The Lykesland Tuesday Afternoon Book Club began a century ago, when its founders harnessed a horse and buggy and began canvassing the ladies of Lower Richland to ask if they would entertain the prospect of an afternoon of literary discussion and socializing.
“We had a wonderful response,” the late Annie Burgess Burnside wrote of the club’s beginnings. “I do not remember the exact number who promised to join, but there must have been at least 12 or 15.”
Now, membership is limited to 24 women, many of a certain age who remember when hats were de rigueur and the prospect of hosting a meeting drew a flurry of baking, cleaning and silver polishing.
“I used three generations of napkins and my cute little daughters would pass a silver tray with the napkins on it,” recalled Betty McGregor. That touch was aimed at honoring her husband’s grandmother, Molly McGregor, and mother, Kate McGregor, who had preceded her in the book club.
By late summer 1911, the club was up and running, its goal “to encourage the reading of modern fiction and to promote a more social spirit among the women of the community.” Burnside, a teacher known affectionately as “Miss Annie,” was installed as secretary and her traveling partner on that inaugural run, Martha Ann “Maxie” Chappell, became president.
It was an era when married women were known by their husband’s initials in newspaper clippings, wore hats and gloves for church and social occasions, and excelled in managing the home and raising well-behaved children.
But they also were about the business of intellectual pursuits and, for a time, took turns presenting papers on subjects such as the presidents of the United States.
Club members read “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton in 1921; “Scarlet Sister Mary” by S.C. Pulitzer Prize author Julia Peterkin in 1929; “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell in 1937; “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren in 1947; and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1961, among many others.
That disciplined approach fell as decades passed. But that keen social spirit still abides among members who gather on the second Tuesday monthly to exchange books and talk about their lives.
“We really have a good time and when I think about the ladies who started this, I hope they had as good a time,” said Shelby Gross, the current president. “The camaraderie is so sweet.”
Last week, in honor of the book club’s centennial, they celebrated around a festive table of finger sandwiches, cookies and punch, reminiscing about friendship, the Lower Richland community and the pleasures of a good book.
The setting, the social hall of Mill Creek United Methodist Church on Old Garners Ferry Road, had special significance. It sits across from an empty field, where once the Lykesland Teacherage stood, the site of the book club’s first meeting.
Never mind that some of those original book club guidelines — including admonitions against dog-earing the pages or eating while reading — have softened through the years.
“We’re reduced ourselves to a social club now,” McGregor confided with a conspiratorial wink. They each must still recommend a book and then they are passed around based on recommendation.
“Some of us couldn’t remember if we had read a particular book,” McGregor laughed. So they now sign their names on the inside when finished to jog the memory. “That’s kind of sad, but that’s the way it is.”
But the memories of good times never seem to vanish.
Isabel Douglas Sparkman remembers accompanying her mother and grandmother, the club’s first president, to the book club and points out her tiny face peeking out of a 1943 photograph in The State.
Members earned the publicity after they boarded a two-horse wagon guided by L.C. Chappell, Isabel Sparkman’s grandfather, because gas rationing during World War II had prevented the use of their cars for pleasure.
JoAnn Campbell, another third-generation member, recalled that one long-time member, now deceased, covered up the racier titles with a brown paper wrapper.
Just as Lower Richland has been transformed from an isolated, agricultural community, its farms and fields now dotted with new subdivisions and businesses, so the book club too has changed.
Members now hail from Horrell Hill to Chapin. Today, dress is casual and the book club has a more relaxed feel.
That was good news to Zelle Burnside, who left the club years ago because “I didn’t have a hat to wear.”
That story draws knowing laughs, but as Burnside noted, you didn’t just throw on a pair of slacks and top to attend the book club.
“Everyone wore skirts and stockings,” she said. And don’t forget the white gloves.
Besides the friendship, one thing hasn’t changed in a century, however.
Members still recite a collect, or pledge, each month asking God to help them set aside pettiness and fault-finding, to be kind and without prejudice, to strive to “touch and to know the great common woman’s heart of us all.”
They still take up a collection once a year for a local charity. And the fine for failing to return a book is still 10 cents.