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Nebraska Readers Span Three Centuries

The Nebraska Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, is in the process of conducting a Book and Writing Group Survey of our state. The most enjoyable parts of this search these past months, according to Mel Krutz, survey researcher, is communicating with the people who send information in, and getting back most interesting data about the groups that give them literary sustenance.

Seven of the groups that have been heard from have been in existence since Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland were presidents, and there are some records to prove it--the days of big wheel bicycles and knickers, of hoop skirts and shirtwaists.

The very oldest group that has responded (so far) is the George Eliot Club of Hastings begun Dec. 15, 1889. Hastings historian, Dorothy Weyer Creigh, explains that the name came about because they chose as their first reading a book on the life of George Eliot, who was considered "an outstanding and most controversial authoress in the nineteenth century and these ladies had courage to have chosen her works and life to study." When "they followed it up with some of her novels, they were soon called 'The George Eliot Club,' and the name stuck." Mrs. Creigh goes on to explain that the group was a study club. Members presented lessons and prepared papers in the summers and selected a book in accordance with the topics. "Each member bought his own book and passed it among members, and was expected to read the book before the next meeting." (Note the pronoun used in that sentence for this group of twelve women readers, which met the expected grammar usage of that era.) Today a member, in turn, presents a review for discussion. The last original survivor of the group, Mrs. Creigh tells us, "was Mrs. Ragan, founder of the club, who died in Rainier, Alberta, Canada in 1945." Her participation could easily have spanned fifty years.

Fortnightly, of Beatrice, begun Sept. 10, 1892 and Musigma, of Omaha, were both begun the same year. Musigma has an extensive and fascinating history written by one of its members, Oliver Pollak. An interesting facet of the Beatrice group is that the second group there (that we know of) began exactly one hundred years later in 1982 at the Beatrice Public Library. Current member, Katherine K. Kilpatrick, tells us that "Fortnightly has minutes from every meeting dating back to the original meeting. Excerpts from those old meetings are read today. Some are amusing reminders of days past. Poems, songs and memorials from the archives are also occasionally used today, as is the tradition of beginning the meetings by shaking hands--keeping traditions alive."

Hastings gets the trophy for having three of the oldest groups we know of. The other two are The Round Table of Hastings begun in 1893, and the American Literature Club begun in 1895. One of the Round Table members, Oline Marvel, continues to participate after sixty some years, along with Mrs. Hal Lainson and one other for nearly as long. Some present members are third generation. This was the second book club in Hastings to be formed. They develop their book lists around a theme for each year. In 2001 the theme was "looking forward, looking back." The last three, which includes the 1895 American Literature Club of Hastings, and the Ladies Columbian Reading Club of Rushville formed that same year, have less information listed so far. These two are the "youth" of the oldies, with Friends in Council of Tecumseh registering in 1894.

If you are in or know about a book or writing group that is not yet in the survey, please contact Mel at her e-mail address: ck34938@alltel.net, or by phone: 402-643-3464, with your name and address. Further information about this survey will be sent to you. The search for groups will conclude in December 2002.


For more information, contact Mary Jo Ryan.