Danville Commercial News, IL
July 20 2008
Hoopeston book club started in 1895
Minutes record group’s tumultuous meetings
BY ANNA HERKAMP
HOOPESTON ‘ The information below is taken from the Hoopeston Public
Library archive’s 1974 history of the Mary Hartwell Catherwood
Club. It is compiled from histories written by Frances Trego,
Elizabeth Bell and Dorothy Shuler.
The idea for the Mary Hartwell Catherwood club came to its founding
president, Frances Trego, one rainy afternoon in 1895. Trego was the
wife of Hoopeston Mayor A.H. Trego.
In her 1897 history of the club, she wrote, `One exceedingly stormy
day as I sat sewing by a window, it broke upon my mind suddenly, like
an inspiration, that a society which would call immediate neighbors
together once a week for friendly visit and interchange of thought
would be a good thing.’
The club was founded with Catherwood, Trego and Anna Chace in January
Most of the members lived in the 300 and 400 blocks of East Penn and
the 300 block of Fourth Street. Catherwood lived at 412 E. Penn and
later 415 E. Penn. The gathering of friends and neighbors was meant to
`I thought of it as an entirely informal affair, where we could bring
our thimbles and work; fancy work, stocking-mending or whatever, while
one could read to us part of the time as we kept our fingers busy,’
But the club grew in popularity ‘ and sometimes strife.
The club organized and elected officers, naming the club after its
`noted townswoman.’ For a while the meetings, which took place every
Monday afternoon, were pleasant.
`Usually some member read to us from some interesting story while the
most of us plied our needles,’ Trego said.
Eventually, the club began holding meetings to include the husbands of
the club members every six weeks. The club also had its own `program
committee’ which supplied entertainment. Members or invited community
sang or recited poetry or short essays. One essay written by one
member’s husband was called `Hoopeston in the Year 2000.’
At one club meeting, members voted on names for one member’s newborn
child, Donald Hamilton.
The club also took up charitable causes, including the Danville
Children’s Home and the `oppressed Armenians’ ‘ for whom the club
raised $10 one year.
But the greatest contribution the club made was the Hoopeston library,
whose original building is still in use today. The club began
discussing the idea in January 1897. Concerts and various benefits
were staged to raise funds for the free library, which began in a room
of city hall and was then located at North and Seminary streets.
A librarian was hired for a salary of $2 per week. Eventually, the
committee, which included Catherwood, helped secure funds from Andrew
Carnegie, who initially donated $3,000, but increased the sum to
$12,000 in later years. The building, still open today, was opened
Jan. 1, 1905.
For all the good the club did, the members weren’t without their own
bouts of in-fighting. Sometimes people were late to meetings, and so
business sessions couldn’t begin at 2:30 p.m. sharp. A secretary wrote
in anger, `Something must be done!’
Business sessions were pushed back to 3 p.m., but tardiness
persisted. The club began imposing fines for anyone who showed up
According to the library’s history archive, a major source of
contention was the hostesses’ choice refreshments.
`One lady served not only crackers and tea, but coffee; another one
provided doughnuts; still another went so far as to serve biscuits and
butter. Then strawberries and cream were offered and the next hostess
came up with strawberries and cream AND sandwiches AND cake,’ the
`At the next meeting it was voted that refreshments be limited to four
solids. An amendment was passed that two kinds of cake be classed as
one. It was then voted that the hostess should be fined 10 cents for
each additional dish ¦’
The food controversy didn’t end there.
The history also documents multiple-course meals catered by the
husbands with 27 kinds of food including oyster cocktails, roast
turkey, Roquefort cheese and blue fish pique.
The minutes weren’t without humorous commentary on the club’s antics.
`So many proposals about entertainment for the library were tabled
that the table has our sympathy,’ reads one entry.
Another described the weariness members seemed to be experiencing
about their complicated entertaining.
`When the president announced her intention of appointing a committee
for the next party, the ladies at once seemed to be enjoying the view
out the window or looking for flies on the ceiling.’