In a day and age when most civic organizations are struggling to keep membership their up, this Dodge City club has held steady at 24 active members for many decades.
Over 120 years ago, seven women started a study group in the spring of 1897, having weekly meetings through the summer for the purpose of reading. They studied the birds and flowers of Kansas and read two of William Shakespeare's comedies. On September 17, 1897, 22 women officially organized the Philomaths. A philomath is literally a lover of learning.
During this organizational meeting, newly elected President Harriet Milton gave an inspiring oration with the theme "What Is Worthwhile?" The group immediately made this their club motto, which remains their motto to this day. The group also decided to limit their number to 24 women, a rule which also still stands. Since most of the meetings were held in private residences, the thought was any more members would make the meeting space too crowded.
In addition to members only meetings, early on, the group occasionally held open meetings or social days. In this way they kept questioning friends and family in the intellectual loop.
Literature was the focus in the early decades, yet each meeting ended with a discussion of current events. Sometimes art, music and domestic science dominated the meetings with travel interspersed to add a little variety.
The women often arranged open concerts and lectures featuring outside musicians and speakers, charging only a nominal fee to cover expenses. Additionally, they held public exhibitions of fine art prints.
As reading and learning were at the heart of their reason for their existence, the Philomaths gifted books to the schools and public library, and gave scholarships. During World War I, the Club continued to meet weekly and assisted the Red Cross in their efforts.
Affiliated with state and regional women's groups as well as with civic improvement groups, the Philomaths did not operate in a vacuum. They worked with others to clean, beautify and improve Dodge City.
Subjects addressed at meetings have broadened from mere literary matters to wider areas of study. Rather than have the philanthropic goals of typical service organizations, the Philomaths' endeavors are intellectual and their meetings concentrate academic topics. However, they do serve the community through donations of books to libraries.
Each year the Philomaths select a theme; their latest one being "Kindness is Contagious." Keeping with this theme, they recognized people in our community including garbage collectors and the young women's organization, Dodge City Ladies Community Outreach. Following the theme, they donated Halloween candy to the Friendship Feast and collected items for the Humane Society.
The Philomaths prefer to donate time and items rather than money to worthy causes. The main exceptions are giving to the United Way and to the Dodge City Public Library fund.
Membership is granted strictly by invitation only and then only to replace members who leave the Club. Quite often daughters of current or past members are asked to join.
A notable member was Katherine Crumbine, wife of the famous Dr. Samuel Crumbine who specialized in communicable diseases. Former Dodge City Daily Globe owner Juliet Pettijohn Denious was a member for 71 years from 1915 to 1986. Her mother, Emma Pettijohn, was an early member and president of the Philomaths.
The current active member who has the most longevity with the Philomaths is Judy Hinnergardt who joined in 1964.