La Retama Club

by Mary Carroll (signed)Mary Carroll, 1904 - Box 10.01

 

 

La Retama Club was organized in 1905 by a group of young unmarried women of Corpus Christi for social enjoyment and study.

 

In this project, the prime movers were Lorene Jones, Kathleen Jones, Alice Borden, and Lucille Scott. The Club was launched under the guiding hand of the Monday Club, of which Mrs. G. R. Scott was the president.

 

The name La Retama (for a native tree) was suggested by Mrs. Henry Redmond. The colors of the Club were yellow and green which corresponded to those of the tree – a flowering shrub with lace-like leaves that blossomed (bloomed) in a shower of gold in May of each year.

 

The first president of the club was Lorene Jones, who served one year and a half, 1905 – 1906. She was the first member to withdraw – lured away by wedding bells.

 

She was followed in office by Nettie White, who likewise bowed out at the end of her term in office to the same siren call.

 

During the first year of the Club’s existence, it met at the homes of the members’, that is, of those members that had sufficient number of chairs to seat the club. For, due to the reports

of the entertaining affairs the meetings were proving to be, and the great fun the all–girl parties were, the membership grew apace.

 

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The second year, it became necessary to limit the membership to thirty – five, and to accept the invitation of Mrs. E. Morris to meet regularly every Wednesday afternoon at her home on North Broadway at Buffalo. Her daughter, Cecile Morris, one of the charter members, and a talented one, was at the time first vice – president.

 

Several reasons led the Club to accept Mrs. Morris’ hospitality. One was the central location of her home, and a second was the great size of her front parlor and of her second parlor with its huge fireplace. She told the Club the fire had to be lighted early in the morning and maintained all day to have the chill taken off the rooms before mid-afternoon.

 

In order to impose of Mrs. Morris’s generosity, the Club decided to forego the serving of refreshments, and strange to say this omission did not check the ardor of the Club members. In fact

few girls ever withdraw from La Retama except to marry.

 

During the first care–free months each departing member, if she left us to become a bride, was presented with a gift. However, when the second year rolled around, the Club found its treasury all but empty and was, as a result, faced with its first financial problem. At one of the meetings, that followed, the members while casting about for a way to raise needed funds, entered into a

rather heated debate. Some members were too frank in their remarks, …

 

meeting she rose to invite us all to her wedding (a church wedding) to take place after the club year ended and concluded her (invitation) remarks by stating that if we dared to give her a wedding present she would throw it at us.

 

            After this, our first tactless discussion, the group decided, at the suggestion of our college-trained members, to study parliamentary law! Every member bought a copy of Shattuck’s (?) Parlia-

mentary Law.

 

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            With the marriages of Lucille Pope and May Willacy Westendorf, the Club dropped the maxime number of members to be maintained by La Retama to thirty-five.

 

            Then the Club decided to study George Washington, by Washington Irving, for nine months. For the study each member bought a copy ($1.50). This book she brought to the meetings, and from it the lesson of the day was conducted by leader selected at the previous week’s meeting.

 

            Next, the Club decided to appoint a program committee to outline a year’s programs on English Literature stressing the poets. Nannie Lee Caldwell, just home from her year’s study at the University of Texas, was named chairman.

 

            The Club also voted to discontinue all meetings during the summer months except the beach parties. These were sun-rise dips in the bay with breakfast prepared on the sand; and twilight swims with picnic parties, to which each girl could invite one beau. The refreshments committee was given the privilege of selecting several club “mothers” to act as chaperones. Occasionally, a father was also taken along to share with the group in enjoying the substantial and plentiful “delights” that came out of the lunch baskets.

 

            In the early years the favorite spots for the swimming parties were the Natatorium, a pavilion and bathhouse built over the water of the bay at the corner of Water St. and Twigg: and Central Wharf, Water St. at Laguna. Here the bath-house stood in the water waist deep, water that rapidly deepened as one swam toward the east end of the wharf. (Dangerous when the waves were high.)

 

            The great pleasure of the get-togethers at the Natatorium was the fact it had a dance floor built onto the open pavilion section of the pier, also above the water. This section had benches running around the three sides and against the rails. Here onlookers could enjoy the evening breeze and the dance music as well. In the pavilion, tables could be set up for the supper groups.

These were the days of the horse and buggy and the family surrey, and so distances, especially in the late afternoon summer, had to be considered.

 

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            As white dresses were the style the girls were hesitant to “muss up” their furbelows and valenciennes  laces, their starched linens and stiff white collars; and of fading the flower-dedecked

hats, and chiffon parasols.

 

            Besides, after swimming parties all had to return home carrying satchels containing wet heavy bath suits (over-dresses with pants beneath and thick black stockings). For the girls who did not have the exclusive use of the family conveyance, the walk home was none to exhilarating. At least, not as enjoyable as was a saunter along Chaparral St. under the lamp-lit corners with girls companion, and a beau or two, greeting other strollers as they sauntered past. A walk to the T-head on Central Wharf was considered the end of the trail, and drew many couples on a moon-light night.

 

            In 1900 Corpus Christi was a pretty village beside the bay.It boasted of a population of 4,000 inhabitants. Its newspapers were three weekly publications. The Corpus Christi Caller, whose

editor was Mr. Eli Merriman; The Herald, published by Mr. John Hardwicke, and later by Mrs. Maude Hardwicke, his widow; and The Crony, put out by Mr. Malcolm Henderson. Although The Crony was the smallest of the sheets and only four pages in size, it was filled with brief reports of the town happenings, and with the wittiest of remarks which were greeted weekly with hearty laughs and many giggles. Since space was at a premium in all three papers, only the briefest reports

on La Retama’s social life were ever printed. To rate a line or two was to have arrived. Only obituaries were given a column, and sometimes weddings rated equal notice. No pictures appeared

 

            Since publicity was out of reach of La Retama girls, Spreading the work around was a bit arduous, especially for those of us who rode “Shank’s mare.”

 

            The third president of the Club was Kathleen Jones, Who served 1908-1909 with Thelma Archer, vice president, and Miss Mary Watts (later Suttle) as secretary, Mary Carroll, treasurer.

 

            Miss Jones had just returned from college in the East, and was filled with high ideals and ambitions to make Corpus Christi a progressive town and one in step with the times. It was not long till Kathleen’s ambitions awakened similar ambitions in all the members of La Retama; and the Club began to look about for some way to help to better Corpus Christi. This was the decade of the rising tide of women’s literary clubs, and Corpus Christi already had several busy, not only at self-culture, but at some civic enterprise. Corpus Christi had no library and La Retama girls decided that

in building a library for their own, they could achieve something of lasting value, for they sensed that the road they wanted to travel would wind on and on ---into the future.

 

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            Several members suggested that they adopt the Spanish saying “Poco a poco se va lejos” (“Little by little one goes far”) but that motto was never accepted. Later, a framed copy of the famed

saying of President (of Texas) Mirabeau Lamar was hung upon the library wall—“A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy, the only that tyrants fear, the only that freemen desire.”

 

            In the first volume of the scrapbook kept by Mary Carroll appears a clipping from the local newspaper from the year 1908-1909 which gives an account of the first steps taken by the Club to build the library. It reads:

            “The Public Library

            La Retama Has Taken Matter in Hand

                        At a meeting of La Retama club Wednesday afternoon

            the roll call was answered by quotations from The Bells

            (Edgar Poe).

                        The study was led by Miss Pearl Crawford and Parlia-

            mentary crill was under the leadership of Miss Cecil Morris.

                        A special committee appointed about a month ago,

            consisting of Miss (Mamie) Mary Carroll, Chairman, Miss

Kathleen Jones, Miss Laura Savage, Miss Hortense O’Leary

reported favorably on the establishment of the public

library for Corpus Christi. A play will be given some

time after Lent, by the members of the Club, the proceeds

to help swell the funds to be used in paying for the

library.”

 

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The first successful money-making scheme carried out as a peanut hunt at which nearly twenty dollars was raised. Ten cents was charged for admission to the school grounds which entitled each child to all the peanuts he could find and a glass of lemonade.

 

            After the hunt an auction took place. The children bidding peanuts for wonderful packages put up for auction. Each package contained some trifle, or better said “junk”, donated by the club

members.

 

            The best thing about the party was that the children begged for a repeat performance.

 

            The Club next attempted to sell ice cream, cake, and candy, and coffee at the Ladies Pavilion out over the bay on Water St. just south of Peoples St., and at the Natatorium, but this effort

proved a failure, the expense proving to be more than the receipts - to say nothing of the work.

 

One clipping reads: “La Retama served luncheon at the Natatorium (during Miss Kathleen Jones’ term in office) to picnickers from Kingsville, realizing fourteen dollars for the library fund.

 

“The coffee made by Miss Emelia Daimwood was highly complimented. The dish-washing being especially odious to the members amid heat and in the make-shift kitchen equipment, the serving committee enticed teen-ager Barry Orr to lend a hand. He filled the bill admirably.

 

            A clipping with headline, “La Retama Book Reception at the Ladies’ Pavilion Yesterday Afternoon Was a Grand Success”, sums up the Club’s next venture. It reads:

 

                        ‘The book reception given at the Ladies’ Pavilion yesterday

            afternoon by ‘La Retama’ Club was a grand success. There was

            a large number of ladies present, nearly all of whom contributed a

            book, resulting in more than 200 books, being given toward the pub-

            lic library, which La Retama Club purposed establishing in

            Corpus Christi at a near future date.

                        The club-hall was beautifully decorated in club colors,

            green nd gold, while festoons of cut out roses added to the

            beauty of the scene. The punch table was decorated with

            bunches of luscious grapes. The guests were entertained with

            a book contest. A number of cut-outs (framed) were hung about

            the hall, representing the titles of books. Guests were given

cards with numbers corresponding to those on the pictures and

answers. The first went to Mrs. McNeill Turner, The second

to Miss Anna Ross.

            Miss Thelma Archer received at the door, assisted by

members of the Club while punch was served by Miss Nettie

Griffin, Margaret Seaton, Philippine Rankin, And Wilhelmina

Born.”

 

            “A Card of Thanks

                        To those who generously donated books, the committee

            of ladies who so generously gave the use of the pavilion, and others

            who aided so worthy a cause – that of establishing a public

            library – La Retama Club offers sincere thanks.

                                                                                    Mary Carroll

                                                                                    Secretary Pro Tem.”

 

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            Note: The secretary pro. tem. is a bit puzzled (now fifty years later) to read that the Ladies Pavilion was beautifully decorated! The Pavilion was a large barn-like building with many bare windows and unpainted walls. It stood on the east side of Water St., well out in the bay and was approached by a wide ramp that extended from the hard dry-shell center of Water St., to its

broad double door. At the east end of the building was a stage with dressing rooms on each side. On this stage theatricals held in town were preformed. The center of the building’s extensive

floor served as the parquet, a dance floor, and in season a skating rink. The space beyond the pillars was lined with benches along the wall, furnishing seats for onlookers for all events.

            On Saturday afternoons Ladies, members of clubs and other women stock holders in the “venture”, hauled in their gasoline cooking stoves  and tables, china, and cooked and served “Oyster Suppers” in season, ice-cream in summer.

 

            This was one of the ways those brave women tried to earn the money to repay the stock holders.

 

            The biggest and Wildest Venture of La Retama came next. They signed a contract to bring on during the summer of 1908, the Chautauqua and then set out to canvass the town in a door-to-door drive to see tickets.

 

            This was the first time Corpus Christi was to witness paid talent in a whole week of afternoon and night performances. The site for this momentous affair was the new Ennis Hotel and Pavilion built at the end of the three hundred foot pier at the end of Water and Taylor Sts.            Perched in piers on the Riparian Rights of Mrs. Charles Carroll, it rose at about 30 feet above the level of the bay and was three stories in height. Ennis’ Riparian Rights were on the north side of the pier. He was stealing my mother’s property. The case was in court.

 

            On the lowest level were the bath rooms (for men and for women), the restaurant, and at the end of the building concealed behind the southside of the café was a very large bar room.

 

            On the second floor was a vast dance hall with stage. It had removable walls and was made open air in summer. On the top floor were the hotel bed rooms, air-conditioned by nature.

 

            In the running of this week’s long events, the Club was assisted in every was by the Chautauqua management.

 

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            The Club planned to divide this arduous and frightening task among the various committees which would serve in turn, but after the first night, woeful failure on the part of Mary Carroll and her

assistants, she, the treasurer of the Chautauqua venture, decided to sit in at the money table through every performance. There were season tickets, adults’ and children's’, purchased in advance, single tickets for adults and children. Some purchasers wanted three adults’ and two children’s, etc., and the inexperienced treasurer had to make change! All tickets were numbered by the Chautauqua agents and had to be accounted for!

 

            That was the day before women, school teachers as well as others, had learned to return change correctly counted! Judge J. B. Hopkins, our district judge, kindly returned a five dollar bill to the treasurer, showing her how to count his change and counseling her not to become so excited and to slow down in her efforts to oblige.

 

One clipping read:

            “Good Crowds Attend

                        Chautauqua Season’s Greet Large Audience Afternoon

            and Night.

                        Thus far from a standpoint of attendance, the Chau-

tauqua sessions have been a complete success and the young

ladies of La Retama have reason to congratulate themselves.

            Yesterday was ‘Sobieska Day’ so called in honor of

Count Sobieska, a lineal heir to the throne of Poland,

exiled by Russia, who delivered a lecture at night

            Rita Rich entertained with clever interpretations

of folk and child songs.

            Miss Nell Parks, reader, showed exceptional artistic

instinct and humorous expression, She has studied with

some of the country’s best exponents of dramatic art.”

 

Another clipping read:

            “A Fine Program Today at Chautaququa Meeting-Women’s Day,

            But Men Admitted.”

 

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Another:

            “Chautauqua Has Closed

                        Both from the artistic viewpoint and financial stand-

            point the week’s Chautauqua course, which came to a conclu-

            sion last Sunday night was a success.

                        The program presented during the week, while not

            elaborate, was interesting and instructive and above all

absolutely free from any objectionable features, so that

even the most fastidious could find no fault.

                        Pre-eminent in the week’s entertainment was the lecture

            by Miss Tongier on ‘Shasta Daisies and Folks’. This alone,

in our opinion, was worth the price of the season’s ticket.

            La Retama Club, which numbers among its membership the

progressive and intelligent young womanhood of Corpus

Christi, are entitled to the thanks of people of this

town, and as Rev. A. J. Holworthy suggested, “other clubs

and societies would do well to follow in the footsteps of

La Retama and up the good work along similar lines.’

            The money derived from Chautauqua after all expenses

have been paid is to be devoted toward the establishment

of a public library for the city.”

 

Note: As no written record was kept except in the minutes of the Club, and those are now lost, in the 1919 storm, the exact amount of money belonging to the Club in the final settlement with Chautauqua management is lost to posterity.

 

            The treasurer recalls suffering such a spell of nerves that she had to throw the treasurer’s book into her mother’s lap and flee into the yard until her mother could re-check the book and assure her her first

 

Additions were correct and her later additions were in error due to

nerves.

 

            High finance!

 

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            In Later clippings it is noted that from the Chautauqua La

Retama cleared “something” over $200.00.

 

            Clipping1908-1909:

                        “Society

                        La Retama Club Met

                                    La Retama met yesterday at the home of Miss Mary

                        Carroll (714 Chaparral, corner of Taylor on the corner

                        occupied today by the Florence Apts.). Miss Bernice

                        Palmer was the leader. The Club spent a pleasant after-

                        noon and carried out the program arranged for the occasion.

                        The next meeting will be held in the Public Library Room

                        over Clarkson’s Store.”

 

            It was decided by the Club that in furnishing the library it  would be necessary to have chairs in the room as well as bookcases and a large table suitable for the librarian to use. The plaining

mill-wood working shop made the cases and the table which were paid for from the library’s treasury. It was then decided that the Club members should each purchase on chair (price $1.50) t seat the

members of the Club. We finally ceased to impose on our kind friend, Mrs. E. Morris, at the homes of members who had homes down town. When they moved, next, to the library room, they again dropped serving refreshments.

 

            The library was pushed along in order to open during the presidency of Miss Kathleen Jones, but due to many unforeseen obstacles did not open until December, 1909, during the term office

of Mary Carroll.

 

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            Clipping, December, 1909:

                        “Corpus Christi First Public Library is Open

                                    La Retama Gives Reception to Public Great Care

                                    Has Been Exercised in Selection (of books)—

                                    San Antonian Assisted

                                    Corpus Christi’s first public library graciously

                        tendered to the public by the ladies of La Retama Club,

                        was opened to the public yesterday, the ladies serving

                        as a committee to receive the people of the city.

                                    The library is tastefully decorated and furnished.

                        About 500 volumes are now on the shelves, and to these

many more will be added as the patronage of the library

grows and money is procured.

            In the selection of the books the club was greatly

aided by librarian Wyche of San Antonio Carnegie

Library.

            Mr. Wyche had advised the library committee con-

stantly, and Miss Carroll chairman of the committee

conferred with Mr. Wyche recently regarding the purchase

of the volumes. The members of the Club are greatly

indebted to his courtesy.”

 

Note: Laura Savage, during the year 1908-1909 which she spent in San Antonio, consulted Mr. Wyche many times. She returned home ready to begin the selecting of new books, and cataloguing

of all the books.

 

            Clipping:

                        “The committee is composed of Miss Mamie Carroll, Laura

            Savage, Miss Claude Caldwell, Miss Mary Craig, Miss Lillie

            Beard. They have numbered and indexed each volume, entailing

            much tedious work and the library will publish a catalogue

            containing names of all books.”

 

            Mary Carroll, Ch. of Library Committee

            Laura Savage, Ch. of first committee on the purchase of new

books.

            Cards for the use of the books are sold for $1.25 a full

ticket $1.00 for a child’s ticket

 

            Clipping, December, 1909:

                        “La Retama to Be Entertained

                                    The members of La Retama, the brilliant literary

                        club of this city, will be entertained at the club rooms

                        this afternoon by Miss Mamie Carroll, president of the

                        club. La Retama has the honor of being the first club

                        of the city to start and carry out a bona fide movement

                        for a public library toward which the young ladies have

                        already collected several hundred useful and interesting

                        volumes. It is quite possible that they will shortly

                        add quite a number more with the proceeds which they

                        took in from their latest venture, the excellent little

                        publication called La Retama Special Edition.”

 

            Dr. Perry Lovenskiold: (see the original)

 

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            After La Retama Library had been housed about two years in the first home—the one room upstairs in the Lovenskiold Building, the enthusiasm of its friends began to wane, and the owners of the library (the girls of La Retama Club) became increasingly aware of the fact that their beautiful baby had to be housed, and fed regularly. But like some young parents, they were incapable of

of supporting their child.

 

            Each time the girls assembled to a pleasant club meeting, they were confronted with the same old worry—how were they going to pay the rent? Sad to say as each thirty days ran around, the girls found themselves deeper in debt.

 

            Then they came up with a plan, that suggested economy. Again, they stopped meeting at homes where refreshments were always in order. There they had an impressive number of chairs-35-and few books.

            Soon the girls found that their abstaining from sweets and coffee would not pay the library’s bills, much less pay the rent. Again they set to worrying.

 

            Then, suddenly the load slipped from their backs. Early one afternoon, Mamie Carroll went down to open the Library for the biweekly service to the public and stopped on the threshold dumb-

founded! Her surprise was caused by seeing a large rug covering the ugly, dusty floor.

 

            In great excitement she rushed in the office of Mr. Thos. Southgate. Then she learned that the donor of the gift was no one less than the landlord-Dr. Perry Lovenskiold – the good

friend of La Retama.

 

            Once the surprise was over an the doctor’s goodness of heart was forgotten, the girls’ worries lessened, and they gathered happily each Wednesday, never again giving a serious thought to that night-mare – the rent.

 

            Some years afterward, on hearing this tale of La Retama’s methods of muddling through, one listener was moved to ask –“Did Dr. Lovenskiold ever collect his rent?” In one voice, the group

enjoying to the fullest the telling of the tale, chorused, “Of  course not! Why La Retama was never a jump ahead of current expenses. After all some one had to support the Library.”

 

            It was during the administration of Dr. Lovenskiold, as mayor of Corpus Christi, that the City of Corpus Christi took over the ownership of the Library and assumed all responsibility

for its support.

 


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