It is remarkable that a women’s club that began meeting in the nineteenth century continues to thrive in the twenty-first. The lives of American women have changed dramatically since 1878. Today many have careers that make it impossible for them to attend a Wednesday meeting at 1:30 in the afternoon. But the club has adapted. Ypsilanti women retire and are immediately recruited. Younger members manage to juggle some combination of children, jobs, and club work. Many longtime members, busy and active in their seventies and eighties, remain essential to the club. They are its lifeblood and institutional memory and every year they wisely and warmly welcome new members. Club membership, despite attrition from deaths and resignations, is stable at about 130.
Without a doubt, a key reason for the club’s longevity can be traced back to 1913, when members made the brave, astute, and prescient decision to purchase their wonderful 1840s Greek Revival clubhouse. During the 103 years that the ladies have been meeting at 218 North Washington Street, the upkeep of the house has been an important goal for them to coalesce around. The ladies take great pride in superbly maintaining their home in Ypsilanti’s historic district for their own use and the use of the community.
Remembrance of things past—continuity of club traditions and awareness of the splendid women from long ago whose names grace faded club yearbooks—also explains the club’s resilience. Every year the club’s calendar of fourteen meetings includes an irresistible Christmas Bazaar in November; a musical Christmas program in December; a Social Service Day in January, during which a community sewing project is completed; a Drama Day in March; a Gala Day Fashion Show and Luncheon in April; and in May, the Annual Meeting that marks the end of the club year. Carried off always by bustling committees with verve and enthusiasm, these events never grow stale. The club’s most important missions are connected to several of these annual rituals, raising money to maintain the house and giving back to the community through charitable donations and scholarships.
An anonymous early member summed up the Ladies’ Literary Club of Ypsilanti in words that still ring true today:
“No single mistress of a home could surpass the devotion of a group known as a board of trustees. No single family could feel a greater sense of pride of possession, as do the members of this club. While no single owner of the house ever had his daughter descend our charming stairway as a bride, many members of the club have known this pride. No married couple ever lived to commemorate a fiftieth anniversary in this house, but its walls have heard the happy greetings of such occasions. As yet we’ve no births or deaths, otherwise we are about as any ordinary family.”
History of the Historic House
The historic 1840s Greek Revival clubhouse of the Ladies’ Literary Club was previously known as the Grant Residence. The house turned over several times in its first decade, but its two principal owners have been the Grant family and the Ladies’ Literary Club. The ladies of the club purchased the house in 1914 from Edward Grant, who had fallen on hard times and needed the money.
In 1934, at the urging of the head of the University of Michigan architecture program Emil Lorch, the house was selected by the Advisory Committee of the American Building Survey (the precursor to the National Register of Historic Places) because of its age and architectural interest as “being worthy of a most careful preservation for the benefit of future generations, and to this end a record of the present appearance and condition has been made and deposited in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.” Professor Loch thought the clubhouse to be one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the country. Lorch commended the members of the club, who through the years had guarded and preserved their historic home.
In October 1965 the first marker on a historic home in Ypsilanti bearing the Michigan State Historical Commission designation (Michigan Historical Commission Registered Building No. 47) was presented to the “Ladies’ Literary Club Building.”
In 1971-1972, the capacity of the building was increased by 2,670 square feet, with special emphasis on a modern apartment for the caretaker and a large workroom in the basement. No part of the original building was affected by this addition.
On March 16, 1972, the house was named to the National Register of Historic Places as the William H. Davis House. The club refers to the house as the Davis-Conklin-Grant House.