Weekend tag sale at Athenaeum supports club, historic building

The Kansas City Atheneaum at Linwood and Campbell where it has stood since 1914.

The Kansas City Atheneaum at Linwood and Campbell where it has stood since 1914.

Members of the Kansas City Athenaeum – a women’s club established in 1894 –moved to Linwood Boulevard and Campbell more than 100 years ago and have never considered moving away.

The heart and soul of the Athenaeum since the beginning has been its classically-inspired clubhouse, a building members joke was “built by bake sales.”

So perhaps it’s only fitting that the Athenauem is hosting a tag sale on Saturday, June 13 to raise funds for its building and maintenance as part of the annual Hyde Park neighborhood yard sale.

“We have a stewardship obligation to this building,” Vice President Joyce Merrill explained this week.

Although membership in the club has dwindled over the years, its members continue to keep up the building, educate themselves, and contribute to the community around them.

The organization was founded in 1894, during a period when women across the country were forming clubs to study literature, world culture and do philanthropic work. Although women could not vote and did not often work outside the home, the daughter of one of the founders, Mary Ruth Weeks, explained in 1950 how the women thought about the Athenaeum.

“It is said that when you educate a man, you educate an individual, but when you educate a women, you educate a family. Club life is like the waves of a surging ocean. When a woman takes home the ideas discussed at the club, the first wave of her enthusiasm reaches the family, then the children take it to school, and the husband reports at the business meeting the next day what the women are doing now.”

Stained glass windows surround the second floor ballroom, which is now rented out for weddings and other events.

Stained glass windows surround the second floor ballroom, which is now rented out for weddings and other events.

For Merrill, a long-time member who lives in the Southmoreland neighborhood, the original mission is still relevant. She lives in a historic home and is very interested in historic preservation. She has worked with other members of the club to keep the building in good repair, which has included putting in a new ceiling, painting and keeping up with repairs.

But she also likes the sense that, by being a member of the Athenauem, she is making a contribution.

“In our current society, the major social failing is that people tend to be focused just on their own families. We’ve lost the concept that building a better society is better for your family,” she says. “I wanted my kids to see me helping my community. I want to help continue a society where your ideas were bigger than self interest.”

The history of the Athenaeum begins in the 1893 when women began to think about forming a club. They divided into six fields of interest: art, education, home, literature, music, philosophy, science, and social ethics. Each department or committee devoted itself to educating itself and also bettering the community. For example, the literature department worked to improve libraries.

But as the membership grew, the women started to see they needed a building where they could have large meetings. In 1907, sixty women pledged to buy stock in an Athenaeum company, and they started raising money any way they could, according to a the book Kansas City Athenaeum, 1894-1994 by Donna S. Calvin.

The walls of the Athenauem hold decades of history.

The walls of the Athenauem hold decades of history.

“The members used ingenuity in earning the funds. One woman charged her husband 10 cents to iron his shirts, and another charged her grown sons 25 cents to eat lunch at her house. A member washed lace curtains for her neighbors, and another laundered shirt waists. One woman put the screens on her house rather than hire out the task. Others sold baked goods, eggs, pickles, homemade garments, and crocheted bedspreads. One member bought five shares after selling a quilt that she had pieced together while caring for a sick child.”

The members looked at various locations including a site at 40th and Main, but concluded that it was too far “out of town.” Eventually they settled on the site at Linwood and Campbell, closer to downtown and on the streetcar line.

They struggled to get funding, as Calvin details, because bankers thought the women would tire of the clubhouse. The Athenaeum Clubhouse opened at 900 E. Linwood in 1914, where it still stands proudly today.

A century later, Merrill says, the women are still maintaining the building and still taking an active interest in their community.

“We still have a big interest in the betterment of women. Pretty much the way it started out”

Tag sale details

  • The Kansas City Athenaeum, 900 E. Linwood
  • To raise funds for building utilities and maintenance.
  • Shoppers can browse indoors among collector’s art pottery, antiques, furniture and vintage clothes
  • Part of the neighborhood wide Hyde Park garage sale

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