Santa Cruz’s oldest literary society, The Friday Shakespeare Club, was founded on October 2, 1903. That day, Mrs. Della Perry, a former schoolteacher, invited a few friends to meet at her home on Davis Avenue (now Escalona) to form a reading and study group. One early club historian related that The Pierian Club, as it was first called, would be a meeting place for women who "wanted to grow intellectually".
The name "Pierian" reflected a current interest in classical themes. Pieria, a region in ancient Thessaly, included Mount Olympus and Mount Pierus. Mount Pierus served as a sanctuary for the worship of Orpheus and the Muses.
A committee of one was appointed to draw up the club's constitution and bylaws. The only officers elected were the President (Mrs. Perry), a Secretary-Treasurer, and a Leader. At the third meeting, officers chose the club flower, the red carnation or gilly-flower, thought to be Shakespeare's favorite bloom. They also selected the club’s motto: "Influence is Responsibility". For the first year's program, the members chose Shakespeare's King Henry IV Part One, and the study of English history.
In 1907, The Pierian Club changed its name to The Friday Shakespeare Club. That year, the club chose two of the Bard's plays for study and enrolled as a group in the Bay View Study Club. Members received the Bay View Magazine containing articles on Shakespeare, history, politics, art, and literature.
Originally, the only acceptable excuses for missing club meetings were "absence from town, severe illness, or stormy weather.” An early member, Mrs. Helen Byrne, reveals the importance of attendance in an anecdote: "I remember a meeting was called at the Congregational Church to decide the date for some church affair. A Friday was selected. It happened that it was one of "our" Fridays. Mrs. Della Perry arose and said, 'There are some of us who have a standing engagement for that day.' And the church date was changed."
The nine founding members of The Friday Shakespeare Club were Mrs. Della Perry, Mrs. L. K. Andrews, Mrs. Addie C. Miller, Miss Mabel Martin, Mrs. Frances Gordon, Miss Constance Gordon, Mrs. Nellie L. Hinds, Mrs. Blanche A. Rittenhouse, and Mrs. Emily Philbrook. In 1909, the club listed twenty members; upon its twenty-fifth anniversary, this number had grown to twenty-five. By the late 1920s, the Friday Shakespeare Club had added a Christmas party to its three main annual social events (President's Day, the February Party, and the celebration of Shakespeare's birthday); developed a sizeable bank account; and hired an annual guest speaker.
The club Collect was written by Mary Stewart, Dean of Women of the University of Missouri. Mrs. James Orr (then The Friday Shakespeare Club's delegate to the Convention of Federated Women's Clubs) brought the Collect to Santa Cruz from a meeting in Santa Barbara. She read it here for the first time in the spring of 1910. Since then, it has been recited at every meeting of The Friday Shakespeare Club.
Correspondence with the Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon has played a major role in The Friday Shakespeare Club’s history. Communication with the Stratford group during and after WWII extended from 1943 through 1948; the club also remained in contact with the Mayor of London during this period. Throughout both WWI and WWII, club members did their part by sewing and knitting for the Red Cross. The Stratford connection was renewed briefly in the 1980s.
This international correspondence has been preserved in its entirety in McHenry Library's Special Collections archive at UC Santa Cruz. After a visit to Special Collections in 1997, former club secretary Barbara Lewis reinstated the correspondence by writing to Susan Brock, Secretary of the Stratford Club. Their exchange has continued for the past six years. Stratford member Cliff Narbett continues to generously send theatre programs and news articles of interest to members of The Friday Shakespeare Club.
As The Friday Shakespeare Club celebrates its hundredth anniversary, it also recognizes the leadership and inspiration of many outstanding women who have contributed to the group’s longevity. Since 1928, the club has mourned the passing of:
~ Marguerite Brewster, poet laureate and President
~ Allene Davis, club revitalizer and former President
~ Marion Kevil, historian and poet
~ Cleo Barber, closely involved with Shakespeare Santa Cruz
~ Dorothy Ratcliff, former President, Vice-president, and long-
~ Dorothy Forgey, former President who organized all club
records and transferred them to UC Santa Cruz
~ Raissa Allayaud, former President and gifted English teacher
The Friday Shakespeare Club would also like to thank another member in memoriam, Barbara Ann Kinney-White, for leaving funds from her estate to the club. Her support has significantly helped in the production of The Friday Shakespeare Club’s Centennial event material.
The Friday Shakespeare Club continues to preserve its traditional heritage while contemporizing its organization. In 1997, Pat McBain invited Shakespeare Santa Cruz to introduce more enthusiasts to The Friday Shakespeare Club by adding an organizational description to their programs. As a result, Deborah Cardillo and Liz Alpert joined; both were later elected club President. Judy Reveaux-Wright, who has brought her students to perform Shakespeare at some of the club’s social events, also joined in 1997. Norma Medlin and Edith Herring currently hold the title of longest-standing club member. Barbara Lewis (Historian), who joined in 1981, is currently the longest-standing active member. The Friday Shakespeare Club continues to study a variety of plays and related topics. Henry IV Part One, the group’s starting play in 1903, will be the first project for the fall of 2003.
The Friday Shakespeare Club continues to hear from such outstanding speakers as Dr. Michael Warren, Paul Whitworth, Dr. Audrey Stanley, and David Kirk. Its members actively participate in community and social causes, pursuing interests in literature, drama, art, and politics. The Friday Shakespeare Club has celebrated its centennial anniversary through 2003 and looks forward to another century of study, acting, guest speakers and controversy.