Back in 1930s, Biddi Parry said a woman could count on being just a few things: Wife, mother and homemaker.
But that changed over the next few decades as women started working outside the home and taking on more prominent roles in business, politics and culture.
In Kokomo, three women anticipated the upcoming gender shift when they founded a group called The Thursday Study Club in 1938.
Its purpose? According to the group’s bylaws, “the objects of the club are the social and educational advancement of its members and mutual helpfulness.”
And that goal has remained in place for the last 75 years. Over that time, a group of around 21 women has met the second Thursday of every month to discuss ideas, share experiences and educate themselves about culture, art and current events.
“Did any of the founding ladies ever think we would be celebrating their endeavors and reading their names 75 years later?” asked Parry, who serves as the club’s secretary. “I really doubt it, but it’s true — those three were visionaries.”
The three women were Eula Lightfoot, Mildred Yeager and Katheryn Fell, who were all active, well known and respected in prominent social circles in Kokomo, Parry said.
Nobody knows exactly how they came up with idea for the club, but the three ended up recruiting local women to meet once a month on Thursdays.
That first year, members organized and delivered talks on topics like child psychology, reviewed Pulitzer-prize-winning authors, discussed books such as “The Life of Jane Adams” and “The Yearling,” and put on a production of “A Christmas Story” by Charles Dickens.
Since its founding, club members have put on around 900 different programs.
“This group has been made up of ladies who have known how to be gracious and kind, and yet they’re interested and they want to grow intellectually,” said vice president Marlene Foreman. “They want to share their knowledge with each other.”
These days, the club has expanded its programs to include more wide-ranging topics, including updates on Kokomo schools, obscure historical topics like Navajo code talkers working during World War II, and even math lessons.
Foreman said one of the members teaches math, so the club spent one meeting doing arithmetic problems.
“We wanted to know how our grandkids were doing math, so she taught us,” she said. “This group stays very current, despite our age. We want to know what’s going on.”
And age is somewhat of an issue with the group. President Sue McGavic clocks in as the youngest member at 60. Charlotte Young is one of the oldest members, and she’s in her 90s.
Foreman said members have talked about inviting potential club candidates to a meeting, but with one caveat — they have to be under 50 years old.
“We’d like to get younger members, because we want to keep this going,” she said. “But we’re not going to keep anybody out because they’re too old or too young.”
She said candidates have to be invited to a meeting, and if they seem like a good fit, the group votes on letting them in. They try to keep the number of women at around 21, Foreman said, so the club doesn’t get too big and remains an intimate get-together.
But don’t get the idea that the club’s meetings are stuffy, academic affairs. There is a façade of formality to the group. Woman dress up in their Sunday best, and the meetings follow a certain protocol, like doing roll call, discussing business and keeping minutes.
But there’s a sense of fun just below the surface of it all.
At this month’s meeting at Primrose Retirement Community, where the club celebrated its 75th anniversary, it didn’t take long for members to start cracking jokes and telling funny stories about themselves or past members.
Parry shared one of her favorite memories about former member Marge Bassett, who at 98 years old was driving her car one day and got pulled over by a state trooper. Her response?
“Trooper, do you have a senior discount?” Parry recalled with a laugh.
At other meetings, members sometimes write communal poetry just for fun. Each woman composes a single line on a subject such as spring, and a member puts them all together into a single poem.
“It’s really fun,” said Joyce Hodges. “They’ve been really great poems.”
Although The Thursday Study Club is about education, Parry said it’s much more than that. For her, the club offers a chance to meet with good friends, share experiences and find support as she gets older.
“Everybody thinks as you get older everything is just going to be blissful and you’ll gracefully walk into the sunset,” she said. “It ain’t like that. You better have a support group to help you along.”
And with that support and encouragement, Parry said, the club continues to achieve its original goal: keeping women socially and intellectually relevant.
“I don’t think any of us burned our bras or anything like that when that kind of thing was happening,” she said. “But we’ve learned how to grow and change with the times in a gracious way.
“Our founders saw that the role of women would be changing. I think we’ve stayed up with that,” she said. “We’re current, and we’re informed.”
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.