- Associated Press - Saturday, February 7, 2015

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) - They believe in education and enlightenment. They believe in community and charity. And they believe in the tradition of social networking over a proper high tea.

They are the ladies of the Tuesday Club of Stockbridge, who have continued to consistently meet since the group was first convened in 1892 among a group of women belonging to St. Paul’s Episcopal Parish.

These women began calling together meetings a couple times a month in their homes, according to historic records, bringing together around 45 women.

According to current Tuesday Club Vice President Carole Owens, a historian, private members-only men’s and women’s “clubs” came into vogue during the 19th century, but for different purposes.

“There were men’s clubs, like the Lenox Club, that were built around a social something, like golf, polo, poker. Men’s clubs centered around sport and dining,” she said.

Norman Rockwell, for example, often enjoyed supper with the Thursday Evening Club of Pittsfield.

“Women’s clubs were generally a daytime gathering. If you were a woman in the 19th century, you would not go out alone, and certainly wouldn’t go out at night. In those times, women weren’t educated past a certain point, so they were trying to enrich their knowledge,” Owens said.

In the early 1920s, the Tuesday Club of Stockbridge moved out of homes, and began holding regular meetings in the St. Paul’s vestry space. In 1972, when the parish re-purposed the space to become a nursery school, the Tuesday Club relocated with the blessing of the First Congregational Church, to the church’s Jonathan Edwards Room at 4 Main St., where the women still gather today.

“The Tuesday Club of Stockbridge is large in thought, word and deed, in the spirit of education, community and giving,” Owens said.

“The object of the organization is to foster interest in literature, art, music, history, science and civic affairs and to promote cordial relationships among members, and also to sponsor and support programs for the welfare of the community” said current president, Claudia Shuster. “I attribute our longevity to the maintaining of these objectives as paramount. In addition our formal teas represent a tradition that many hold dear.”

Most of the ladies of the group are of retirement age. While the majority of its 50 or so members are Stockbridge residents, membership has also been extended to include women from West Stockbridge, Lee, Pittsfield, even New Lebanon, N.Y.

They meet at 2 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, following the traditional academic calendar year.

While the speaker portions of their meetings are open to both women and men of the public, one must be invited then formally apply to become a Tuesday Club member. Upon acceptance, she then agrees to pay club dues in addition to serving on the Tea Committee or another Tuesday Club subcommittee.

“Their practice is a wonderful step back in time, and at the same time, the topics are very up to date,” said Stockbridge Library Archives and Museum Curator Barbara Allen.

Allen said the library maintains most of the original Tuesday Club records of meetings and milestones.

“Our mission is to bring good to the community and provide cultural opportunity to its members,” said Mary Hoeltzel, who chairs the programs committee.

She’s been a Tuesday Club member for nine years, joining when she moved to Stockbridge and into her aunt’s house.

“My aunt, Dorothy Brown, was a longtime member,” Hoeltzel explained. “I live in her house and I inherited the Tuesday Club from her.”

Guest presenters of the past have included Dr. Austen Fox Riggs, the namesake of the town’s psychiatric research and residential facility; illustrator/painter Norman Rockwell; sculptor Margaret French Cresson, daughter of sculptor Daniel Chester French, among other luminaries.

During the time of past President Miss Alice Byington, who served from 1896 to 1908, members would stage a play written by her.

Coming up, James Kraft and Wendy Power Spielmann will co-present “Love Poetry: From Ancient Times to Cole Porter” on Feb. 17. On March 17, Rick Wilcox will present on the life and times of Stockbridge’s Dr. Oliver Partridge.

April marks the Tuesday Club’s annual benefit presentation, which this year will feature Barrington Stage Company Artistic Director Julianne Boyd and Playwright Mentoring Project Director Kim Stauffer, speaking at a special time of 4 p.m. on April 28. Musicologist Jeremy Yudkin is expected to present in May.

In June of each year, the ladies review their remaining dues and donations collected over the year, and select a beneficiary or two to support with the money. Past recipients include local food pantries, Kids 4 Harmony and other local youth programs of the state Department of Children and Families, and other nonprofits.

Moving forward, Owens said she hopes the Tuesday Club continues to balance tradition while keeping up with the times, which she says has been key to the group’s longevity.

“For me, I believe, it’s community that’s been key. It’s just wonderful to have a community of women who know you, who care about you, and who you can care about,” she said. “We celebrate together, we mourn together, and together, we look after the greater community, too.”

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