|dc.description||The Women's Literary Club of St. Catharines was founded in 1892 by a local author, Emma Harvey (Mrs. J.G.) Currie (1829-1913) and held its last official meeting on February 19, 1994. The Club developed, flourished and eventually waned. After more than one hundred successful years, the last members deposited the Club's archives at Brock University for the benefit of researchers, scholars and the larger community. The ‘object of the Club’ was established as “the promotion of literary pursuits.” The Club was a non-profit social organization composed of predominantly white, upper middle class women from the St. Catharines and surrounding areas. Club meetings were traditionally held fortnightly from March to December each year. The last meeting of the year was a celebration of their Club anniversary. The early meetings of the Club include papers presented and music performed by Club members. The literary pursuits that would dominate the agendas for the entire life of the Club reflected an interest in selected authors, national and local history, classical history, musical performances and current cultural and newsworthy events. For example in 1893 a typical meeting agendas would contain papers on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Hawaii, Brook Farm, Miss Louisa May Alcott and “Education of Women 100 years Ago.” Within the first year of the Club’s existence, detailed minute books became the norm and an annual agenda or program developed. The WLC collection contains a near complete set of meeting minutes from 1892 until 1995 and a comprehensive collection of yearly programs from 1983-1967 which members took great care to publish each year.
Mrs. Currie brought together a group of women with a shared interest in literature and history, who wanted to pursue that interest in a formal and structured manner. She was well educated and influenced at an early age by her tutor and mentor William Kirby, local historian, writer and newspaper editor from Niagara-on-the-Lake. While Currie’s private education influenced her love of literature and history, the Club movement of the 1890’s offered a more public forum for her to share knowledge and learning with other women. Mrs. Currie was the wife of St. Catharines lawyer, James G. Currie, who also served as a Member of Parliament for the county of Lincoln. Mrs. W.H. McClive, who was also married to a St. Catharines lawyer, worked closely with Currie and they began research into the possibility of a literary Club in St. Catharines. Currie corresponded with a variety of literary Clubs across North America before she and Mrs.McClive tagged onto the momentum of the Club movement and published “A Clarion call for Women of St. Catharines To Form a Literary Club” in the local paper The St. Catharines Evening Journal. in 1892 and asked like Clubs to publish the news of their new Club.
The early years of the WLC set the foundation of how the Club meetings and events would unfold for the next 80 plus years. Photos and minutes from the first ten years reveal an excitement and interest in organized Club outings. One particular event, an annual pilgrimage to the homestead of Laura Secord, became a yearly celebration for the Club. Club President, Mrs. Currie’s own personal work on Laura Secord amplified the Club’s interest in the ‘heroine of 1812’ and she allocated the profits from her publication on Secord in order to create a commemorative plaque/monument in the name of Laura Secord. The Club celebrated this event with a regular pilgrimage to this site. The connection felt by Club members and this memorial would continue until the Club’s last meetings.
The majority of members in the early years were of the upper middle classes in the growing city of St. Catharines. Many of the charter members were the wives of merchants, business men, lawyers, doctors, even a hatter. Furthermore, the position of president was most often held by a woman with a comprehensive list of interests. This is particularly the case in Isabel Brighty McComb (1876-1941). Brighty who became a member in 1903, became Club president in 1932 and stayed in her post until her death in 1941. Similar to Mrs. Currie, Brighty was a local historian and published 2 booklets on local history. Her obituary indicates her position in the community as an author and involved community member committed to lifetime memberships in the Imperial Order of Daughters of Empire, I.O.D.E., the National Organization of Women, N.O.W. and the United Empire Loyalist Society, as well as the WLC. She was a locally known ‘teacher of elocution’ and a devoted researcher of Upper Canadian history. In a Club scrapbook dedicated to her, the biographical sketch illustrates the professionalism surrounding Brighty. There is very little personal history mentioned and the focus is on her literary works, her published essay, booklets and poetry. This professional focus, evident in both her obituary and the scrapbook, illustrate the diversity of these women, especially in their roles outside of the home.
The WLC collection contains a vast array of essay, lectures clippings and scrapbooks from past meetings. Organized predominantly by topic or author, the folders and scrapbooks offer a substantial amount of research opportunity in the literary history of Canada. The dates, scope of topics and authors covered offer historians an exciting opportunity to examine the consumption of particular literary trends, artists and topics within the context of a midsized industrial city in English Canada. This is especially important because the agenda adhered to by the Club was bent on promoting, discussing and reviewing predominantly Canadian material. By connecting when and what these women were studying, scholars many gain a better understanding of the broader consumption and appreciation of literary and social trends of Canadian women outside of publishing and institutional records. Furthermore, because the agendas were set by and for these women, outside of the constructs of an institutionalized canon or agenda, they offer a fresh and on the ground examination of literary consumption over an extensive length of time.||en