1890s saw the creation of clubs of many kinds throughout Idaho

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANJuly 13, 2014 

1890s musicians

Banjo, mandolin and guitar clubs flourished everywhere in the 1890s — from Boise to Harvard University.

PROVIDED BY ARTHUR HART

The 1890s was not only Idaho's first decade of statehood, but an auspicious time in the capital city for starting clubs and associations with a variety of interests and objectives.

"A number of Boise's bright young men have decided to organize a debating society," noted the Idaho Statesman on Sept. 22, 1893. "The first meeting will be held in the office of W.E. Pierce & Co. at 7 o'clock this evening. An invitation is extended to all young men who are interested in the promotion of such an organization to attend."

The Young Men's Debating Club, formed in early October, decided to hold weekly meetings throughout winter. The first subject debated was whether the government should own and operate the nation's railway and telegraph systems. H.R. Cooke and Edgar Hawley for the affirmative were judged the winners, "settling for all time the momentous question," quipped the Statesman.

At the next meeting it was decided, after a heated debate, that women should not be allowed to vote. Fortunately, the question was not to be decided by these young men, for three years later Idaho women did get the vote, making it only the fourth state in the nation to give women that privilege. Most American women could not vote until 1920. Two other wide-ranging questions debated that winter, each decided in the affirmative, were that Boise's military post should be abandoned and that the United States should annex the Hawaiian Islands, an event that happened in 1898.

In 1897, Boiseans with a love of music organized a banjo club and a mandolin club, joining colleges and universities across the country in what has been described as a "wildly popular" movement. Harvard University had both banjo and mandolin clubs in the 1890s, as did the University of Chicago, Stanford University and a score of other schools. In June 1898, Boise's banjo and mandolin clubs gave a joint concert for the benefit of the Idaho volunteers about to leave for the Philippines to fight in the Spanish-American War.

Other organizations formed in the 1890s included a Liquor Dealers Protective Association of southern Idaho for the purpose of fighting anti-saloon legislation. Pioneer saloon keeper John Early was elected president and B.H. Coleman secretary. A Gentlemen's Driving Club met at the Capitol Hotel on July 19, 1892, and adopted a constitution and by-laws. (No, young readers, they weren't driving automobiles. The 38 charter members took pride in their fine matched teams of horses and the stylish vehicles they pulled over Boise Valley's unpaved roads and streets. The automobile was still a few years away.)

In February 1894, 25 men met and formed the Boise Chess Club. Thomas Davis was elected president, and a room was set up in the Sonna Building that would be open day and night for members to play.

Bicycles became a craze in the 1890s, and Boise had a Pastime Club devoted to the sport of bicycle racing and touring the countryside. In September 1896, a two-day race held in Boise was reported in newspapers as far away as Salt Lake City.

The clubs described above catered to special interests, but Boise had its share of fraternal organizations and religious societies, too. In the 1890s there was a club for you, whatever your taste or inclination.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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