This week the Boston Authors Club (BAC) will hold its annual awards ceremony at the Boston Public Library. I’m thrilled to be on the board of this organization, which honors writers with Boston-area ties and puts on other events of interest to the literary community. But I’m also thrilled to be a part of it because it was an organization that Mabel Loomis Todd helped to form.
In 1899, Mabel hosted a tea at her home in Amherst. Her guests that day were May Alden Ward, a celebrated author and lecturer visiting from Cambridge, and Helen Winslow, one of Boston’s first newspaperwomen. During their time together, the women discussed beginning a Boston Authors Club. This idea of convening authors and those with literary aspirations had precedent in other cities, like New York, but in those days, membership was limited to men. The idea Mabel floated with her guests was to make a more inclusive club that would include both men and women – a radical notion, but one that others quickly embraced.
One of those enthusiastic about the idea was Julia Ward Howe, famous for writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” “Go ahead,” she stated to her female compatriots. “Call some people together here at my house. We will form a club and it will be a good one too.” The group held its first meeting in January 1900 in Julia’s Beacon Street home.
Membership for the BAC is limited to authors who live within a 100- mile radius of Boston. This is probably not a coincidence: Mabel, one of its founders, lived 90 miles from Boston.
Mabel was an active member of the BAC until 1917, when she moved to Florida. But even after that, she maintained a “non-resident” membership for years. The annual reports of the BAC and correspondence with many of its members can still be found among her voluminous papers at Yale.
Mabel and Julia Ward Howe became good friends and maintained a lively correspondence for years (Julia addressed her letters to Mabel with the greeting “ My dearest Toddkin.”) When Julia died in 1910, Mabel wrote in her diary, “Dear Julia Ward Howe died yesterday and I am grieved to the heart.” She wrote a lengthy and moving tribute to her friend that was read at a BAC meeting.
So when I go the BAC awards this week, part of me will be very much present in the present as we honor some excellent books from 2017. But part of me will be thinking back to the days when Mabel worked to begin this organization, and think of what she might think were she to come to one of our meetings, today.
You can read more about the history of the BAC in an article I wrote for the Boston Globe Magazine, and learn more about the BAC on its website: http://bostonauthorsclub.org/about-1/