THE CLUB'S HISTORY
by Joseph Ryan
he Ruskin Art Club was founded October 12, 1888, by Mary E. Boyce. The founding principle of the club was to study the technique and history of engraving and etching. Mary Ella Smith (1848-1938) was born in Vermont. She taught school in Sycamore, Illinois, until her marriage, shortly after the Civil War, to Captain Henry H. Boyce. The Boyces moved to Los Angeles in 1882, where Captain Boyce (a Civil War veteran) became engaged in horse breeding. Later, Captain Boyce became the business manager of the Times-Mirror Company.1 Many of Mary�s friends, wives of the founders of the University of Southern California, were to become the founding members of the Ruskin Art Club.
In addition to their extensive library of art books, Capt. and Mrs. Boyce had an exceptional collection of etchings and engravings. Her friends were greatly intrigued with this collection. With Mary�s generous consent, they decided to form a study club. At the first meeting, the name �Ruskin Art Club� was chosen. Each word of the name is significant, not only to the purpose of the club, but also to broader revolutions that were sweeping America in the late 1800s.
The use of the name Ruskin in the club�s name title honored John Ruskin (1819-1900), the father of the Arts and Crafts Movement. This movement blamed the social and political ills of the late 19th century on what they considered the corruption of Victorian society and the dehumanization wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Ruskin, Oxford University�s first art history professor, was a prolific and immensely influential writer on aesthetic questions � on both sides of the Atlantic.
[Ruskin] blamed mechanization and its division of labor for subverting workers� participation in the creative process, thereby reducing them to the level of mindless tools in the a production line. Censuring the products of machinery as monotonous, uninspiring goods that disassociated their users from contact with human creativity, Ruskin crusaded for hand labor as an essential human right that preserved dignity and inventiveness in society.�
At the same time, women began to alter the Victorian era�s perception of them as mere �ornaments� of their husbands and homes. The brave Ruskin Art Club founders lifted the banner of Ruskin�s philosophy, and sought to give meaning to their then-circumscribed lives by fervently studying the fine arts. At the time, Ruskin�s books were considered standard reference works on art and architecture.
The use of the word �club� in their newly founded organization also had profound and far-reaching effects in 1888, especially in the culturally arid landscape of Los Angeles. Prior to this time, clubs were exclusively for men. Women joined sewing circles or church unions, not clubs! Caroline Severance 3, a renowned East Coast suffragette, was living in Los Angeles at this time. She is famed for forming the first women�s club in America. Madame Severance�s club was founded in Boston on March 10, 1868, and was named the New England Woman�s Club.
�We had to meet, as you may imagine, opposition from the public and the press and also from some of the husbands, who feared the effects of club life upon the interests of the home.�4
The New England Woman�s Club was successful in getting the first suffrage law passed in the United States. Its members began the first kindergartens and were influential in changing the way women dressed. They protested against the Victorian style of pinching the waistline into an �hourglass� figure, and soon the club was promoting a more �healthful uniform� for women. Endorsing the reform, women for the first time since corsets were invented, began throwing them aside for the more �healthful uniform� � bloomers.
Use of the Ruskin Art Club name was no doubt a very �progressive� idea to these cultured and well-educated wives of university professors. They were embracing not only Ruskin�s Arts and Crafts Movement, but also women�s suffrage rights. The ideal of the Arts and Crafts Movement was a compassionate response to the crassness of the Industrial Revolution. It affirmed that beauty and art could be found in all things. This movement insisted that workers were not just laborers, but craftsmen and artists contributing to the beauty that surrounds our daily lives. In the United States, this created sweeping changes in attitudes toward the decorative arts and architecture. It was much more than just a style, it was a philosophy of domestic life. The cardinal tenets of the Arts and Crafts Movement were that simple design, quality materials, and honest construction of the home and its furnishings, would bring moral and therapeutic effects to its occupants. 5
The founding members of the Ruskin Art Club were at the very cutting edge of a social movement that would carry the country into the 20th century. The movement took its name partially from the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, formed in London the same year as the founding of the Ruskin Art Club in Los Angeles � 1888. The founding women of the Ruskin Art Club were not setting out upon a nostalgic review of art or a mutual admiration society of each others� collections (although this was not entirely absent). Their purpose was the earnest study of masterful works of art. This high-minded endeavor promised to bring forth the beauty of not only what is seen, but what is not seen. They believed that such a course would lead them back to being truly human, despite living in a mechanized society. Their study would sensitize them to the beauty that is inherent in life. Finally, by making art available to all of society, the club could bring dignity back to the abused worker and elevate society�s values as a whole.
To appreciate the social impact of the Ruskin Art Club, one must examine the lives of its founding board members:
Fanny Brainerd was the wife of Dr. Henry Green Brainerd, who was a neurologist and faculty member of the University of Southern California (USC) Medical School. In 1887, one year before his wife helped found the Ruskin Art Club, he was elected Superintendent of County Hospital. Dr. Brainerd held this prestigious position for six years. Later, he would go on to found the USC School of Dentistry. 6, 7
Dora Haynes was the wife of social reformer John Randolph Haynes. Dr. Haynes was an 1874 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He was awarded two degrees, Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Medicine. Dr. and Mrs. Haynes came to California in 1887. Like thousands of other immigrants, Dr. Haynes came to Los Angeles for health reasons. During the late 19th century, Southern California was renowned for its revitalizing climate. Capitalizing on this health-conscious public, and his own talents and training in medicine, Haynes organized the California Hospital and �Idyllwild,� a health resort in Monrovia. Idyllwild�s fame would eventually spread across the nation. John Randolph Haynes was also a major reform figure in Los Angeles and one of the most important political reformers in California. He successfully directed legislation into the Los Angeles City charter in 1902, making the city the first American municipality to embrace the recall of public officers. Dr. Haynes was a regent of USC for three decades. Dora Haynes, in her 1911 campaign, won women�s suffrage in the state of California. Dora was also the founder of the League of Women Voters. Together they established the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation in 1926, which continues as one of Los Angeles� landmark philanthropic organizations, with assets in excess of $4 million.
Lora Hubbel was the wife of Judge Stephen Hubbel, a member of the New York Supreme Court and later the U.S. Supreme Court. They moved to Los Angeles in 1870. Judge Hubbel became president of the National Bank of California and was one of the founding members of the board of directors of USC. He also became president of the 6th and Spring Street Railroad, (the first street car in Los Angeles) later named the Los Angeles Cable Railroad. J.M. Guinn writes in his book, A History of Los Angeles and Environs, about the Hubbels: �In 1908, they built a residence on Arapahoe Street, in the exclusive residential district, which was fitted with rare taste and beauty This home is one of the most delightful in this city of homes. Mrs. Hubbell was a charming personality and the center of an admiring circle of friends.� 8
Mary Widney was the wife of Judge Robert M. Widney. Judge and Mrs. Widney came to California in 1857. He attended the University of the Pacific at Santa Clara, and continued on at the university as a professor for several years. In 1868 he came to Los Angeles and practiced law. He organized the first Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles in 1873. It was in his and Mary�s home, in May 1879, that he brought together the founders of USC. Judge Widney personally wrote the trust deed for the campus of USC and, in 1880, the articles of incorporation for the university. Judge Hubell and Judge Widney were the first signers of the Articles of Incorporation. Soon after the signing, Judge Widney donated $100,000 to the new university, a large sum for the times. Later on, Widney would join up with four other men who laid out 2,000 acres for a seaside resort which they named Long Beach. 9, 10
It is eminently apparent that the founding women of the Ruskin Art Club were of the highest ranking citizens of the day, socially, intellectually and financially.
Within a year of the formation of the Ruskin Art Club, the Paris Exposition of 1889 was held. The American Society of Wood Engravers won the highest award in the engraving department at the Exposition. Much to the good fortune of the club, the members were successful in having this entire Paris engraving exhibit sent on loan to them in Los Angeles. Displaying the collection in April, 1890, the club mounted the first public art exhibition in Los Angeles. Etchings and engravings from the Paris Exhibit included works by Albrecht D�rer, Rembrandt, Millet, and Whistler. 11
From the halls of the Paris Exposition, to the exhibit of the Ruskin Art Club in Los Angeles, the exhibition was a tremendous success! Suddenly, the pueblo-turned-city had become of age culturally. The Ruskin Art Club put Los Angeles on the cultural map. New members flocked to join. The founding women were delighted, their tenets of beauty and art were culturally uplifting the entire city. Following the exhibit�s success, the club published the first of many monographs. It was titled Wood Engraving.
The club had captured the attention of the affluent members of Los Angeles, and it grew so rapidly that the members decided to impose a maximum of 100 members, a rule which stands to this day. This early decision to maintain their �exclusivity,� affected their long term influence on this rapidly growing city.
The club had outgrown Mary Boyce�s drawing room and soon began meeting in various locations. For a while it met on the top floor of the Hamburger Department Store, and later at various hotels: the Bella Union, Nadau and Hollenbeck hotels. These fine hotels felt it was a distinction to have the Ruskin Club meet in their reception rooms, especially as many of its members remained for lunch and were joined by their husbands and friends. A favorite meeting place was the patio of the old Wolfskill Ranch Adobe. It was on this ranch (now the site of the Amtrack train station) that Helen Hunt Jackson�s book, Ramona, was conceived. The Ruskin Art Club considered the ranch as a possible headquarters for its activities, but owner Donna Arcadia never approved of the club as she had heard that it was in favor of cremation (a practice extolled by the Friday Morning Club at the time). Mrs. Sinsenbaugh, a club board member, was also a board member of the Rosedale Cemetery, which built the second crematory in the United States.
Mary Boyce, representing the club, traveled to New York City in 1889 to attend a meeting calling all women�s clubs of America to unite. In 1890 the General Federation of Women�s Clubs was formed with the Ruskin Art Club one of its original 60 founding groups, Mrs. Phoebe Hearst of San Francisco was elected it first Treasurer.
Evidence of the Ruskin Club�s influence on Los Angeles� society is found in the number of clubs that its members founded. In 1891, The Friday Morning Club had five Ruskin Art Club members as its founders (one of them was Caroline Seymore, the niece of the great suffragette, Caroline Seymore Severance). In 1894, seven full years after the beginning of the Ruskin Art Club, The Ebell Club was founded. One third of the 60 founding members of the Ebell were Ruskin Art Club members.
The club continued in its annual study programs, and the membership represented a virtual �Who�s Who of Los Angeles.� Several of the members� husbands were prominent art patrons. When the club mounted its Fourth Art Exhibition in 1902, it drew heavily upon the members� collections. Mrs. Henry Wilson Hart, a wealthy widow, from New York and Paris, and art patron, was influenced by the Ruskin�s president, Mrs. Hendrick, to move to Los Angeles and join the club. Mrs. Hendrick used many objects from the Hart collection for display in the 1902 Exhibition. In addition to canvasses from Mrs. Hart, the exhibition included original paintings from the collections of Edwin T. Earl, Henry O�Melveny (of the oldest and largest law firm in Los Angeles), Eli P. Clark (owner of Pacific Electric Railroad), and W. E. Dunn (lawyer). All the entries in this show were signed original paintings owned by local collectors, another first.
After the turn of the century, many of the citizens of the Los Angeles were becoming more and more unhappy with the State Agricultural Park � now known as Exposition Park. For decades, the park had been used as a racetrack that attracted an unsavory crowd and was believed to be a blight upon the city. In an attempt to influence state litigation regarding title to the State Agricultural Park and its ultimate use, the Ruskin Club joined The Women�s Clubs of Los Angeles in sending 10 delegates to Sacramento. In 1909 the women delegates were successful in obtaining a 50-year lease to this parcel from the city and the county of Los Angeles as Exposition Park. The proceeding allowed the construction of the Museum of History, Science and Art (now known as Natural History Museum). The Ruskin Art Club was instrumental in procuring the 18-foot-high bronze statuary group by Julia B. Wendt still standing in the rotunda of what was then the main entrance to the museum. The colossal bronze is an allegorical group of three female figures typifying History, Science, and Art, upholding the torch of enlightenment. They also obtained the art glass ceiling which allowed soft refractive lighting in what was the main art gallery (now the children�s wing of the Natural History Museum).
Another venerable institution upon which the Ruskin Art Club had significant influence was Charles F. Lummis� beloved Southwest Museum. Charles Lummis was the founder of the Southwest Society of the Archaeological Institute. The society boasted members from across the states and was the largest organization of its kind. This collection comprised primarily Native American artifacts from Lummis� own collection. In 1901, Lummis named Hector Alliot as the curator of the society�s collection. The collection was housed at the Hamburger Department Store in downtown Los Angeles and would become the Southwest Museum in 1912. Hector Alliot was an internationally known art critic, and resident of San Francisco. Ruskin Art Club invited him to address one of their Wednesday morning meetings in 1905. This began a charmed relationship between Dr. Alliot and the club that lasted until his death. The club members found the personification of their ideals in Dr. Alliot. In less than one year after this initial meeting, the disastrous 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco. Dr. Alliot survived, much to the relief of the club members who were sorely worried about his welfare. Shortly after the disaster, he took up residence in Los Angeles. The following year he was appointed the first professor of Art History at the University of Southern California. No doubt the club had something to do with the appointment, considering the wives of the University�s founders were all club members. Hector Alliot would develop a fondness for the club and would lecture there many times over the coming years. An article in the Los Angeles Times under the title of �These Women Will Work� reads:
�Mr. Alliot himself warned the ladies yesterday when he appeared before them to explain the course of study, that he should be a regular slave driver and there would be all kinds of trouble for them unless they attend strictly to business.�12
And indeed they did. The club�s archives are filled with lecture notes, presentations, and published abstracts, all written by hard-working club members. For these women, just emerging from the Victorian Era, it was the most important endeavor of their lives. They were part of a nationwide movement that was just coming into its own. The Ruskin Art Club was a forerunner in this movement. They could now read about it in monthly periodicals that were just beginning to make their appearance. Living in Southern California with its Spanish Colonial roots, they were literally surrounded by the artifacts that the Arts and Crafts Movement extolled.
�On the West Coast, the Spanish colonial past was idealized in much the same way as was the English colonial past: as a simpler time when a spirit of community prevailed, people lived in harmony with nature and took pride in working with their hands. Not only did the life of the Franciscan brothers and their Indian converts seem in accordance with Arts and Crafts principles, but mission architecture did so as well.
�A 1902 article in The Craftsman praised Mission revival buildings in Rusksonian terms, admiring the way they evoked the �patient handicraft� and �loving sincerity� of the �unskilled builders who had joy and faith in their work.��13
Even thought the Ruskin Art Club members were affluent and had domestic servants, they shunned their earlier counterparts who entertained themselves with endless teas and dinner parties. The Ruskin ladies rather applied themselves lovingly and earnestly to the study and democratic availability of art. With �joy and faith� they undertook Hector Alliot�s grueling eight-month study programs and raised untold dollars for museums, exhibitions, and original art commissions, all for the benefit of the public. The club held membership in Charles Lummis� Southwest Museum, and he praised them in his Land of Sunshine, 14 the periodical that championed the preservation of both missions and American Indian artifacts. So, it is not surprising that when Dr. Hector Alliot (who had been director of the Southwest Museum) suffered a fatal heart attack and died February 15, 1919, the Ruskin Art Club established at the museum the Hector Alliot Memorial Library of Archaeology in his memory. Hundreds of costly volumes were donated to the museum by the club and its friends. Funds for the initial installation and additional books were raised though travel lectures given by club members. The Alliot library books �. . . comprise a unique and one of the rarest collections on archaeology in the Southwest.�15
The library has grown to be one of the finest archaeology libraries available. It has since been incorporated in to the Braun Library of the Southwest Museum. The plaque that commemorates the Alliot Memorial Library as a gift to the museum by the Ruskin Art Club continues to be proudly displayed in the new library. Interestingly, the library today maintains the same hours as those established by the Ruskin Art Club over 75 years ago.
In light of the ethics these women held, it is no wonder that they chose the delightful Mission Revival bungalow on the corner of 8th and Plymouth as their club house. Although the club house was not built for them, it very well could have been, as it �so admirably suited to our needs.� The club house was built in 1922 by the Congregational Church Extension Society as a Sunday School Room and Parish House. Dr. Dyer, the minister for the church, lived here while the beautiful church (now the Wilshire Methodist) at Plymouth and Wilshire was being built. The main entrance has an open foyer that enters into a small library. Through the glass doors of its bookcases, one can see the club�s art book collection. The large meeting room with open beamed ceiling is dominated on the north wall by a beautiful blue Batchelder tile fireplace. On the south wall is an arcade of paired French doors which are rounded on top and open onto the enclosed central garden. A dining room, office, and large service kitchen complete the public rooms. The south wing of the club house is the original two-bedroom home that Dr. Dyer and his family used. It has always been rented as a separate apartment by the club. Miss Victoria Witmer and Mrs. Walter S. Ray provided the original downpayment to purchase the building until the funds could be raised. Every member eventually donated cash to make up the downpayment. It was arranged that club members would finance the purchase by making loans at 5 percent interest rather than take on a mortgage or trust deed. This was a fortunate decision. With the stock market crash in 1929, the club�s financial problems began. Members holding notes generously turned their interest payments back into the treasury. The rental of the apartment to artists did not work out so well, however, as the struggling artists often were unable to pay their rent. Mrs. Harriet Wadleigh had been a Ruskin member for over 50 years. Eventually, Harriet�s husband assumed the various notes held by club members. He used the first year�s interest to make needed repairs to the club house. Mr. Wadleigh passed away in 1940 and by 1944 Mrs. Wadleigh terminated the club�s indebtedness. The club house has been held free and clear since that time.
Although the club continued its yearly study program through World War I, its members were also busy knitting socks for the soldiers while study lectures were delivered at their monthly Wednesday morning meetings. After the stock market crash and the advent of World War II, interest and membership waned. The 1939-1940 membership year book had the lowest enrollment in the club�s proud 52-year history. The movement of which they were so much a part had begun to fail. The ideal of changing society through the transformation of work was never fully realized. The concept of workers as artists and craftsmen, turning out hand-crafted items, fell victim to vastly more cost effective industrialized production. Simple straightforwardness of living and design gave way to styleless, functionalistic modernism. So, too, with the Ruskin Art Club, as modern appliances and conveniences freed its members from household drudgery and allowed them to enter the working world and take full-time jobs. Income tax and the Great Depression reduced the fortunes of the very wealthy. Fewer and fewer women were able to attend the Wednesday morning meetings at the club house. Through the sheer determination and dedication of its members and past presidents (particularly Mrs. David Witmer and Margaret Clausen) the club and its charming club house survived.
In the late 1980�s, in connection with the club�s centenary, the Board of Directors amended the by-laws to permit men to join the organization. On the occasion of the club�s 70th anniversary, the Los Angeles City Council honored the Ruskin Art Club with resolutions commemorating their contributions to the city�s cultural and educational growth.
The year was Eighteen Eighty-Eight
October twelfth, the Founding date,
three score and ten rewarding years.
We hail and bless the pioneers!
Inspired by Ruskin�s art and fame,
They gave our club its noble name.
Mrs. Anna M. Athenous
In honor of our 70th Anniversary
We pay tribute to those whose vision began and whose faith has sustained this organization where we may in mutual fellowship stimulate creative instincts and foster the preservation of our cultural heritage for advancement and service in today�s world.
Joseph Ryan is the author of many articles on Los Angeles history between 1880 and 1920. He has served as vice-president of the Los Angeles City Historical Society, a director of the West Adams Historical Association and a board member of the Windsor Square-Hancock Park Historical Society. He is also founder of the historic Rosedale Cemetery walking tours. Mr. Ryan is an honorary Life Member of the Ruskin Art Club.
1 Sixty Years in Southern California, p. 555.
2 American Arts & Crafts � Virtue in Design, p. 17.
3 Madame Severance retired to Los Angeles in 1875 and resided at El Nido on West Adams Blvd. until her death in 1914.
4 The Mother of Clubs, p. 85.
5 Treasures of the American Arts and Crafts Movement 1890 1920.
6 Press Reference Library. p. 83.
7 Whos Who on the Pacific Southwest, p. 54.
8 Los Angeles and Environs, Vol. II, p. 35.
9 History of California, Vol., V, p. 528.
10 Long Beach and Vicinity, Vol. I, p. 76.
11 In Victorian Los Angeles, The Witmers of Crown Hill, p. 54.
12 Los Angeles Times, 2/28/1907.
13 The Arts and Crafts Movement, p. 124.
14 Land of Sunshine, 7/1898, p. 87.
15 Los Angeles Times, 12/3/1923.
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