The Nineteenth Century Club & The Nineteenth Century Charitable Association - Learning and Giving: Our Focus


The year is 1891. A group of far-sighted women realize that education and civic involvement are essential elements in building a community. Below are excerpts* of the involvement of these remarkable women in the women's club movement, the founding of The Nineteenth Century Club**, the Village of Oak Park, far beyond the borders of their prairie community and into the 21st Century.On Monday, October 19, 1891, Mrs. Emily Conant hosted a meeting of 22 women. As the youngest founding member, May Estelle Cook remembered the first organizing meeting, and what she called the "medieval objections" raised by some of the women in attendance.

It was an occasion of monumental seriousness. A woman's club in Oak Park? Did we dare embark on so high an adventure? Wouldn't it interfere with church work and established spheres of influence? Would the husbands like it? What should we do? Who would write papers and what about? Such staggering Questions drew faces into long lines of tenseness and worry.

Four women were not worried. Elizabeth Ball, Phoebe Butler, Emily Conant, and Marie Remick were already members of the Chicago Woman's Club, established in 1876. They felt that the time had come for an organization that would fulfill the same purpose of "light and leading" in Oak Park that the Chicago Woman's Club had. They chose "mutual improvement and helpfulness" as their purpose, and decided to study the first half of the Nineteenth Century-hence, the name
Nineteenth Century Club. While some women argued against including the word "club" because it sounded too masculine, the others pointed to the prestige and power of the Chicago Woman's Club and tilted the vote in their favor.

These four driving forces brought the new club into being. By the end of the meeting, 18 women had enrolled, officers had been elected and the name chosen. Mrs. Marie Remick was named president, Madame Elizabeth Ball, vice-president, and Mrs. Emily Cole Conant, secretary. May Estelle Cook, a recent graduate of Wellesley and the youngest woman present, was named club critic, charged with correcting grammatical or literary errors made by other members.

*Note: Excerpts about each founder are used with permission from the author, Carolyn O. Poplett (member) with Mary Ann Porucznik (member) from The Gentle Force: The Nineteenth Century Woman's Club of Oak Park (1988, 1992). The book is available for purchase from The Nineteenth Century Club office.

No portion of the content of this page can be used or reproduced without the written permission of Carolyn O. Poplett, author, or the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association.

**In 2010 the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association (NCCA) was formed as the umbrella for all charitable activities of The Nineteenth Century Club.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! We do not have a photo of one of our founders - Elizabeth H. Ball. If you have one you can share or know where one is available, please contact us.

Be sure to visit our President's Page

Mary E. Baker  

No information about Mary Baker was in Carolyn Poplett's book, so further research will be done and added here.

Elizabeth H. Ball  

The third founder was Madame Elizabeth Ball, a very different lady, according to club historian May Estelle Cook who described her as "low-voiced, slow of speech, extremely dignified and correct-the kind of grand lady who might have held a salon in London in the Eighteenth Century." The wife of Judge Farlin Q. Ball, Elizabeth Ball was a much-commended past president of the Chicago Woman's Club and the first woman in Oak Park to be commonly called "Madame."

The one issue that Madame Ball pursued with fervor was woman's suffrage. She hosted the first meeting of the Suburban Civics and Equal Suffrage Association in 1906 and encouraged her friends to register and vote even before any woman suffrage laws had passed. Her tireless efforts to keep the suffrage debate before the Club laid the groundwork for the final vote, 30 years later, when the membership at last voted full and whole-hearted support for suffrage.

"She was easily the queen of any meeting she attended," remembered Cook. "Dignified, serene, with courtly manners, she gave everyone she met a feeling of distinction because she treated others with the distinction which was her own unconscious due-no important decisions were made without consulting her. Her experience, her deliberate, low-voiced speech, and the adequacy of her words gave weight to her excellent judgment.

Elizabeth H. Ball
Nellie C. Beye  

Little information about Nellie Beye was in Carolyn Poplett's book, so further research will be done and added here.

Phoebe M. Butler  

The final of the four was Phoebe Butler, who "always had her nose in a book," according to her sons. She was popular with both the young (who called her Aunt Phoebe) and the old, and was well-respected in the community. At the Letters Club, where she frequently lectured, she was known as an avid "reader, traveller, writer of papers, and follower of the masters of wit and literary excellence."

An ardent suffragist, Phoebe Butler became the first woman candidate for the local high school board in 1892, and co-founded (with Madame Elizabeth Ball, Dr. Anna Blount, and Emily Cole Conant) the Suburban Civics and Equal Suffrage Association. Her interest in education led her to teach at the Chicago Extension School and to join the Chicago Woman's Club. She also encouraged her niece, Minnie Ward, to become a charter member of the Nineteenth Century Club.

She suggested a line from Robert Browning, "Why stay we on earth unless to grow?" as the club motto. While serving as the fourth president of the Nineteenth Century Club, she invited all to the first club banquet-a morning meal at her home on January 28, 1895-with the inducement "a breakfast with our Autocrat."

Emily C. Conant  

Emily Cole Conant was an equally vital person with a friendliness and executive ability hard to equal. A member of the Chicago Woman's Club, she served as president of the Women's Club of Chicago Commons for several years. (The Chicago Commons, which funded and-helped settlement houses and operated a children's camp in New Buffalo, Michigan. had auxiliaries around the city and in the suburbs.) In memory of her leadership, the Chicago Commons later built and dedicated a fountain to her and The Nineteenth Century Club donated the then-magnificent sum of $100 towards its construction.

Like Mane Remick, Emily Cole Conant lectured for the Letters Club, campaigned for women's suffrage and belonged to several community organizations. She served as the first secretary for the Nineteenth Century Club, recording minutes in an elegant hand, and became the Club's second president of the Club (1891-1892). In 1909, she served as president of the Suburban Civics and Equal Suffrage Association (later to become the Oak Park League of Women Voters).

"She carried with her always a flame from the altar of enthusiasm," wrote May Estelle Cook. "In the many organizations to which she belonged, her associates always said of her, 'No matter what we plan, Mrs. Conant does the work.' She met responsibility with a contagious cheerfulness that give a lift to everyone who worked with her."

May Estelle Cook  

Little information about May Estelle Cook was in Carolyn Poplett's book, so further research will be done and added here.

She is heavily quoted throughout The Gentle Force because May's book, Our First Fifty Years (Private Printing, 1941)  was used as a resource. May also wrote Little Old Oak Park: 1837-1902 (Private Printing, 1961).

As an 1884 graduate of Oak Park-River Forest High School, she was honored by the high school in 1983 for Civic Leadership as a Founder of the Nineteenth Century Club with their Tradition of Excellence Award.

The following is from Oak Park Library website.

"May Estelle Cook - Little Old Oak Park
a favorite of Irene B.'s, Adult and Teen Services
All of you Oak Parkers out there must read Cook's witty remembrances of Oak Park. When she was 93 years old, the Nineteenth Century Woman's Club asked her to be a part of a program called the "Past, Present, and Future of Oak Park." Her talk was so charming and informative that she was asked to write it down. She did. Born in Chicago in 1865, she came to what we now call Oak Park in 1870. There are chapters on the first settlers, the Kettlestrings, the nascent fire and police departments, the schools, and the Scoville Institute. The abundant churches and how they affected family life are also touched upon. You will love Oak Park even more after you have read this delightful, little memoir. 7/2/2001"


Amanda Horton  
Amanda Horton frequently lectured on music, enhancing her topic by performing works on the piano. She was often accompanied by Nellie Beye, whose special interests were children and music.
Louise M. Luff  

Louise Luff was both cultured and efficient. The Club's first gift was in the form of a memorial to her and was sent to her brother, a missionary in one of the Dakotas to whom the Club had sent
travelling libraries.

Mary P. Marsh  

Mary Marsh had many of the same qualities that made her niece, Julia Lathrop, so famous, although she did not share her views on suffrage. She was full of practical wisdom, but she alone among the founders declined to sign the Club's first petition for a woman on the school board.

Julia Morris  

Julia Morris (Mrs. Gardner), became the Club's fifth president. She was noted for being a very serene and capable woman. No one was encouraged to keep member­ship in the Club who did not share the zeal for keeping commitments - not just to an office, but to community work and club programming as well. "Growing" was taken seriously. During Mrs. Morris' presidency, Mrs. Seabury wrote in her report that "within the club year, there has not been a single failure to respond on the part of any individual, committee or officer who has accepted work or responsibility."

(Obituary: None found in local press.)

Marie C. Remick  

The four dynamic women who had called the meeting had a history of community involvement and leadership. Marie Remick, although frail in health, actively participated in the Chicago Woman's Club, first on its Education Committee and later as president. She also lectured at the Letters Club and belonged to both the Political Equity League and the D.A.R.

A graduate of Elmira College in New York, Marie Remick was described as "a handsome, sparkling person, fearless and eloquent?advanced in her ideas of social and economic justice."She had a striking and pleasing personality, a magnetic presence and a broad intelligence. Because she loved reading, Remick always gave a good dictionary as her first gift to the eight traveling libraries The Nineteenth Century Club would help start and run. It was she, more than anyone else, who insisted that Oak Park have its own woman's club.

Remick put her reform ideas into practice whenever possible. She counted Democratic reform governor John P. Altgeld among her friends and did not hesitate to use her power, privilege, and position on behalf of women. Her obituary read, "No one left her presence without perceiving sympathy and some form of aid for any cause that was pled before her."

Marie became the first President of the Club (1891-1892).

Mary C. Rogers  

Mary Rogers shared the Seaburys' interest in philanthropy, and directed her generosity to the Club itself. Her legacy to the Club was the source of its first perpetual membership.

Clara W. Seabury  

Clara Ward Seabury was known to her fellow club members as "our lady fair, who, by her gracious manner and unlimited friendliness, did more than anyone else to keep the temperament of our members working together in harmony." She was especially interested in settlement house work, because of its broad base approach; "the church idea," she wrote, "is to take a few people along; the settlement idea is to take all as far as you can."

Minnie M. Ward  

Little information about Minnie M. Ward was in Carolyn Poplett's book, so further research will be done and added here.

Anna Lloyd Wright  

The other charter members were just as lively and exciting as the four founders. Anna Lloyd Wright, mother of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was a favorite lecturer and a gifted pianist.

She often spoke on Emerson, Browning, or domestic science.Her reports on the status of women's rights to own property or to vote attracted wide attention. "For distinguished appearance [she] was unrivaled. Her tall, erect figure, crown of white hair and deep-set, dark eyes commanded attention wherever she went. Members could not afford to miss the carefully prepared, scholarly and inspiring work which she always gave to her beloved Club," remembered May Estelle Cook.