It is amazing that Sue mentioned this book a few weeks back, and it happened to be in my living room, on the lower shelf of a sofa table located between two sofas, where I rarely look. And then to have Kathy endorse it after I found it? That meant I had to read it.
"...AND LADIES OF THE CLUB"
By Helen Hooven Santmyer
This is an epic of a book, clocking in at nearly 1200 pages and spanning in excess of 60 years.The story starts in 1868, with Anne Alexander and Sally Cochran graduating from high school in Waynesboro, Ohio. This was a class of 14 girls, each of whom made a speech; Anne' speech was last, since she was the valedictorian of the class. General Deming, the congressman for Waynesboro, made a speech; a young teacher, Louise Tucker (called "Teapot" by the students, since she had moved from Boston with her teapot, convinced that such a thing would not be available in the wilderness of Ohio) was besotted by the General. Anne's late brother's best friend, John Gordon, was in attendance with her father, and had brought with him an army buddy, Ludwig Rausch. John, 10 years Anne's senior and a doctor like Anne's father and brother, married Anne. Sally contrived to meet that day Ludwig, and married him.
A few weeks after graduation, Sally and Anne were invited to meet with some of the older ladies of Waynesboro, who were interested in starting a Ladies' Club which would be for the sole purpose of intellectual pursuits. They were the youngest charter members, with Louise "Teapot" Tucker a few years older, and 9 other ladies still older comprising the remaining members. The book follows the ladies of the club and others who had relationships with them through the next 65 years: through marriages, children, deaths. The ladies also founded a private library in Waynesboro, because they felt the dearth of available reading material.
This book also gives great insight into the national feeling throughout that time. Ludwig's business feels the effects of the Long Depression (it's real - look it up), as does John's medical practice. The sentiment toward national political figures is also mentioned (Teddy Roosevelt considered a loose cannon; Woodrow Wilson considered useless). A flood decimating that region of Ohio, and business leaders in town organizing people to move out of harm's way. Rheumatic Fever. Polio. The advent of the horseless carriage. Paving of the streets. Intolerance of other Christians by Reform Presbyterians. Intolerance of Irish Catholics by everyone.
This book took me an uncharacteristically long time to read, because each chapter was very long, often between 30 and 50 pages, so I didn't sit down to read it unless I had some time. I felt what the characters felt; the book read as if it was written not by Anne or Sally, but as if they had told their stories to someone. At the very end of the book, I was overjoyed to find the character I believe to be Helen herself, and came to understand how it was researched and written.
Sadly, this book does appear to be out of print, although used copies are available on the internet. If you can find a copy of the book, it's well worth the considerable time needed to read it, if only for a greater understanding of the changes which have occurred in our world in only 150 years.
Happy Thorsday, Everyone!