By Amy Wenk
It doesn’t meet every week anymore, but in its second century the Every Saturday Club continues to stimulate the minds of Atlanta women.
The study group for Atlanta women first convened Oct. 20, 1894, at the house of Mrs. William T. Newman with eight founding members. Women then were often restricted to home life, but a desire to broaden their minds formed the foundation of the organization, which soon became a distinguished social group for civic-minded women. The group is now Atlanta’s second-oldest certified and registered study club for women.
“They were city leaders,” said Buckhead resident Patsy Dickey, a member since 1977. “They were formative for leadership in women when Atlanta was growing up.”
The club met each Saturday until the 1980s. Now it convenes one Saturday a month from September to May.
“The Every Saturday Club was organized for study — for happy, earnest, mental work,” founding President Nannie Boyd wrote in a letter to the club on its 50th anniversary. “Most of those first women were married women, long out of school. Home and family had taken full and just toll of their time and thought and effort. Long routine had seemed to dull us. Then suddenly it seemed we each began to realize our great need for wider reading and deeper culture; for contact with alert, quickened minds.”
One member hosts the meeting at her home, and another reads a paper she has prepared on a specific subject.
“The members have intellectual interests and are civically minded,” said Dr. Linda Matthews, the club president, a member since 2003 and a Buckhead resident. “It’s always necessary to have an interest in writing papers.”
Dickey said the club adopts a program theme for each year’s paper topics.
In 1894, the first theme was Russia. The topics included the beginning of Russian history, the Mongols to Ivan I, communism, Peter the Great and Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”
Other themes through the decades included European novels, understanding Africa, poetic lives, Islam, utopias and constitutions. The topic starting in September is the Edwardian period.
Each paper involves careful research and preparation. Before each meeting, members brush up on the specific topic so an enlightened discussion can follow the reading of the paper. The reading takes about 30 minutes.
“It’s like a dissertation,” said Dorothy Rozier, a member since 1980. “For a few minutes, you are an authority on that subject.”
Throughout its history, the club has been limited to 21 members at a time. Those who wish to join must be nominated by three members. Any member who misses three meetings without an excuse is dropped.
“These were women who wanted to study,” Dickey said. “They were serious about it.”
The club has served as not only an intellectual entity, but also a testament to the progress of Atlanta. Members of the Every Saturday Club observed and reflected all stages of the growth of the city, from the rebuilding after the Civil War to the boom at the turn of the century to the difficulties of the Depression and the effects of World Wars I and II.
Often the annual themes developed from the conflicts facing the nation. For example, in the 1980s, in the midst of the Cold War, the theme one year was the “Pursuit of Peace.”
“We all enjoy the fact that it stimulates our thinking,” said Elizabeth Holloway, a member since 1989. “We also enjoy the friendship and the sociability of the club.”
Notable former members of Every Saturday Club
The Every Saturday Club has an impressive list of former members, including many women who were integral in the formation of Atlanta organizations.
In 1905, founding President Nannie Boyd spearheaded the chartering of the Atlanta Art Association, becoming its first president.
Member Emily Harrison, daughter of founding member Laura Harrison, spurred efforts to preserve her family’s estate, Fernbank, where the club often met, as a botanical and forest park. She succeeded in 1938, donating 60 acres to conservation-minded citizens. The property is now the home of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History and the Fernbank Science Center Planetarium and Observatory.
Other club members, such as Josephine Sanders, were Music Club or Symphony Guild patrons who helped establish the Atlanta Symphony.
Early on, the club was active in the suffragist movement. On Jan. 26, 1895, Susan B. Anthony and other representatives of the National Women’s Suffragist Convention addressed the club on the importance of a higher education for women.
Eleonore Raoul, an Every Saturday member, contributed to the suffragist movement. In 1915, Atlanta celebrated the Harvest Festival with a 2-mile parade. Although not part of the parade because they were denied the privilege, 500 women marched for the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia. Raoul was at the head of the contingent on a white horse. She later was the founder and president of the Atlanta League of Women Voters and in 1919 helped women get the right to vote in local elections.
Another member was Nellie Peters Black. Her father, Richard Peters, was a civil engineer who came to Georgia from Pennsylvania to build the railroad. He thought the name of the city at the end of the line, Marthasville, was too long and reportedly adopted the suggestion of an employee to call the town Atlanta, the feminine form of Atlantic. He distributed thousands of circulars with the headline “Completion of the Georgia Railroad from Augusta to Atlanta” and so named the city.
Other notable members include Anne Rivers Siddons, author of “Peachtree Road”; Virginia Schneider, who served as a delegate to the World Health Organization; Jane Yarn, a consultant to three U.S. presidents and nationally known ecologist; and Dr. Mary Morgan, wife of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ralph McGill.