A century before the internet appeared, and 115 years before the iPhone was introduced, the MU Fortnightly Club was already holding regular meetings.
Still going strong, the club has survived two pandemics, two world wars, 23 presidents and six British monarchs during its 130-year history.
When the club marks its anniversary next month, it will be among the oldest continuous women’s clubs in the United States.
The group plans to hold its 130th-anniversary kickoff event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at the MU Jefferson Farm, where lunch will be served, along with tours of the property and a walk through the butterfly gardens.
The Fortnightly Club, founded in 1892, has always been a women’s social club. Members include full-time and retired female faculty and administrators, and the wives of full-time faculty. Academics who have worked for other universities before moving to Columbia are also invited to become members.
The club was founded not long after a fire destroyed Academic Hall on the MU campus in January 1892. It was intended to be a morale booster after the fire and to encourage social events among the wives of faculty.
The first meeting was held Oct. 12, 1892, and the first club president was Adeline Jesse, wife of then-university President Richard H. Jesse.
Since then, the club has met consistently on campus, including gatherings in the recently demolished Read Hall during the Spanish Flu epidemic.
The wives of university presidents and chancellors are honorary members and often entertain the club at their respective homes in Columbia.
Linda Keown, a former professor of romance languages at MU, became president in April.
“We do have a diverse membership culture, which as I said, enhances our activities,” Keown said.
Over the years, the group has promoted the social aspect of the club with weekly activities and interest groups around specific themes. There are two book clubs, for example, a knitting club and a group that samples different teas around Missouri.
Three times a year, the entire group, which today counts about 120 members, will meet for lunch to catch up and talk about club activities.
“We went to a tea house in Boonville a couple of years ago,” Keown said. “It was a bed and breakfast, but they served us high tea there.”
In addition to social meetings, the group funds scholarships for MU students. A fund was started in 1976 when member Reba Meinershagen proposed a combination of loan and scholarship money to help women further their education, according to meeting minutes from Oct. 8, 1975.
A total of 195 students have received $140,000 in scholarships since the Fortnightly Club was founded.
The club’s longevity is a credit to members for fostering a community and looking for new ways to communicate when obstacles arise, Keown said. When the pandemic prevented in-person meetings, many interest group activities were put on pause or moved to Zoom as members adapted. Some of these changes have continued.
“So some of the groups are in person, and some of them are virtual,” Keown said. “But still, we’ve managed to stay active, which is a credit to the membership.”
As women’s lives have shifted toward work and other demands, recruitment has been challenging, Keown said. Most meetings are scheduled on weekdays, which prevents many younger women from getting involved.
“We just, we need young people,” Keown said. “But then, as I say, if you’re young and you’re taking care of kids or you’ve got a job, the role of women has changed so much.”
Yet, after 130 years, healthy survival and a robust future are non-negotiable in Keown’s view.
“As I said when I became president, my goal was this: ‘By God, it’s not dying on my watch,’” she said.