Time Marches On is the perfect theme for this month’s reviews. I confess to tackling one of the biggest books I have ever read. An epic tale that covers decades, focusing on two Ohio schoolgirls as they grow and become part of the progressive events of their lives. Don’t let time slip away this March as you plan to read on each and every day. Happy Reading!
And Ladies of the Club By Helen Hooven Santmyer
This novel is 1176 pages of little print, and I personally thought I might not get through it. It came highly recommended via a twitter follower and well-known author. Published in 1982 by the Ohio State University Press, it is a work fifty years in the making. Helen Santmyer was born in 1895 in Xenia, OH and had several careers including writer, English professor, Dean of Women and librarian. She began writing her narrative in the 60’s and it was extensively edited in the 70’s before final publication.
This epic novel is about two schoolgirls who have just graduated (at age 18) from the Waynesboro Female College post-Civil War; 1868. Upon graduation, Anne Alexander will become engaged to Captain John Gordon, a physician that will work alongside her father; and Sarah (Sally) Cochran who seeks quiet comfort in her love for Ludwig Rausch, a German immigrant.
The young women will be charged by their prior teacher Mrs. Lowrey to solicit women as Charter Members of the Waynesboro Woman’s Club. They have their work cut out for them – professionally and personally. Their lives will intersect with the Woman Suffrage Associate and Temperance League, but they will not allow division on these topics to interfere with club membership. Progressivism is part of their mantra for the club. However, controversy will not escape their growing club and politics cannot help but begin to shape its course. Together the friend’s will focus their energy on chartering a literary club, which will become part of their social obligations.
While John Gordon (Anne’s husband) will become a successful doctor, Mr. Rausch (Sally’s husband) will purchase the local rope mill, renaming it Rausch Cordage Company, Rope, and Twine. His business sense will afford him a successful career to influence politics and boost his family into the upper echelon of society. He will be known as the local millionaire.
The insightful writing of Helen Santmyer provides a journey through the decades; development of public schools, several presidential elections, the Spanish-American War, all defining the pattern for the ladies of the club and their membership. Inventions like the telephone, urban electric cars, electricity and more will further shape life and lifestyles in Waynesboro, OH. The depression, diphtheria, and scarlet fever play a significant role and, by the time the Club turns thirty, they are embarking on the 20th century.
As the Ladies of the Club embarked on the next twenty years, they experience the Great War, a tragic flood, more presidents, and economic growth. Some of the elderly leaders pass on, and the makeup of the Club reshapes with the times.
This novel is filled with historical landmarks, references, and small-town politics in Ohio. Not surprisingly, many of the events of the past showcased in this book mirror much of today’s political arena. There are probably those who would dispute Ms. Santmyer’s work is historical fiction; yet its movement, and its writing style, both have a documentary feel that marks it as a candidate for the genre. I confess it is the lengthiest book I have ever completed, but it is so well written that the pages melted away as I found myself caught up in this story. Easily, it is one of the finest novels I have read. I hope some of you will take the time to read this magnificent book.