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JIM: Culture & a library come to Columbia - 100 years ago

Columbia's Twentieth Century Self Culture Club was the talk of the town in 1916. It started the Columbia Library, which was archived in Dr. Triplett's dental office over what is now Reed Bros. Insurance Company. Not quite rivaling the library at Alexandria, Egypt, it could still boast of owning 93 books outright, a number which grew to 128 in 1919.
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Columbia's Twentieth Century Self-Culture Club made the front page twice in the November 22nd 1916 News in an edition of the paper short on pages (four instead of eight) and "skase, mighty skase" on news.

One of the articles laid before the public the Club's plan to sponsor a parcel post sale and to "serve good eats" on the 23rd in [County Attorney] Gordon Montgomery's courthouse office, the monies raised to benefit the Columbia Library.

"Every one is cordially invited to come," proclaimed the paper, adding that "It will be fun for everybody and every thing that can be sent by parcel post will be sold." The next edition of the paper reported the parcel post sale was quite the success, stating, "A nice sum of money was raised."

By November 1916, the Columbia chapter of the Self-Culture Club was a year and a half year old, having been started in late April 1915 "in the beautiful home of Mrs. Geo. W. Staples" by state organizer Mrs. A. Coleburn of Birmingham. The News stated that "The club in Columbia was organized with quite a number of members" with the expectation that several others would join as word of its start up spread across town.

The first-elected officers were Mrs. Z.T. Williams, President; Mrs, Willie B. Hines (Hynes), 1st Vice-President; Mrs. R.V. Chapin (wife of the recently-arrived minister of the Columbia Presbyterian church), 2nd V-P; Mrs. Zora K. Rowe, 3rd V-P; Miss Jennie (Jennye) McFarland, Recording Secretary; Mrs. Jo Russell, Treasurer; Miss Victoria Hughes, Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. C.M. Russell, Musician; and Mrs. E.B. Barger, Assistant.

Other early members included Mrs. O.P. Bush (wife of the Columbia Baptist church minister), Mrs. Robert G. Reed, Miss Rose M. Heyd, Mrs. George Nell, Miss Minnie Triplett, Mrs. Fred Myers, Mrs. Gordon Montgomery, Mrs. Geo. Wilson, and Mrs. W.T. Price. (In early December 1919, the latter-named member placed a terse ad in the newspaper: "Full set of Self Culture books that have not been used for sale. See Mrs. W.T. Price.")

The Columbia Library, the intended beneficiary of the above-mentioned proceeds, came into existence thanks to the diligent efforts of Miss Minnie Triplett. In February 1915, the News announced that "She conceived the idea that a library was very much needed in this community, and for the past week she has been taking subscriptions at $1.00 each [per year], and she has secured about 60 names and other names continue to come in."

Each subscriber would become a member, and the books, to be ordered within days, would consist of the "very best literature known." Added the paper, "The enterprise will be known as the Columbia Library, and each member will be allowed to keep a book four days...The library will be at Dr. James Triplett's office." (Dr. Triplett, a dentist, had quarters above the Paull Drug Co.) By early March, the Library could boast of owning 93 books outright and having on hand to lend out another 50 volumes on loan from the Kentucky Library Commission. Eight months later, the number of self-owned books had grown to one 128. By early 1919, the Library had been moved to the courthouse in the office of the County Superintendent, and by 1921, readers could chose from 330 volumes.

The Club's other upcoming activity a century ago was a cultural event set for the evening of Friday, December 1st, the first in a hoped-for series of such events. The members were justifiably proud to present Miss Bernice Wimberly, violinist, and Miss Angela Sweeney, reader, each of the Music Conservatory of Louisville, in what promised to be "a program of rare merit." The this aural feast was to be held in the space occupied by Paramount Picture Show, with tickets available at the Paull Drug Co.

(In June 1916, the Paramount Theatre, then known as The Parlor Circle, had moved "to the second story of the building in which Mr. J.F. Patteson and Mr. L.M. Young are now doing business." The News farther noted that the new quarters were "much larger and the ceiling higher than at the present location.")

The December 6th edition of the News lavished praised on the Misses Wimberly and Sweeney. Of the former, the paper said she (accompanied by Mrs. C.M. Russell), "displayed remarkable talent in her chosen art, [and] that plus her charming manner could not and did not fail to delight..." The News reported that Miss Sweeney "fairly captivated the listeners and displayed her talent in rendering equally well, her numbers in various styles. Especially were her dialect studies charmingly given."

The last mention found in the News of the Self-Culture Club appeared in late December 1919 with a report of the most recent meeting, held in the home of Mrs. E.B. (Cy) Barger. Mrs. Z.T. Williams gave a Christmas talk; Mrs. Barksdale Hamlett, accompanied by Mrs. C.M. Russell, piano, and Mrs. C.J. Mitchell, violin, gave a solo, "In Old Judea;" the Misses Katie Murrell and Allene Montgomery presented "delightful Christmas readings;" and the aforementioned Mrs. Russell and Mrs. Mitchell "rendered a beautiful selection on piano and violin." (Mrs. Hamlett's solo is a Christmas hymn. The opening lines are "In Old Judea, amid the plains afar / My eyes behold a brightly shining star..." The words, written by R.H. Buck and melody, composed by A. Geibel, were first published c. 1903.) - JIM
BR> Postscript by Ed Waggener Culture and enlightenment, are pet goals of CM, inspired by careful study of the literay works of Max Shulman. The CM editor devoted more attention to Mr. Shulman's On campus cigarette company sponsored column than to WKU's worthy, but less interesting classroom courses. Max Shulman's columns ran in the College Heights Herald at Western Kentucky State College. Not understanding the gravitas all the columns entailed, the editor spent many hours in the audience of literary critic Michael Morris, whose interpretations of the deeper meanings of the great Minnesotan's philosophy were as inspiring as they were entertaining. Those early years made us students of all such efforts to bring a deep appreciation of culture and sophistication to our area. The efforts came, each, in a wave like fashion. It is interesting to study the early enthusiasm of many of the movements - the early evangelical quality of the introduction of such things as JIM speaks of herewith: Columbia's early adoption of a "Self-Culture Club", the flames it lit, its years as a hot topic, its time as a movement, and then it's gradual fading away; all in less than four years. Some such movements etched important principle of the ideas they espoused and can be seen even to this day, such as the wave of enthusiasm for Dale Carnegie courses in the 1950's left lasting benefits, long after the courses were given. There are other examples, but that's a conversation for another day. - EW<

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