This Month in Ebell History: Januaries in the 1920s and 1930s

by Loyce Braun

In 121 Januarys of Ebell History, there is an abundance of riches to be savored, but it is in the fragile  clippings from the scrapbooks and Ebell Magazine pages of the late 20’s and 30’s that an especially interesting  picture emerges of an organization deeply interested in the issues of the times coming into particular prominence as the women’s club movement gathers strength and influence.

Responding to its growing membership and insufficient space on Figueroa, the Ebell’s ambitious plan to build a grand new clubhouse at Wilshire and Lucerne attracted these notes from the L.A. Times on January 27, 1927:  “The Ebell members may well be proud of their financing the whole $800,000 necessary for the new building by good business methods, with no frenzied begging, or any wild entertainments or bazaars or frantic exhortations to give, give, give!”

If the Ebell raised necessary building funds with dignity and business acumen, it was not too lofty to take careful note of the attention it attracted.  A hand-written attachment to the scrapbook for 1929-1930 shows the Ebell Press Chairman of the time tracking the Ebell’s newspaper coverage.  Surveying the L.A. Times, The Herald, The Express, The Variant and The Record, she reports 2,373 column inches and 178 photos about the Ebell and states that, though free to the Ebell, the coverage, at the lowest rate per column inch commercially, is worth $15,424.50.

A January piece in the 1927  L. A. Herald reported that the noted English Barrister, Mr. Morseby White, a student of Freud and Andre Bergson, would lecture on “Cryptoscopy- the seeing of hidden objects which are close at hand, or seeing events now happening in some other place, or events in a time now past, or events in a time yet to come- all things possible to a highly trained mind.”

An article in The Express of January 15, 1930, described a lecture at the Ebell by Vincent Sheen, bringing a “vivid, first-hand picture” of the Zionist Movement in Palestine as the British, through the Balfour Declaration, begin to turn “an Arab province into a national homeland for the Jews.”

On January 18, 1930, The Express noted an upcoming Ebell program featuring an illustrated lecture by an explorer who commanded the National Geographic Society and Field Museum expedition to the Arctic and took the first flight over the northernmost continent with Admiral Richard Byrd.

Then as now, the Ebell Magazine was the primary source of program and event information for Ebell members.  The issue of January, 1930 shows that the club’s intellectual and cultural ambitions continue to thrive on Wilshire, and included the Applied Design Department assigning members to “devise a design for textiles in a 13” x 20” space…in an informal or geometric style,” a Drama Department lecture on “Emotional Interpretation in Acting,” illustrated by a dramatic presentation by Ebell members, and a Music Department lecture on “Writers of Negro Music,” presented by composer and pianist, Mrs. Gertrude Ross.

Finally, the January, 1930 Ebell Magazine published the poem by member Helen Salisbury which reflects a turning away from the sentimental fervor that characterized many earlier member submissions.

By Helen Salisbury

Leaping Arches of alder boughs,
Mosaics of live oaks and sun,
Lamps of primrose that come alive
At twilight one by one.

Opal windows of after-glow,
Altars of lifting hearts,
Ceilings of heaven-drifted sky-
A cloud that kindles and parts.

Organ of cadenced, tree-stopt wind,
Choir of brown-robed birds,
Presence that needs no calling prayer-
No incense-smoke of words.

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