The Woman’s Literary Club of Baltmore produced thousands–and thousands– of pages of writings. In their weekly meetings, they shared essays, poetry, fiction, translations, and tributes to writers from the Club, from Baltimore, from Maryland, and from around the world.
All of this activity was geared for the crowning glory of publication in print, and an astounding number of them were successful (take a look at this tag cloud for the most prolific). They published novels, short stories, and poetry in volumes from the nation’s most respected presses and in popular magazines and daily newspapers (where some worked as reporters and editors). Their plays were performed locally and on Broadway. Still others wrote histories, philosophical and religious tracts, and literary criticism.
The Library of the Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore played an important role from the Club’s earliest days. At the December 15, 1890 meeting, founding member Elizabeth Turner Graham hopefully suggested that “one day we may have a magazine and a room of our own,” a harbinger of Virginia Wolfe’s more famous manifesto A Room of One’s Own (1929). Inspired by Graham’s longing, perhaps, the Club library was established sometime before 1892, and quickly became a valued extension of the Club.
Members donated copies of their own publications, as would honorary members, and was eventually extended to include “all the books (as far as we can obtain them) that have been written by the best authors of our own state of Maryland” (meeting minutes, Feb. 12, 1901). In this way, they combined their own works with those of their local favorites, putting them on par with writers including Sidney Lanier and Edgar Allan Poe.
Each woman in the Club appeared to play a role in the library, whether she donated books of her own to it or encouraged friends to add to it. At one point, the Club considered commissioning a “regularly designed” bookplate or engraving “for the identification and preservation of our literary property” (May 21, 1901 minutes). This concern over their “literary property” suggests that what may seem like just a collection of books stood for way more than that for the Club: their library demonstrated a sense of pride and ownership in an age where even the Club’s wealthiest members did not have much they could really, truly call their own.
The virtual library we have included here is a tribute to the Club’s actual, physical library, which appears to have been lost in the decades since the Club ceased to exist. —Katie Kazmierski, May 2018