Author: Mutual Improvement Club
Title: Yearbook of the Mutual Improvement Club 1914
Location: Mutual Improvement Club, Record Group 31/6/14, O. C. A.
The following document is the second of the two yearbooks that comprise the Oberlin Mutual Improvement Club collection at the Oberlin College Archives. It describes club activities from March 1914 to March 1915. The yearbook, which is typeset on cardstock, does not specify who compiled it, though one may assume it was Miss Frankie Robinson, listed as the club’s secretary for that year. In contrast to the 1913-1914 yearbook, the 1914-15 yearbook marks a decisive turn from domestic life towards more overtly political subject matter. Particularly notable are the meetings devoted to education, Black positionality (see, for instance, November 1914, dedicated to “The Social Condition of the Negro”), and questions of racial uplift. In this yearbook, we begin to see the women of the Mutual Improvement Club claiming their political roles as Black women and mothers in arenas of politics that had previously been closed to them. It is also worth noting that in this yearbook, the majority of women are no longer referred to by their husband’s name, whereas almost all of them were referred to that way in the first yearbook. This too is perhaps indicative of the switch in the club from matters of the home to more overtly political issues.
Because the membership of the club was quite similar in both of these yearbooks, individual club members are only footnoted once within this project, in the place where their name first appears. Therefore, please see the footnotes of Document 1 for more information on many of the club members.
Year Book of the
Mutual Improvement Club
Organized March, 1913
Entered State Federation March, 1913
Entered National Federation June,1913
“Hand in hand, not one before the other.”
Blue and white.
President………………..Mrs. Gertrude Anderson
Vice-President……………………Mrs. John Berry
Secretary………………….Miss Frankie Robinson
Treasurer…………………..Miss Annie Heavener
Financial- Mrs. B. Robinson, Mrs. H. T. Evans, Mrs. Cordin.
Social- Mrs. Russell, Mrs. M. Evans, Mrs. Cooper.
School- Mrs. Burton, Mrs. M. Robinson, Mrs. Mitchell.
Sick- Mrs. Bows, Mrs. Anderson, Miss Heavener.
Sewing- Mrs. Berry, Miss D. Rivers, Mrs. Cordin, Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Wall.
Current Events- Miss Alice Rivers.
Parliamentarian- Mrs. Jones.
Chaplain- Mrs. Murphy.
Press- Mrs. Anderson.
“Let us walk softly, friend,
For strange paths lie before us, untrod”
Election of Officers.
Opening of Club Rooms.
A Review of the Year’s Work…………Mrs. Anderson
Address…………. Pres. H. C. King
Hostesses- Mesdames Anderson and Burton.
Responses….. Thoughts on Spring
A “Surprise” program, by the Program Committee
Hostesses- Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Mitchell
Responses………………………… Current Events
The House-fly………………………….Mrs. Copes
The Influence of Well Kept Lawns……Mrs. Bows
Children as Civic Helpers……………Mrs. Cooper
Reading……………………………Mrs. M. Evans
Hostesses- The Misses Rivers
Responses……………Current Educational Events
Topic…….Schools and Colleges for our Children
Our Universities and State Schools…Miss Heavener
Our Industrial Schools……Miss Alice Rivers
Why is Education Fundamental to the Best
Life of a Race or Nation?…… Mrs. M. Robinson
An exhibit of photographs of various schools.
Hostesses- Mrs. Berry and Mrs. M. Robinson
Responses…………..Quotations on Home
Influence of a Mother’s Life and Teachings..
Manners and Appearance of Our Children in Public….
Some Neglected Virtues…… Miss F. Robinson
Question Box and Open Discussion on………
………..The Use of Patent Medicines
Conducted by Mrs. Jones
Hostesses- Mrs. M. Evans and Mrs. Russell.
“I pray thee, neighbor, drink with me,
For friendship’s sake, a cup of tea.”
Hostesses- Mrs. Copes and Mrs. Murphy.
“News are welcome as the morning air.”
…….Something Worth While [sic] From the Summer
Reports from State and National Conventions, by
Hostesses- Mrs. H. T. Evans and Mrs. Quinn
“The richest treasure life offers is that which is
found in service to others.”
Musicale and Reception for the Aged.
Readings from Dunbar………Mrs. Chas. Kelley
Hostesses- Mrs. Burrell and Mrs. Bows.
“Slow moves the pageant of a climbing race.”
Responses….. Thanksgiving Thoughts
Topic………….Social Condition of the Negro
What Can We Do to Better Our Social Conditions
The Efficient Home Life a Safeguard….Mrs. Jones
Hostesses- Mrs. Jones and Miss Robinson.
“At Christmas-tide the open hand
Scatters its bounty o’er sea and land,
And none are left to grieve alone,
For love is heaven and claims its own.”
Topic……………..Child and Money
Sources of Supply……Mrs. H. T. Evans
Lessons in Use of Money….Mrs. Anderson
Benevolent Tendencies……Mrs. B. Robinson
How May Our Children be Taught the Value of
Hostesses- Miss Heavener and Mrs. Smith
“The New Year spotless from the hand of God,
Is thine and mine, O friend.”
Responses…………. Our New Year Resolutions
Methods of Training……Mrs. Mitchell
Character Building……….Mrs. Berry
Relations of Manners to Morals….Mr. T. A. Bows
Hostesses- Mrs. B. Robinson and Mrs. Cordin
Our Authors……….Mrs. Cordin
Our Inventors……..Mrs. Smith
Debate- Resolved, “That Lincoln was the colored
man’s best friend.”
Affirmative- Mrs. Burrell
Negative- Mrs. Jones
Hostesses- Mrs. Gayters and Mrs. Wall.
March-Annual Business Meeting
Special Meetings- Woman’s Day
Temperance and Suffrage Meeting.
Lecture by Professor Pickens
Address by Mr. H.L. Dickason
The Club will meet for sewing on the third
Thursday of each month from two to four. At these
meetings chapters from Dr. King’s “Rational Liv-
ing,” and Kelley Miller’s “Race Adjustment” will
be read and discussed.
Words by Mrs. Anderson
Tune, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
There is a band of women, both loyal and true,
Who have formed what is called a Mutual Improve-
Their object self improvement, mercy and charity,
In lifting as we climb.
Hand in hand, not one before the other,
Hand in hand, not one before the other,
Hand in hand, not one before the other,
In lifting as we climb.
We have taken for our colors blue and white, blue
Representing truth and purity, harmony and
Let us onward, upward press to the end, to the end,
In lifting as we climb.
Roll of Members
Mrs. Gertrude Anderson Miss Annie Heavener
Miss Mary Barrier Mrs. Blanche Jones
Mrs. Kitty Berry Mrs. Georgia Mitchell
Mrs. Julius Burton Mrs. Mary Murphy
Mrs. Loveless Burrell Mrs. Minnie Quinn
Mrs. Irene Bows Mrs. Bertha Robinson
Mrs. Cynthia Cooper Miss Frankie Robinson
Mrs. Bessie Cordin Mrs. Margaret Robinson
Mrs. Oliver Copes Mrs. Eliza Russell
Mrs. Maria Evans Miss Alice Rivers
Mrs. H.T. Evans Mrs. Joseph Smith
Mrs. Florinda Gayters Mrs. Mary Wall
Mrs. Martha Barrier Mrs. Susie Heavener
Mrs. Jessie Chandler Mrs. Hattie Mason
Mrs. Alice Davis Miss Diza Rivers
Transcribed by Kathleen O’Connor
 The President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer all remained the same from this year tothe last. However, Mrs. Burton and Mrs. Quinn joined the Executive Committee, and Miss Frankie Berry and Mrs. Henry Evans left.
 The 1913-1914 yearbook only lists the chairwoman of the committee, while the 1914-1915 yearbook lists all of the committee members. In 1914-1915, the Financial, Current Events, and Press Committees were added, and the Art Committee was removed. Mrs. Russell remained in the Social Committee, Mrs. Bows remained in the Sick Committee, Miss Diza Rivers remained in the Sewing Committee, and Mrs. Elias Jones remained the Parliamentarian. However, Mrs. Burton, Mrs. M. Robinson, and Mrs. Mitchell took over from Mrs. Elias Jones on the School Committee, and Mrs. Murphy took over for Mrs. Burton as Chaplain. The 1914 yearbook has no representatives to the Village Improvement and Christian Union Society listed, unlike the previous year.
 This quote comes from a poem attributed to Lillian Gray entitled “Thoughts of the New Year.” The poem appeared in several journals for Christian families from the early twentieth century, including theFriend’s Intelligencer and Christian Work and the Evangelist. Active Christian women, such as those in the club, would likely have been familiar with it. Though the club yearbooks rarely explicitly mention Christianity, subtle allusions to Christianity like this one appear throughout (Lillian Gray, “”Strange Paths Lie Before Us,”” Friend’s Intelligencer LXIII, no. 2 (1905), accessed 22 April 2015; “Meeting the New Year,” Christian Work and the Evangelist LXVIII, no. 1977 (1905), accessed 22 April 2015).
 Henry Churchill King (1858-1934) was the president of Oberlin College from 1903 to 1927. Despite Oberlin College’s history of racial progressivism, this address came at a time when the college grew more conservative in regards to race, making this address notable.
 “Patent Medicines” refers to concoctions marketed for medicinal purposes which in reality had no real medical value. Many of the ”medicines” contained high amounts of alcohol, and some even contained cocaine, morphine, and opium. As an organization with strong ties to temperance organizations, the Mutual Improvement Club would have been invested in the elimination of the use of such substances as an aspect of civic improvement (“History of Patent Medicine,” History of Patent Medicine: Patent Medicine Exhibit: Hagley Museum and Library, accessed 8 May 2015).
 This quote may be a misquote of some of George Bernard Shaw’s poems, or may have been created by one of the members of the club.
 This quotation first appears in George Chapman’s “Musaeus of Hero and Leander.” George Chapman was an English dramatist and poet during the Renaissance (George Chapman, “Musaeus of Hero and Leander,” In The Works of George Chapman: Poems and Minor Translations, London: Chatto & Windus, 1875, 85).
 This is referring to the eighth biennial meeting at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, in 1914. They only met once every two years, so the next national meeting was in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1916. Though the yearbook does not specify which members were delegates or which conventions they attended, it is likely that they were participating as part of a national federation of Black women’s groups, most likely through the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). The NACW was established in 1896 as a way to organize Black women’s clubs towards the collective goal of racial uplift. Their motto, “Lifting as we Climb,” embodied their commitment to mutual aid and support for Black Americans of diverse backgrounds. Attending this conference would have put the women of the Mutual Improvement Club in contact with a much larger network of politically active Black women, and may have contributed to their shift towards more explicit conversations about race (Daphne Spain, How Women Saved the City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 83; Deborah G. White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994, 27, 1st ed, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1999); Premilla Nadasen, “National Association of Colored Women,” Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, 2006; Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, Lifting as They Climb, Washington, National Association of Colored Women, 1933).
 This quotation is from “Slow Through the Dark” by the well-known Black poet Paul Dunbar. Dunbar often wrote about the progress of the race. The full poem is: “Slow moves the pageant of a climbing race; / Their footsteps drag far, far below the height, / And, unprevailing by their utmost might, / Seem faltering downward from each hard won place. / No strange, swift-sprung exception we; we trace / A devious way thro’ dim, uncertain light,– / Our hope, through the long vistaed years, a sight / Of that our Captain’s soul sees face to face. / Who, faithless, faltering that the road is steep, / Now raiseth up his drear insistent cry? / Who stoppeth here to spend a while in sleep / Or curseth that the storm obscures the sky? / Heed not the darkness round you, dull and deep; / The clouds grow thickest when the summit’s nigh” (Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Slow through the Dark,” Beltway Poetry Quarterly, accessed 8 May 2015).
 October and November of 1914 marked the shift towards more explicit political dialogue. World War I, the women’s suffrage campaigns, and national and state conventions may have encouraged the shift.
 This is from “At Christmas-Tide” by Margaret Elizabeth Munson Sangster. Sangster wrote poems about domestic life and the Christian education of children (Margaret Elizabeth Munson Sangster, Poems of the Household (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1882), 119).
 This refers to Blanche Harris Brooks Jones. In the debate on whether or not “Lincoln was the colored man’s best friend,” Jones took the negative, which indicated that she may have had a reconstructionist critique of Abraham Lincoln during the war, and may have had more radical political aims for Black liberation than the mere fact of abolition. Though there is no information available on Mrs. Burrell, Jones’ opponent, the mere fact that this debate took place exemplifies the club’s negotiations of the tensions between accommodationist race politics and demands for racial justice.
 This is a reference to William Pickens (1881-1954), who was a professor at Wiley College in Texas at the time of this lecture. Pickens wrote two autobiographies, the first of which was published in 1911 and emphasized the importance of education and racial uplift. The second, called Bursting Bonds, was published in 1923 and presented more confrontational ideas of race for the time and demanded full citizenship for African Americans. When he lectured in 1914, he might have been transitioning towards more radical ideas about race, which would have mirrored the transition taking place in the Mutual Improvement Club (Victor Okocha, “Pickens, William (1881-1954),” The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed, accessed 5 May 2015; William Pickens, Negro Evolution (Talladega, AL, 1900); William Pickens, Bursting Bonds (Boston: The Jordan & More Press, 1923)).
 Dr. Kelly Miller was an educator, writer, and mathematician who advocated for the education of Black people. Interestingly, the Mutual Improvement Club read from his book, Race Adjustment (New York : Neale, 1909), alongside Oberlin President Henry Churchill King’s book Rational Living (New York, The Macmillan company; London, Macmillan,, 1905). While both books dealt with community improvement through education, Dr. Miller’s book also addressed the matter of race. The references to sewing (domestic labor) and investigations into racial uplift reflect a particular moment in Black women’s political engagement in which they negotiated their roles as Black women improving social conditions (Angela McMillan, “Dr. Kelly Miller: Online Resources,” (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress), accessed 8 May 2015).
 New members include: Eliza Russell, Mrs. Joseph Smith, Jessie Chandler, Alice Davis, and Hattie Mason. Members who were involved the previous year, but not this year include: Gertrude Prine, Mrs. D. Phillips, and Almira Jones.
 Harriet (Hattie) Alexander (1841-1925), a resident of Oberlin and new member of the Mutual Improvement Club, was married to Joseph Mason in 1868 by Oberlin College Professor John Morgan. Joseph operated a restaurant for many years, and Hattie, herself childless, raised orphans. A newspaper report said of the children she reared: “that they had the best that hard work on her part could give them. In two or three instances, she made it possible for these children to not only graduate from Oberlin College but also complete courses in professional schools.” She was related through marriage to fellow club members Diza and Alice Rivers (their sister Victoria married Joseph Mason’s brother Patrick). Hattie Mason is buried in Westwood Cemetery (William E. Bigglestone, They Stopped in Oberlin: Black Residents and Visitors of the Nineteenth Century, 2nd ed, (Oberlin, OH: Innovation Group, 1981) 144;Oberlin News, 28 May 1925).