A new exhibition, “A Goodly Heritage of Study: The Portfolio Club of Syracuse,” is now on display in Syracuse University Library’s Special Collections Research Center. Displayed are the archives of a still-thriving women’s study club that was formed in 1875 in Syracuse.
The Portfolio Club exemplifies a post-Civil War movement in which many thousands of middle-class women came together to educate themselves in a society that restricted women’s access to institutions of higher learning. This club began a few weeks after the Association for the Advancement of Women held a congress at the Wieting Opera House in downtown Syracuse. At these congresses, which took place in many American cities, Julia Ward Howe and other presenters encouraged women to form study clubs for self-culture.
Nine young women founded the Portfolio Club, with guidance from Mary Dana Hicks, their art teacher. Though they began with a focus on art, in the middle 1880s they expanded their scope to include literature, current events, history, performing arts and many other subjects. Members have met regularly from October through April since the club’s inception to read their papers on a topic assigned by each year’s president.
Syracuse residents and those long associated with SU will recognize the married names of many past club members, such as Mrs. Donald Dey, Mrs. William Nottingham, Mrs. E.N. Westcott and Mrs. Mildred Eggers. Among Portfolio guest speakers during the club’s first several decades were Judge Charles Andrews, Dean George Fiske Comfort, Howard Lyman, professors Sawyer Falk and Irene Sargent, Paul Paine, Douglas Petit, Katherine Sibley and SU Chancellor Charles Sims.
The exhibition, which emphasizes the years 1875–1950, includes annual program booklets, many of them finely crafted. Also on display are meeting minutes, clippings, photographs, film footage of a 1935 gathering and other club documents. The exhibition will be available until May 8 on the sixth floor of E.S. Bird Library. The sixth-floor gallery is open from 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday–through Friday, except holidays.