Dear Readers Who ROAR:
Last week I went to Kansas and participated in feminist history.
That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d type, but it’s true.
A friend I’ve known for a long time asked me to visit and address the anniversary meeting of her club, The Philomatheans, in Leavenworth.
The Philomatheans have been meeting twice a month since 1897, which is an awfully long time by any stretch of the imagination. Founded as a group for young women of the town, the Philomatheans promoted literature and the arts—probably a real tonic from the busy frontier life of their fathers and husbands, which included Fort Leavenworth, as well as the growing federal penitentiary there. A little bit of truth and beauty would go a long way toward making the distaff existence better.
Today the Philomatheans (and their slightly older sister club, The Whittier Society) consist of 30-40 women in their 60s through 90s whose bimonthly meetings include book reviews, travel reports, and historical research. Members are mostly retired, but were once teachers, nurses, civil servants, librarians, military spouses, and more. They might sound genteel and sedate, but these women have done and seen a lot in their various decades on earth. One ninety-something member ran a dress shop in downtown Leavenworth and was so perfectly turned out she could have been on a bandbox—no one should overlook a business owner with that kind of style.
Many of the women I addressed are fairly conservative in their dress, habits, lifestyle, and politics. But I told them they are feminists, and they should be proud to call themselves so; the women who gathered in 1897 to form their club probably would, after all. Feminists, I told them, believe that women are significant. That women have something to say. That women have equal rights with men. That women matter as much as men.
Long ago Susan B. Anthony’s brothers Daniel and Merritt moved to Kansas to support that state’s anti-slavery movement; Daniel eventually became a newspaper publisher in Leavenworth. Times change, and so do politics, but Ms. Anthony herself would be proud to see women meeting and discussing for 127 years. The Philomatheans of Leavenworth, Kansas are part of the feminist movement.
I was supposed to speak to this group about my book “An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy,” and I did—but I focused on how and why courtesy means treating everyone you meet equally. I’m pretty sure the club’s founders were smiling when I finished.
Bethanne Patrick is the Co-Executive Editor for ROAR, a position she has been training for since childhood, when she organized games of “newsroom” in her basement, and always made the assignments. When she’s not emailing Sarah and Jeet, she can be found reviewing books for The Washington Post and NPR, acting as a contributing editor at Lit Hub, and working on her novel. Just kidding–she’s usually reading, which is why she is also the Books & Media editor for ROAR. Patrick is on the board of the National Book Critics Circle.