The Ebell: From The Archive

By Kay Lachter

At the Monday Luncheon on November 7, 2011, our professional archivist, Michael Palmer, took us on a journey through Ebell history as seen through the documents in our archives. The Ebell’s story has been told throughout the years in Bulletin articles, but in the Archives we have original documents. “We are there” with the original actors in our Ebell drama. Here are some of the glimpses Mr. Palmer gave us.

In October 1894, Ebell was founded for “the advancement of women in every branch of culture.” The first meetings took place in the home of the Parsons sisters, at 1026 S. Olive St. We have documentation of that meeting. The women set up different areas of learning, called departments, and each had its own curator. We know how these departments were conducted in the very beginning because we have a few papers from the Travel Department: a couple of reports from books and one on Mark Twain.

In three years the club had grown to 120 members and they decided to incorporate. We have the original document of incorporation. It was put in a wood frame and badly stained, but is now in an acid-free box and sealed away. A copy will be made that can be framed.

By 1923 the club had outgrown its fourth clubhouse on Figueroa and started looking around for land. They bought a lot at Wilshire and Shatto for $90,000, but the location was rezoned commercial so they couldn’t build on it. They sold it two years later for $350,000 and bought acreage where the current building is for $200,000. The present clubhouse was designed by Sumner Hunt, who had also designed the Figueroa building. He was the husband of an Ebell member.

Scofield Engineering bid $595,000 for construction of the building, but it ultimately cost $625,000. The furnishings cost $350,000. In the Archives are the plans, contracts, etc., including a fee to the architect of $30,000. Every aspect of the building had a committee: bathrooms, furniture, plumbing. Men acted as advisors, but the women of the club made all the decisions. They formed the committees, researched and wrote reports. The women were methodical record keepers; there is a full account of how the building was built.

There are also detailed financial records of the financing of the Wilshire clubhouse, including how the $700,000 loan was paid down. Actual expenditures were close to $1.1 million in 1927. In the late ‘30s they were determined to pay off their mortgage. They formed the Ebell Associates and began what was the equivalent of a 5-year plan. The mortgage was paid off in 1948.

In reading through the Ebell documentation that forms the club’s history, one gains a clear idea of the importance of the archivist’s role. An archivist manages the records of an organization, taking documents that have been created, deciding which have historical value, conserving and organizing the materials, and creating a “Finding Aid,” which is a kind of directory of items in the collection. This process allows us to provide access to the collection that is important not only to members of the organization, but to other researchers as well.

Well before Mr. Palmer took over the task of conserving and organizing our archives, the Ebell, under the leadership of Shirlee Taylor Haizlip from 2000-2002, joined LA as Subject, a consortium of small archives in the Los Angeles area. The Ebell is the only club that is a member of this group. When the archiving process ends, we will have a Finding Aid on the Online Archive of California website. This will give Ebell another role in the greater community.

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