existence is to fascinate man. And how could she fascinate man when bound to a social organization of only women ?
With men, on the other hand, it is different. They enjoy to an extent unknown among women, the ability to ainuse and instruct themselves, independent of women's society. There are clubwen in this city who seldom, if ever, go into the society of women, and yet they appear to enjoy life exceedingly. There are good reasons for this, too, because men have more freedom and are more independent than women, and have a far greater number of ways of amusing themselves When associated together in a club a certain bond of sympathy, if not of affection, springs up between the various members, and it is a fact that men belonging to the same club always show each other marked consideration both in and out of the club-house. I have heard it said, on the other hand, that the meetings of the various women's clubs have not infrequently been attended with disturbance.
The first principle governing clubs should be social equality. Unless this prin. ciple is carried out as a fundamental law, no club can exist harmoniously. Society itself in this country cannot exist without admitting this principle. Wealth, neither in this or any other country, can stand alone unsupported. In fact, it always has a large following of the impecunious. In England, where the nobility and aristocracy derive their importance entirely from the toadyism of the widdle classes, you never see a man of wealth or high position, unless, as Thackery puts it, he be attended by his tadpoles and toadies. We are fast coming to it here, for, unfortunately for our American independence, we are importing this custom from England. There is hardly a Cræsus among us who has not his recognized following, assuring him that he is a Sir Oracle, and when he opes his lips, let no dog bark.”
The Somerset Club of Boston, one of the oldest and best clubs in America, has permitted the introduction of ladies into a portion of their fine club-house on Beacon Street; that is, to certain reception and dining-rooms in the club. In old, conservative Boston this has been a success, for with them propriety is inborn. In New York many of the clubs have what may be termed "ladies' day," when ladies are admitted to all parts of the building. An ineffectual attempt was made several years ago to admit ladies to the Union Club, of New York, but it failed.
The new Metropolitan Club, of New York, has a portion of its superb club house set aside for the use of ladies. Tuxedo, as a club to which ladies are admitted, has proved a great success. All this is an evidence that we are becoming daily more and more
CLUB AND SOCIETY LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES.-Continued.
refined and cultivated. There are no people in the world like Americans in adapting themselves to all the walks of life. The Simon-pure American, when he cuts loose from ail civilizing restraints, can play the blackguard more effectually, I think, than any other nationality. I have seen them on their way to the California gold fields, maliciously commit works of sacrilege in Mexican cathedrals that no other nationality would perpetrate. Again, I have seen both men and women in European courts doing us honor by holding their own with the most practiced courtiers there, when I knew they were but "people of yesterday,” but had with marvelous cleverness acquired this polished and courtly manner by very limited association with well-bred people. At Newport, the most luxurious spot in this country, we have what is known as the “Gooseberry Island Club." It is a club-house built on a small rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean, looking directly to the South Pole. Its members are limited. There you dine, if we may so term it, a la creole (negro Southern cooking). Whoever has failed to partake of their broiled lobsters has lost one of the pleasures of life. Gentlemen and ladies dine there daily during the three summer inonths. It is purposely made a change from elaborate French cooking, and is one of the most sought after entertainments in Newport. The “West Island Club," at the mouth of the East Passage, illuminated by the West Island Light, to the east of Newport Island, is a famous fishing club. Its specialty is, in the words of a Paget, “Its Yankee bash, as served at break fast.” The Maryland Club, of Baltimore, was established in 1857. Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte was its first President. The Carrols, the Merediths, the Johnsons and the Morrises have been among its prominent inembers. The Century Club, c: New York, weighed down with its learning and respectability, is really a club of barristers, authors, artists, antiquarians and literateurs. John W. Hamersley and Gen. Watts de Peyster were two of its shining lights. The Knickerbocker Club of New York City is our representative club of exclusiveness. It has the same relative position to the other clubs in New York, as White's has always had in London. Judge A. C Monson and August Belmont may be said to have been its founders. The University Club of New York was formed for university men, none but college graduates being eligible. The St. Nicholas Club of New York is a social organization, requiring each member to have an ancestor who resided in the State of New York before 1783, and at the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, its members descendants of old Knickerbocker and English families. The Beekman family has furnished it with two Presidents, father and son, namely, James William Beekman and J. W. Beekman, Jr., who is now President of the club.
The Union League Club, whose members were originally composed of both the political parties, who united themselves to sustain the Government in maintaining the Union, took the name of “Union League.” The Manhattan Club is and always has been wholly a Democratic organization. The Philadelphia Club has always been one of Philadelphia's landmarks. The club-house was bought from one of the Butlers.
CLUB AND SOCIETY LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES.-Continued.
Henry Pratt McKane is its oldest member, his membership dating from 1835. Gen. George Cadwalader, Gen. Tom Cadwalader, John Butler, Pierce Butler and William Chancellor were among its prominent members. Hirman Grats was its first President while the club was in Walnut Street. Both Markoe and Boker were also its Presidents.
The Union Club of New York has always been an institution that we may well be proud of. It was founded in 1836, I think. I first remember it as having its club-house in Broadway, below Canal Street, then moving up Broadway, near to Amity Street, and finally building on Twenty-first Street aud Fifth Avenue. Among the leading spirits in it when I first became a member, were George H. Talman, John J. Astor, Col. James Monroe, Denning Duer, Col. Abram Van Bruen, Kosiusco Armstrong, August Belmont, Robert L. Cutting, Major Macomb, Isaac Bell, William R. Travers, Wiliiam M. Evarts and Leonard W.J. Jerome. I can never forget the quaint speech of Col. James Monroe when, on seeing a crowd at the club bar, he, in his stentorian voice, would shout out, Gentlemen, fire and fall back.”
The oldest club in the United States, if not in the world, is the “State in Schuylkill Club," commonly called the “Fish House Club,” of Philadelphia, established in 1717. In this club they do now and always have done their own cooking. They have always elected a governor and a coroner as originally authorized by the Crown. Once each year, at the opening of the club, they serve the fish on a pev:ter platter given to them by William Penn, one of their Governors; this dish was lost for fifty years and then fished out of the Delaware, recognized by its having cut on it Penn's coat-of arms. They had a grant from the Crown of an island in the Schuylkill, but the club is now on the Delaware. Its members contend that it is the oldest club in the world.
“The Beefsteak Club," of London, was organized a few years before this club. They ceased to maintain their organization for a number of years, but then resumed. This club, after lengthened correspondence with the "Fish House Club," acknowl. edged that club as having a longer continued existence. “The All Saints Quoit Club," of Savannah, Ga., was founded before 1791. The Gibbonses, the Habeshams, the Mackays, the Hunters, the McAllisters, all convivial men, on every Saturday afternoon during the winter months played quoits “under the pine trees on Savannah's common,' providing an elaborate display of old Madeira by turns. After each game the members would stand around a table laden down with the rarest, choicest old Madeira that was ever imported into this country.
The famous All Saints Madeira of 1791 took its name from this club. This club ceased to exist after the war.
The New York Yacht Club was organized in 1844 by Edwin A. Stevens, Ambrose C. Kingsland, Alexander Major, Robert S. Hone, William McVicar, Anson Livingston and Hamilton Morion, and others; John C. Stevens, George L. Schuyler, William Edgar and Louis De Pau being active and conspicuous members. They petitioned Con