Members of the Women’s Literary Club of Bellevue, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this weekend, are, from left: seated, Shirley Stevens, Joan Fitz-patrick, Janice Kozey-Cambest; standing, Frances Haeberle, Patricia Wivell, Dolores North, Kathleen Gallagher, Kathy Elder, Josephine Coletti, Lou Seifarth, Hedwig Marwaha. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen
The topics discussed by members of the Women's Literary Club of Bellevue are, by their nature, works of historical interest rather than works of fiction. In fact, the 17 ladies who meet once a month from October to June truly qualify as being academics rather than readers of the classics or of “best seller” contemporary literature.
The formula that the ladies follow, is, indeed, tried and true, having been practiced for over a century, with the club's 110th anniversary being marked on Nov. 1.
Some people of those bygone days no doubt may have regarded a women's study group as being just a bit out of the ordinary, if not downright revolutionary in an era when women college graduates were the exceptions more than the rule. But the opinions of others, whatever they might have been, apparently were of little concern to the “…several ladies who decided to organize a literary club to further their education,” according to a history of the organization, written in 2000.
The club's success may very possibly be attributed to the simplicity of its structure: Members select a topic for study; that topic is divided among members who conduct an intensive study of a specific aspect of that topic; the findings of those studies are reported to members and discussed at the meetings. At the college level, this formula would define the structure and purpose of a seminar in the truest sense of the word. For members of the WLCB, the study sessions and discussions follow the original goal of the club: “…to encourage literary culture.”
Current president Shirley Stevens, a retired Quaker Valley English instructor, further explains the process.
“Each year, we have a theme for our programs. This year's theme is titled Pittsburgh Connections. Our programs will range from Pittsburgh and the Civil War to German Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh glass, to the golden age of sports in Pittsburgh. One program will explore Pittsburgh's literary heritage.”
Study topics for the first two years of the club focused on weightier issues and, in retrospect, indicate the depth of their discussions. The subject: the festering unrest in Russia under the rule of Czar Nicholas.
Stevens said that conducting research to present a paper and listening to others present their papers help her to grow.
“I also enjoy the company of these interesting women,” she said.
While the Bellevue name is associated with the club's title, that simply is a historical carryover from the club's founding by women of the Bellevue and Avalon communities. Today's members come from Avalon, Ben Avon, Sewickley and North Hills, and include a doctor, a nurse, teachers, housewives and business people.
Today's members also take their research seriously.
“Our research tools vary. We visit related sites, as Joan Fitzpatrick did when she recently reported on Donora. She also visited France before she presented a report on the artist, Cezanne. I visited Georgia O'Keeffe's home in Abiquiu, New Mexico and then read a biography and found copies of her paintings in books. And our members certainly use computers for research,” Stevens said.
The last meeting of the year often involves a field trip to a site related to the year's theme.
“Last spring we toured the Duquesne Club's art collection, and a few years ago, club members toured a castle in the area when they were studying architecture,” Stevens said, adding, “We welcome new members who are curious about varied subjects and who enjoy learning and exploring.”
Kathy Elder of Ben Avon summed up the feelings that all of the club members share. “I have not been a member for very long, but I appreciate having the opportunity to learn so much by belonging to this club.”