At the turn of the 20th Century, higher education for women was a controversial subject. Some “research” indicated that such an education could very well be harmful to a woman’s health and fertility. Although women earned more high school degrees than men in 1900, it wasn’t until the next three decades that the number of college diplomas began to steadily increase. Women could attain independence and equality through education and suffrage; the two were inseparable.
Williamsport College Club
It was this climate that encouraged the formation of college clubs in communities throughout the country including Williamsport. Many of the women featured in this column were educated themselves and encouraged it for others. Some, like Katherine Williams Bennett, were members of the Williamsport College Club. Minnie Taylor created a scholarship at Dickinson Seminary for women through the club.
A Helen Hoyt column in the Sun-Gazette on May 17, 1915, introduced a new organization begun in 1914 that would bring together college-educated women in a social setting and also encourage girls to pursue higher education. It was true that advanced education delayed marrying and bearing children and enabled independence, so many of the club members had “Miss” before their names.
The Hoyt column described this club, which met at the YWCA, as one of the most active in the city, with 40-50 members. These college graduates were also “taking a noticeable part in the suffrage movement sweeping the city.” Plans for the future included establishing their own clubhouse and creating a scholarship. At the end of the article was a list of the colleges represented by members: Wells, Oberlin, Vassar, Cornell, Goucher, and Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia.
Mary Graham and
Dr. A.M. Castlebury
Two early presidents of the College Club probably illustrated the different personalities and backgrounds of members. Mary Stewart Emery Graham (1880-1939) was always referred to as “Mrs. James B. Graham” in the newspaper. Before marriage, she was often mentioned in the social columns with her visits home from Wells College, sailing for a European vacation and as a bridesmaid in many weddings. At college, she was active in student government and the YWCA. Graham married in 1907, and she and her husband, who later became president of Lycoming Trust Co., lived in Jersey Shore before moving to Williamsport and residing at 331 Campbell St. Frequent newspaper social columns mentioned her attending dinners, entertaining at her home and engaging in numerous activities for Covenant Presbyterian Church including canvassing the neighborhood to encourage children to enroll in church activities. The Grahams traveled to the Mediterranean, West Indies and South America, but Mary was even well-known enough to merit a one-sentence mention in the paper when she left Jersey Shore to go shopping in Williamsport.
At the time of her 25th college reunion, Mary wrote that she was “living the usual life of a small city.” She didn’t have children and was sorry she had no daughter to send to Wells.
Alzine Castlebury (1859-1920) was always referred to in the newspaper as Dr. A. M. Castlebury, with her name blending in perfectly when a 1906 article listed the members at the end of an article “County Medical Men Hold Monthly Meeting.” She came from a family with English Quaker roots and a long history in Pennsylvania though she, herself, was a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Educated in county public schools and Montoursville Normal School, she was listed in the 1889 census as a teacher, but, in 1892, she went on to graduate from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, with her practice described as “allopath,” which meant she practiced medicine based in science. Castlebury specialized in diseases of women, and she presented scientific papers before the Lycoming County Medical Society. Parent-teacher associations at various schools would ask her to speak about sex hygiene and her presentations were described as “strong talk” illustrated by charts.
Castlebury held office in the Clio Club and was a member of the Pennsylvania State Suffrage Association, but the College Club held a prominent place in her activities. She often hosted the group at her home at 945 Campbell Street. Her obituary described her as an “honored physician” and the College Club established a $100 annual scholarship in her memory to be given to a young woman seeking a medical degree.
The College Club sponsored speakers of interest to the educated woman with a small fee charged for guests. Often, the presenters were experts brought in from out of town and the contents of their speeches were covered extensively in the newspaper. The drama group was especially active. Not only did they entertain at meetings with a balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” for example, or an original play written and acted by Williamsport High School students, but they also sponsored a one-act play tournament for the area. There were panels on careers for women, and musical events held at Dickinson Seminary. The group reached out to college women home on vacation and there were many social events — the annual June garden party, the annual May luncheon at the Country Club, the annual Christmas Party at the Women’s Club, the fall buffet, and card games after business meetings. As with most organizations, the members participated fully in the local war efforts during World War I and World War II.
In 1947, when membership in the American Association of University Women became less restrictive, the Williamsport College Club sought affiliation. The club had existed for decades, presumably with yearbooks, minutes, printed programs, and correspondence. Nothing remains today to record its existence except newspaper articles. It is a lesson for organizations to preserve their past by donating their archives to local historical societies.