Wiregrass Women’s Clubs

(Originally published as “It Came from the Archives: Wiregrass women’s clubs,” Troy Today, March 27, 2018, https://troy.today/perspectives/came-archives-wiregrass-womens-clubs/)

The women’s club movement in the U.S. began in the 1890s and was closely associated with the New Woman of the Progressive Era though the movement lasted well into the post-World War II era. It continues today.

Local women – from the elite in the white community and fewer but more broadly based among African-Americans – organized small clubs for education, cultural, musical, social and service reasons. They also organized under names that sound funny to us, like the New Century Club, the Tintagil Club and No Name Club (both of Montgomery, Ala.), As You Like It (Dothan), and the first women’s club in the U.S., Sorosis. Many women were members of several clubs as well as similar organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Local clubs soon joined forces. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs organized in 1890 and the Alabama Federation of Women’s Clubs did so in 1895. In this era of Jim Crow, African-Americans organized separately, with Alabama’s Margaret Murray Washington as a preeminent leader in Tuskegee, in Alabama and in the National Association of Colored Women.

A photo of the Dothan Harmony Club from the Wiregrass Archives collection.
The Dothan Harmony Club in front of the Dothan Opera House, circa 1912-1920

Much can be made of the records left by women’s clubs, for the clubs of the Progressive Era offered many women their first foray into the public sphere. Later women’s clubs helped professional women to promote their own professional growth along with improving their communities. Most surviving and accessible women’s club records are surprisingly similar, with runs of annual programs that contain member rosters, officers, history, and notices of the year’s meetings. Often each meeting had a speaker, and the programs list those topics, too. The collections also encompass founding documents, constitutions and by-laws, meeting minutes, and scrapbooks. Historians use such records to understand the structure of various clubs, and at least one has traced the evolution of clubs from general interest and education into war service projects as the U.S. participated in World War I beginning in 1917.

The Wiregrass Archives proudly houses the collections of at least 13 Dothan-area women’s clubs, most of which came to the Archives because the Houston-Love Memorial Library in Dothan moved into a new building and reduced its local holdings, sending the club records to us.

You can find guides to the current collections at the Wiregrass Archives webpage, https://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives/inventories/online.html, by searching for “women’s clubs.” You can access the information in the collections by visiting the Archives here at the Troy University Dothan Campus.

Our earliest collection is that of the New Century Club of Dothan (1908-1982) who concerned themselves with “municipal housekeeping.” Next is the Dothan Harmony Club (1911-1981) that abounds with musical scores in addition to the records described above. The records of the eponymous Dothan Study Club begin in 1917 and go through 2002.

A scrapbook of women's groups from the Wiregrass Archives
The Eclectas Club scrapbook from 1983

Three clubs founded between the wars promoted the study of literature and art. The Scottie Frasier Study Club (1977-2003) began in 1930 as the Young Women’s Study Club, the Dothan Book Review Club (1936-2014) opened in 1936, and the Fine Arts Club (1940-2015) started in 1940.

After World War II, a sense of civic service seems to have motivated four clubs. The Mothers’ Club of Dothan began in 1949, though we have only its 50th anniversary scrapbook from 1999; Alpha Rho chapter of the professional educators service club, Delta Kappa Gamma, was founded in 1950; Dothan’s Sorosis Club (1951-1976) began in 1951; and the civic betterment group, Soroptimist International, founded a Dothan chapter in 1956 that became the still-active Eclectas Club (1960-2015) after 1964.

Finally, local gardeners organized to improve their neighborhoods’ beauty and their own skills.  The Dothan Garden Club (1941-1959 but still active) brought together gardeners across the city while the Cherokee Garden Club (1959-2015) united hobbyists in that neighborhood of northwest Dothan.

Women in Dothan have belonged to many other organizations over the years, but even these few collections will open your eyes to the variety that existed then and today.  With luck, the Wiregrass Archives will receive more club records in the future, so future researchers will be able to examine the full array of local women’s cultural and civic activities.

Visit us online at https://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives or in person in Everett Hall room 128 on the Dothan Campus, University Dr., Dothan, AL.

Advertisements

Country Life in Photos: Making an Axe Handle

Modern hand tool handles are made on an industrial scale, often in small factories by machines running for hours at a time.  This means they’re relatively inexpensive, readily available, and easily replaceable (because the toolmaking industry has created size standards).

But not long ago, when farm folks in particular had more time during the lay-by than cash, tool and handle-making were at-home crafts that required craft skills and patience.

In 1984, Dothan photographer Doug Snellgrove took five pictures of Howard Smith (Hodgesville, AL) demonstrating the steps of making an axe handle.

First, Smith chain-sawed 40-inch lengths of a hardwood log ca. 12 inches in diameter, then split the log twice.  After quartering the log, he selected the best of these “blanks” to shape into a new handle.

Smith then rough-shaped the blank with a hatchet.

img111

 

img113

Next, he clamped the roughed-out handle under the hold-fast of a shaving horse. He weights the hold-fast with his foot as he shapes the handle with a drawknife.  Although not shown here, he might have finished the handle with a spokeshave, then sanded and oiled it.  To fit the handle into the axe head, Smith whittled it then bonded the pieces together with glue.

 

img112

Craft woodworking tools (as opposed to factory machinery for woodworking) have changed little since colonial days.  Drawknives and spokeshaves are all metal with replaceable blades, and axes no longer come from the blacksmith’s forge, but the shaving horse is still homemade and the basic work is still the same. (Eric Sloan, A Museum of American Tools [NY: Ballantine Books, 1964]).

 

According to Ben Ferguson of Florida, a woodworker who makes beautiful bread bowls among other things, a significant improvement has occurred in sanding technology.  Thankfully, according to Ferguson, sandpaper replaced using a rag and shattered glass that cut the worker’s hands.

For more photos of life and nature in the Wiregrass, visit the Doug Snellgrove Photograph Collection at http://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives/inventories/099.html

More than Meets the Eye: The Chiriaco Collection, RG 117

Contributed by Anna L. Humphries.

The Wiregrass Archives is home to many mysteries. The Americo C. Chiriaco collection is one, but using rhetorical analysis and literary history to consider the collection offers a new angle for determining a possible explanation.

Amerigo C. Chiriaco compiled a curious collection of lists that now live at The Wiregrass Archives. Chiriaco was born in 1930 and worked for the International Trade Commission. He travelled extensively for work and kept notebook journals of his travels. He eventually retired to Slocomb, AL where he lived until his death in 2003 which led to the procurement of his collection by the Wiregrass Archives in 2004.

chiriaco_cover_closeup
Chiriaco notebook cover close-up. Box 1, file 31.

Chiriaco’s journals are interesting because of their seemingly bizarre contents. One might expect to find travel memorabilia and journal entries on personal experiences. Instead, he filled his spiral bound notebooks with meticulous hand-written rows and columns of plants, animals, restaurants, historical sites, sites of interests, and indigenous people along the routes he travelled.  Chiriaco organized the notebooks by region or country, and constructed his lists in alphabetical order. Along with the notebooks on locations of interest, there are reference notes on correlations with highway maps and tourist guides, some of which were also donated with the collection, others of which have been lost.

What was Chiriaco’s motive for compiling all of this information? These are not To Do lists or historical records. There is no obvious purpose for them, yet he spent years creating them. Although these lists seem to be an unsolvable mystery, the answer may lie in the history of literature.

chiriaco_pg1_closeup
Close-up of first page of Chiriaco notebook. Box 1, file 31.

Strange lists have been found dating back to the third century B.C. and form an ancient genre of literature called “paradoxography.” It has been found in Aristotle’s History of Animals, Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, The Geography of Strabo, Herodotus’s Histories, and catalogues composed by Hesiod. Scholars consider paradoxography in ancient writing to be a preface to science as we know it. The lists of unbelievable animals and people found in new lands and of strange and inexpiable occurrences were modeled after an Aristotelian style of the study of biology. James S. Romm offers explains the purpose of list-making in his The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought. Romm writes:

The rhetorical strategy behind such catalogues can be analyzed at a number of levels. First the matter-of-fact tone of the catalogue helps balance the exoticism of the wonders themselves: The insistence on spare linguistic structures such as the simple assertion of existence, “there is,” creates a veneer of clinical, dispassionate inquiry. Furthermore, the frequent citation of sources which typifies this kind of writing also helps bolster authority- or at least it relieves the author himself, and thereby his audience, of responsibility for assessing the truth…The cataloguer of wonders typically crowds his data into linguistic aggregates rather than distinct units: prolix, hyperextended sentences, or rapid-fire series of clauses. The proliferation of data dislocates its readers and overwhelms their ability to separate true from false, in effect forcing them to “swallow” whole that which would seem incredible if presented piece meal (92-93).

While Chiriaco’s reasoning for compiling his journals is unknown, he shares much with ancient paradoxographers. His writing is related to his travels. He creates a sense of authority by listing detailed esoteric information from economic production to fungi taxonomy. His journals were mostly composed before the internet was widely accessible. Was he striving to create all-inclusive encyclopedias of the world, or was he an aspiring travel book author?  His collection requires more examination, and paradoxography might offer one key to unlocking its mystery.

Discover the Chiriaco Collection online finding aid at

http://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives/inventories/117.html

The author, Anna L. Humphries, is a Troy University Dothan Campus graduate who is hard at work on her Master’s degree in English at University of Tennessee — Chattanooga.

The Dixie Depot Records, RG 145

Many Wiregrass Archives collections are rich resources for historical research.  This post features one of our favorites, The Dixie Depot Records, RG 145.

099-10-0130-001-013-062
Dixie Depot in its later years. Doug Snellgrove Photographs, RG 99

In 1908, the Atlantic Coast Line / Seaboard Atlantic Line built its passenger and freight depot in Dothan, Alabama’s Dixie neighborhood a few blocks north of downtown.  During its heyday first as the ACL/SAL depot then as the Southern Railway (CSX) depot, this was the headquarters for the yards from Waycross, Georgia, to Montgomery, Alabama.  Copies of all contracts, compacts, and reports from other stations along the line ended up in the records collected at the Dixie Depot.

Most of those contracts are for rights of way and other small real estate transactions, but some are for private rental of sections of depot warehouses, like the 1943 contract for storage space in the Jakin, Georgia, depot, pictured here.  Almost all contracts come with a blueprint on legal-sized paper (blueprinting was one of the only ways to make multiple copies before the advent of photocopying).

Depot blueprints are particularly interesting because they show the racial segregation of waiting rooms:  “C.W.R.” in the upper left denotes that space is the “Colored Waiting Room,” and below it is the “W.W.R.,” the “White Waiting Room.”

145-04-0424-019-021-002_96dpi
Depot floor plan, Jakin, GA, 1943

In 2004, Dothan Landmarks Foundation (Landmark Park) prepared to return the abandoned depot (ca. 1985) back to the City of Dothan to become the HQ for the Wiregrass Transit Authority.  The Wiregrass Archives pulled over 30 cubic feet of records – along with the evidence of insect and rodent infestation as well as coal dust – then cleaned and organized the collection into 4 subgroups containing 18 series, with an artifact and miscellaneous series:

030-05-0725-ITM-117
Dixie Depot in its later years. Doug Snellgrove Photographs, RG 99

Subgroup–Station Master 1926-1985 (Bulk 1954-1985); [350 Files]: The Station Master was the senior official in charge of the railroad station’s physical plant, office, and station employees. He was responsible for running the station safely and efficiently.  One series consists of labor agreements, 1964-1978, including contracts between the unions and the SCL.

Subgroup– Property Protection 1946-1984, [94 Files] Railroad police ensured the safety of both passengers and freight and investigated any accident, injury or theft that occurred on railroad property. This division was really the railroad police.

030-05-0725-ITM-153
Dixie Depot, from the Snellgrove Photo Collection, RG 99

Subgroup– Train Master 1955-1985, [84 Files & 7 Items]: Train masters were responsible for the trains that passed through terminals under their control and ensured that trains arrived and departed safely. Trainmasters kept close contact with personnel. The most interesting series in this subgroup is the Conductors’ Reports, 1981-1985.

Subgroup– Road Master 1954-1985, [202 Total Files (142 Files & 60 Oversized Files]: Road masters were responsible for an assigned territory of track and saw that it was kept up to established standards. They were responsible for maintenance personnel in the assigned territory.This subgroup contains 72 files of contracts, 1908 – 1964, a rich source of information about the towns along the line and the business of the railroad itself.

This collection is open for research.  You can find an online finding aid for it here:  http://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives/inventories/145.html

Wiregrass Archives staff members Tina Bernath and Diane Sowell created and displayed this poster about the Dixie Depot Collection at the Alabama Historical Association meeting in 2013 and the Society of Alabama Archivists meeting in 2015.

Dixie Depot _USE