Friday, December 13, 2013

Clubs, Associations, Organizations: Networking in the 1920s

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

Elks' Club

There was a commercial that had the tag line “you’ve come a long way, baby” which some folks might think applies to the way people network now versus the 1920s.  Networking now is done on “social sites” like Facebook, LinkedIn, Pintrest or Twitter (to name a few).  We put our photos up on-line using Shutterfly, Flickr, or SmugMug.  We can talk to each other “face to face” via Facetime or Skype and if you don’t mind the lag in time it is almost like being in the same room. 

However, in the 1920s networking really meant being in the same room and participating in verbal conversations.  Many people (men especially) belonged to fraternal or service organizations.  Often these organizations or clubs used rituals to bind their members together.  Organizations like the Masons, Foresters, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Knights of Columbus, the Elks, the Moose, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Kiwanis Club competed with Masonic Lodges, Eastern Star, military groups, religious and ethnic organizations for members.  Add organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, Business Women’s Club, and various book groups, art clubs and sewing circles and America was a country of “joiners.”

The 1925 Geneva City Directory lists 48 societies, associations, organizations, and military groups, religious and benevolent organizations.  The book clubs, art clubs, and sewing circles are not even mentioned and their inclusion would certainly make the number much higher.  Both men and women could be out socializing at clubs or meetings every night of the week if they were so inclined.


Iroquois Club

Many joined service organizations like Zonta, Rotary, Kiwanis, or Lions.  Some opted for fraternal organizations such as Masons, Elks, Moose, Eagles, or  D.A.R.  The basic difference between the two groups was fraternal groups looked out for the welfare of their members while service groups worked at making a difference in their neighborhoods and communities.

Many of them began as all white male organizations and gradually added women and minorities so that many of these groups are very integrated today.  But, some groups such as Masons (all male) and Zonta (all female) are still sexually segregated.  Some groups remain staunchly one ethnicity even if the “rule” is unspoken.

In the 1920s two service groups started chapters in Geneva.  The Geneva Kiwanis Club organized on May 27, 1921 with 53 charter members and the Geneva Zonta Club organized on May 1, 1929 with 12 charter members.  Kiwanis International is a group that works to serve children and Zonta International is an organization of executives and leaders who advocate the advancement of women.  These two service organizations joined a collection of established clubs in Geneva that included Elks, Odd Fellows, Masons, Macabees, Woodsmen and many more.  In the days before, television, computers, and digital social networks these organizations were how you were entertained, met people with similar interests, established business connections and got to know your neighbors. Many fraternal organizations, like Modern Woodsmen of America, were founded with the idea of helping their “brethren” in times of illness and death, much like insurance.  They were not the same as service groups like Rotary, which were founded to help their community, members and non-members alike.

Masonic Temple
Today, many of these clubs and organizations are gone or merged due to lack of interest on the part of the public.  Some groups like the Masons, Rotary, Geneva Women’s Club, and Fortnightly Club continue to be well attended and some communities are more supportive of service organizations, private clubs and fraternal organizations than others.

In our archive there is no directory comparable to the 1925 Geneva Directory that lists all the cubs, associations and organizations, but the yellow pages of the 2013-14 Verizon directory list 14 clubs only 4 of which are in Geneva.  There are other organizations whose meetings circulate among member’s homes and so do not have a phone number or address to list, but you can see that the number of groups has dropped drastically from the 48 listed in 1925. 

I have nostalgic feelings for those days when family life revolved around personal interaction with friends and acquaintances, but there are a lot of positive things to be said about the new social media sites too.  Where else do I get to see photos of my niece’s Halloween costume 10 minutes after she puts it together, or a friend’s new born baby, or my other friend’s new puppy just minutes after it comes home?  How else can I get a tour of my friend’s home in Kansas without flying out there and have it narrated by him at the same time?  One way or other humans find a way to communicate and socialize; however, it often changes with each generation.  Enjoy networking!  It binds communities together!

Did you enjoy this 1920s moment?  The Geneva Historical Society is hosting several workshops and programs in December and January about the 1920s all leading up to our Speakeasy Party at Belhurst on Friday, January 17.  For more information about the Speakeasy or related programs, call us at 789-5151 or visit  
 www.genevahistoricalsociety.com.


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