Since March is Women’s History Month, this month there will be a special “Throw Back Thursday” feature on a women’s organization which has shaped Little Rock’s cultural landscape. Up first is The Aesthetic Club
Founded in 1883, the Aesthetic Club is one of the oldest women’s clubs west of the Mississippi River. The club first met on January 15, 1883 with founders Cynthia Polk, Sallie Martin, Ida Martin, Fannie Jabine, Jane Georgine Woodruff, Mary Knapp, Gertrude Hempstead, Harriet Jabine, and Virginia Hamilton.
Their purpose was “to present programs of a literary, artistic, musical, and timely trend” in order to “assist in educational uplift, and to bring its members together for social enjoyment.”
By 1894, the membership had increased to 100, and the group could no longer meet in members’ homes. a new meeting place had become necessary. In 1893, the group started meeting in the Arsenal Tower Building, where they continue today. For several years they were the only tenant of the building and paid the utility bills for the structure when no other entity would.
The Aesthetic Club worked with the Arkansas Federation of Women’s Clubs to secure library legislation from the state of Arkansas in 1902. This allowed for cities to create municipal libraries.
The Aesthetic Club’s objective is “to present programs at various meetings of a literary, artistic, musical, and timely trend; to assist in educational uplift; and to bring its members together for social enjoyment.” A member of the Aesthetic Club may read a paper, play a musical instrument, sing, or be appointed chairman of the day and be responsible for introducing speakers and musicians or greeting members. Membership of the Aesthetic Club is still limited so that its active members total no more than 100, not including inactive and associate members.
Amelia Smith, an active Aesthetic Club member between 1940 and 1960, summed up the club’s strength: “It has always been a body of women who stood for and lived up to its motto, ‘The Good, the True, and the Beautiful.’ Never once, whether there were good times, wars, a Great Depression, or social changes, has it departed from remarkable standards.”
Over the years many of the members were wives, daughters and mothers of Luttle Rock leaders. As the role of women has changed, now he leaders are actual members–not relatives of leaders.