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Displaying items by tag: Societies

Thursday, 09 May 2019 19:04

A very literary county

Rumors of the death of the book have been greatly exaggerated. Hardcover sales are strong and audiobooks are increasing in popularity. People frequently like to share what they're  reading and their thoughts about books on Goodreads, Litsy, and LibraryThing. Book clubs abound, and there’s a whole world within a world on Instagram known as “Bookstagram.”

In many ways this is a continuation (though in different form) of previous centuries' literary clubs and societies. As schooling became universal at the end of the 19th century, many people wanted to continue their education into their adult years. This coincided with a time when Americans liked joining clubs, and many of the clubs were based around reading and learning.

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The Reading Circle in the early 1960's.

The Norristown Reading Circle was founded in 1910 by six women. The original plan was to read and review popular fiction, but it soon expanded to include history and current events. The meetings were held every other week at a member’s home. The membership was capped at 20. The club got a surprising amount of newspaper coverage.

reading cirle

We have two minute books for the Reading Circle, which was clearly more formal than a modern book club. The minutes from fall of 1923 illustrate how varied the topics were: on September 11 Mrs. Hunsberger talked about her trip to California, on the 25th Mrs. Anders gave an account of the Summer School for Working Girls at Bryn Mawr, on October 9 they discussed a novel called Spinster of This Parish, and on October 25, they all gathered at Mrs. Gotwals house to see her daughter’s wedding gifts.

In the late 19th century, Towamencin had the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association, whose object was “mutual improvement of Self Culture and to become familiar with Literature in general.” The members were all men, apparently young men from the minutes. The society also aimed to start a library. At meetings members practiced spelling and debated topics related to the club (should members be fined for not attending meetings?) or current events (the Civil War comes up a lot in the early years).

spelling

"Then spelling was practised a short time with deep interest."

These sorts of organizations were so common that in 1881, the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association merged with the Oxonia Literary Society and the Young Folks Literary Society.

Garfield

A page from the Kulpsville Literary and Library Association acknowledging the assassination of President Garfield.

We have records of even more, in Gwynedd, Conshohocken, Upper Merion, and a few more in Norristown. These are probably just a sampling. Other societies were perhaps less formal and didn’t keep records, or didn’t last for as many decades as these clubs did. The idea that one can self-educate is inspiring, and the truly social aspects of these clubs seems so much more significant in the age of selfies and 144 character tweets.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 24 May 2018 18:20

A Cool Horse Thief

Among our various collections at the Historical Society are papers from various societies for the recovery of stolen horses.

union horse company

They started as mutual aid societies in different parts of the county. According to the constitution of the Montgomery Union Horse Company for the Recovery of Stolen Horses and Other Property and Detection of the Thieves (19th century people weren’t concerned with coming up with catchy names), members paid one dollar upon joining and twenty-five cents annually in dues. In return, when anything over five dollars in value was stolen from a member, the society would try to recover it.

constitution

These societies date back to a time before the county or townships had anything resembling a police force. The Mount Joy Society for the Recovery of Stolen Horses and Detection of Thieves was founded at the King of Prussia Inn in 1774. The first time a member’s horse was stolen was in 1787, when Alexander Henderson’s horse was stolen and recovered at a cost of five pounds. In 1853, Mordicai M. Stephen’s horse was stolen and not recovered, costing the society $249.54. Like the Montgomery Union Horse Company, the original constitution of the Mount Joy Society said that a company of men would ride out in search of the stolen horse. In the 1883 constitution, however, that company had been replaced by a two man committee whose job it was to telegraph local police a description of the horse.

Mount Joy

Some of the societies even lasted into the motor age, though more as social clubs than serious crime detecting rings. The Blue Bell Horse Company discussed adding the protection of automobiles in its annual meetings in 1914 and 1920, but no decision was made. The group still existed as late as 1951.

Blue bell horse company

I’d like to close with an interesting story I came across in an old scrapbook about a horse thief in Eagleville in 1893. The story first appeared in the Norristown Register. John Adam Fisher had been working as a hired man for Daniel W. Longaker for a few weeks when he took off with one of his employer’s horses. Longaker’s neighbor, Taylor Pugh, pursued the thief to Collegeville where he discovered that Fisher had tried to sell the horse for $150 but had been talked down to $50. The buyer, however, perhaps grew suspicious and asked where Fisher lived and wanted to go to his house. Fisher took off on the horse again heading toward Trappe, but he was stopped at a toll gate and not allowed to pass. Taylor caught up with him and ordered a magistrate to arrest Fisher. Fisher offered to give the magistrate the “finest stockings he ever saw” once he got to jail. On the way to the jail, he told the constable that he hoped to get twenty-one years. The article concludes that people who had spoken to Fisher believed him “not quite right.”

Published in Found in Collection