Climbers exhibits Old South refinement
Walking through the door of Jean Wood’s 1905 home for a meeting of the Climbers Club Thursday afternoon was a journey into southern culture of decades past. For the two hours, time had no consequence and the Brookhaven ladies were suspended in a moment of surreal Mississippi refinement.
“Everything slows down, and you feel like a lady again. When you come to the Climbers meeting you feel pampered,” said Wood, whose grandmother was the first president of the organization.
It was easy to become lost in the fairy tale of southern sophistication that was broken only by the few sounds from a cellphone or passing car. The memorabilia from former clubs that was displayed throughout the Wood home illustrated that not much has changed from the early meetings in the 1900s to the current one. High society ladies still meet in their Sunday best to sip tea and listen to programs given on various topics.
Club members gathered in the front of the Wood’s home to look through the photos and pamphlets dating back to the 20s, which set the scene for the topic of the evening: History of the Climbers Club. The timeless collection of Wood’s’ family heirlooms and furniture decorating her historic farm home in which her mother’s mother had hosted meetings added to the reminiscent tone of the evening.
Once all were present, the crowd was ushered to their seats to receive their party plates and tea cups. Hostesses balance the saucers and cups as they weaved through the crowd to distribute one to each member. Wood said the sign of a good host is being able to carry two plates and cups without spilling a drop of tea.
“It was the summer of 1905. The voice of the women was felt throughout the land and everywhere women’s clubs were beginning to spring up. Thus implies that a congenial group of neighbors who shared that belief that around the humblest of us are the influences that may touch eternity to form a club” said Phyllis Spearman, as she read records of the founding of the Climbers Club. “In this purposeful spirit we drove in our carriages one June to Ole Brook. There, like in the characters of Boccaccio’s Decamerone, we sat in the shade of the great oaks and in the calm and seclusion talked about forming the club.”
The gathering under the tree gave birth to the club in 1905 following the growing trend of women’s groups across the nation.
Since those early days women have met at each others’ homes to cultivate arts in the community and discuss important issues of the day. As Spearman spoke about the early meetings, it was easy to envision the founding women pulling up to the front of Wood home in their carriages to join in tea and not feeling a bit out of place. From war and flappers to artists and pant suits, the club has seen it all.
“You may wonder about the name of the club,” said Spearman as she began her report on the history of the club. “These ladies were not social climbers but women who aspire to cultivate the arts in the community and for themselves to study the important issues of the day or as a recent yearbook states ‘to climb higher in realm of education, music, art and literature as the rose climbs higher and higher.'”
Climbers have entertained and been entertained by judges, lawyers, authors, artists, musicians, doctors, diplomats, senators, representatives and academics. They had lectures on issues of the day including: ‘Immigration’ in 1923, ‘What will Russia Do’ in 1945, ‘China as a problem to the world, and the world as a problem to China’ in 1946, ‘Mississippi River Flood Control’ in 1930, ‘Improving Mississippi schools and libraries’ in 1951 and even a lecture on ‘Is man a rational animal’ in 1939. The women have started pageants, gone on trips, held banquets, performed plays, supported the Whitworth College and several other interesting activities throughout the years.
Even though the fashions and programs have changed, the Climbers still hold true to their ancestral roots.
“What would the founding members today think of the club they organized in the shade of the oak trees 109 years ago,” said Spearmen. “They might be a little disappointed that we have evolved more into a culture club than a civic club and no longer decorated floats or gave pageants or chaperoned teen events. But, I think they would be perfectly at home at a meeting. We have kept their high standards, in regard to programs and table settings. And the party plate; I think they would be astonished at the refreshments and the presentation. We are still using starched white 12 by 12 napkins, the best china, highly polished silver and each teacup must match the plate.”
The Climbers women are delicately holding on to the refinery of the South that has since been forgotten by modern society. Tradition has become a defining characteristic of the organization.
Spearmen continued with the second portion of the program by recounting her life through verse. Her story told through poems and lyrics harkened back to the cultural roots of the club.
When the meeting concluded, the Brookhaven ladies thanked their hostesses and disappeared through the door into the early winter night. The moment of suspension had concluded, and the mothers, teachers, retirees, professionals and politicians returned to their daily modern routine. The women will live in 2014 until next month when they will again return to the pomp and circumstance of an earlier South.’