Ladies wore dresses and hats to meetings when June Cox joined the Thursday Literary Club in 1957.
“It was very formal,” said June, 92, of Belleville, who recently was honored for 60 years of membership in the club, which started as a book circle in 1896 but today is more about socializing.
Of course, she’s listed as “Mrs. Wayne Cox” in club records, following protocol of the day. Her husband is a retired doctor.
“I was invited to join, and it was an opportunity for a young lady to become involved and meet new people,” she said. “We were new to the area. I lived in Topeka when I met my husband. He was in the service.”
In those days, the club was affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs. It had strict guidelines for meetings, including themes and topics.
“They entertained very lavishly, so much so that some people overdid it,” said member Earlene Voigt, 86, of O’Fallon, a retired corporate secretary. “And then they started fining them for it.”
Today, meetings are more casual and less structured.
“We’re basically a social club,” said President Suzanne Brown, 65, of Waterloo, a retired police officer and trainer.
“We meet once a month October through June, and we just kind of hang out. We have entertainment, or we might discuss a book. Our dues we give to school libraries in the area.”
At a recent meeting, Suzanne led a “What’s My Line?” type of game, requiring members to reveal little-known facts about themselves.
June told of winning a state spelling bee as a fifth-grader in Topeka, Kansas.
“I have the gold medal to prove it,” she said.
The contest required students to write down words rather than spell them aloud. It took all day.
“We didn’t get done until 5 o’clock,” June said. “So I didn’t get to go to the state fair. It was too late. We had to go home and do chores on the farm.”
June doesn’t remember her winning word, but she received $25 in cash.
The Thursday Literary Club, originally the Ladies Literary Circle, was founded in 1896 as a social, educational and cultural activity for women of the Methodist-Episcopal Church in East St. Louis.
Over the years, meetings were held in churches, homes, a YMCA and Fischer’s Restaurant in Belleville until it closed in February.
“Our attendance is very good,” Earlene said. “(The women) like it. They enjoy it.”
Some of the club’s traditional practices still are followed. Membership is capped at 25, and current members recommend new members. There now is one opening.
“Each person gets a chance to name someone, a person who has a nice personality and who is active in her community,” said member Lucy Sudol, 91, of Belleville, a homemaker.
“One you’re in the club for 25 years, then you’re an honorary member and you don’t have to pay dues,” she added.
Members still rotate as meeting hosts, lining up speakers or music. Only occasionally do programs involve literature.
“We have a lot of camaraderie,” Suzanne said. “We’re friendly, and we all get along. We don’t have cat fights. We’re too old for that. We’ll meet for lunch and root each other on.”
Suzanne gave June a silver bracelet with a heart-shaped charm for her membership milestone.
“I thought her 60th year should not go unpunished,” she joked.
“It’s a big deal,” said member Louise McDaniel, 88, of Belleville, a retired reporter and PR specialist. “I doubt that anyone has ever belonged to the club that long.”