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Grand Rapids Study Club

"Rowing, Not Drifting"


History of the GRSC

The Grand Rapids Study Club began meeting in 1901 and was formally organized on November 10, 1904 at the home of Mrs. Louisa Gaines. Called initially the "Study Class," the purpose of the organization was "to unite all efforts towards individual, home and community betterment through study and civic cooperation in all things which portends the advancement of all groups." Several characteristics of the Club were introduced at its earliest meetings, and have persisted to the present with only slight modification. The Thursday meeting date and the Club year of October to may were set then, and are still observed. Roll call began with the second meeting, and each person answered with a thoughtful quotation. That tradition also persists, as does the club motto, "Rowing, not drifting." The Club has observed yellow and white as its official colors since 1907.

These traditions attest to the Club's stability and sense of history. The programs it has supported over the years, and its involvement with national organizations are evidence of the fact that it was, and is, much more than a social organization. It has from its inception, lived up to the objective stated in its first constitution.

In 1906, the Club joined the federation of Women's Clubs and sent two delegates, Ms. Nadena Goings and Mrs. Daisy Lacey, to the 1907 National Convention. The Club also supported the efforts of other local organizations. In 1962 it sponsored a meeting to organize a City Federation of (Black) Clubs, and in that same year a Junior Study Club was formed. Later, the name of that latter organization was changed to the Pierian Club. It is still closely associated with the Study Club.

Over the years, the main function of the Study Club has been its regularly scheduled meetings and the discussion topics presented at them. From the first, these topics have been remarkable for their broad scope and their attention to current trends and events. The Club has published annual programs since an initial hand-written effort in 1907. In its archives the Club has a collection of these programs beginning with 1917. A quick review of their pages reveal the depth and breadth of the Club members' concerns. The 1917 program lists programs on the "Problems after the War," "Negro Poets and Musicians," and "Governor Osborn and Prison Reform."

Subsequent years' programs announced topics such as the "Pro's and Con's of Prohibition," "The Negro Woman's Contribution to History," "Education of the Handicapped," a "Political Survey of 1935," and the "Unpublished History of the Negro Versus the Published." More recently, there have been discussions on "Planned Parenthood," the "Church's Role in Race Relations," and "Inner City Insurance Cancellations."

The Club has also brought nationally known speakers to Grand Rapids. In 1945, for example, Langston Hughes presented an address titled "Poems of Negro Life" at the A.M.E. Community Church, under the sponsorship of the Study Club. In 1960, Mr. Hughes returned at the invitation of the Study Club and Fountain Street Baptist Church. His address at the Church was open to the entire community. A year later, Louis Lomax presented an address at Fountain Street Church titled "The Negro in This Era of Transition and the Crisis of Negro and White Leadership in a Free Society." Once again, the address was under the joint sponsorship of the Study Club and the Church.

In 1979, the Club celebrated its 75th anniversary and used that milestone as the impetus for planning a more vigorous course for its current membership and for initiating a restoration of the clubhouse located at 427 James Street. During its early years, meetings were held in members' homes. However, since 1935, the Club headquarters have been located in the stately old clubhouse at 427 James. The property was purchased with funds that had grown in a savings account and in property investments started in the 1920's.

As part of the 75th anniversary recognition plan, the Club intends to restore the interior and exterior of their building. The members plan to create office space and a library of Black history and literature for use by community organizations on the second floor of the building. The first floor will continue to be used for Club functions as well as those of related organizations. A permanent exhibit telling the history of the Club and its many activities will be installed in the meeting room area.

The Grand Rapids Study Club has a long and proud tradition of service to the Grand Rapids Community. As it celebrates its 75th anniversary and looks forward to its 100th, there can be little doubt that its members will continue to "row" and not "drift," and that its revitalization plans will be carried out according to the standards set by its founders.