Tag Archives: Bowling Green Kentucky

The Ladies Art Club

WKU’s Special Collections Library holds the records of many local women’s clubs in its Manuscripts & Folklife Archives: the Current Events Club, the Browning Club, the Twentieth Century Club, the LARTHS Literary Club, the Mothers Club, the Pierian Club, the Delineator Club, the Eclectic Book Club, the Severance Club, and the oldest (1880) of Bowling Green’s women’s clubs, the Ladies Literary Club, to name just a few.  For the first time, we can now include an African-American women’s club on our list.

Ladies Art Club minute books

The Ladies Art Club was founded in 1906 by Virginia Mitchell and her minister husband Robert, the president of Simmons Memorial College in Bowling Green.  Its first president was M. Celestine Slaughter, a teacher at State Street School, the city’s first school for African Americans.  We have yet to learn of the club’s earliest years, but minute books recently recovered from the former Southern Queen Hotel on State Street chronicle its activities during the late 1930s, early 1940s and mid 1950s.  The membership roll, which usually listed about a dozen women, included Ashula P. Williams who, along with her aunt Mattie Covington and daughter Dolores (Williams) Moses, operated the Southern Queen as a hotel for African-American travelers.

Like most such organizations, the Ladies Art Club was grounded in faith, fellowship, intellectual enrichment, and philanthropy.  Meetings regularly included prayer, scripture readings, song, discussion of current news, a tasty meal, and the collection of funds for various good works: flowers for the sick, Christmas baskets for the aged, shoes for needy children, furniture for the State Street School library, and spending money for Kentucky State University students.  Over time, the club contributed from its “sinking fund” to the Kentucky Club Women Scholarship Fund, the March of Dimes, and organizations fighting tuberculosis, cancer and venereal disease.  

One of the regular activities of the club was an annual art exhibit.  Held at a member’s home and open to the public, the exhibit featured fancy sewing works such as pillowcases, tea and guest towels, and pot holders.  Members were urged – sometimes even admonished – to contribute what they could in order to bring a variety of items to the showing.  Another disciplinary measure appeared in the minutes for January 3, 1941, when members were reminded of a club rule “pertaining to gossip”: anyone who did so or caused “discord in any way” would be dropped from the rolls.

In discussions of current news, the club was attentive to matters, both national and local, of interest to the African-American community.  When, in September 1953, funeral director James E. Kuykendall and his family were victimized by a cross burning on his property, the club “by common consent” sent a letter to the family deploring the attack on their “peace and happiness.”  But other correspondence was more joyful.  In 1957, with the club observing its fiftieth anniversary, its first president, M. Celestine Slaughter, wrote from her home in Washington, D.C. in response to a gift.  “What great happiness and gratitude overflowed my heart when I opened the package,” she exclaimed, praising the club’s “earnest efforts in bringing needful spiritual and happy relationships to the less fortunate in relieving them of stress and need.”

Click here to access a finding aid and full-text scans of the minute books for the Ladies Art Club.  For other club records (women’s and men’s), search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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He Touched the Heart as Well as the Funny Bone

As we celebrate Black History Month, Library Special Collections would like to spotlight one of Bowling Green’s best known sons, Reuben Crowdus, aka Ernest Hogan.  Coincidentally, local attorney and historian Ray Buckberry has recently donated a nice gift of research material about Hogan and sheet music written by him to Special Collections.  Buckberry was the chief person responsible for researching and orchestrating the effort to get a historical marker erected for Hogan at the L&N Depot in 2009.  Here we re-print a short biography of Hogan written by Buckberry for the publication Mt. Moriah Cemetery:  A History and Census of Bowling Green, Kentucky’s African-American Cemetery (Landmark Association, 2002)

Reuben Crowdus was born 17 April 1865 in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Not much is known about his early life, although indications are that he left home at an early age, joining a traveling minstrel show.  One of his first jobs is said to have been as a plantation singer in a low-rent, tent-show version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a show that launched the careers of many black entertainers.

In 1891, Crowdus adopted his stage name “Ernest Hogan” and later began referring to himself as “The Unbleached American,” utilizing both references throughout his career in show business.  He wrote the lyrics, music, or both, for approximately 35 published songs.  The 1896 sheet music for a song written by Hogan contained a notation that the music is to be performed “with Negro rag.”  This was the first use of the word “rag” on a song sheet and many thereby credit Hogan as writer of the first piece of ragtime music.

His first big solo starring role in New York City came in 1898, with the show “Clorindy, or the Origin of the Cakewalk.”  This was the first black show to play in a first class theater on Broadway.  A Chicago paper reported that Hogan “is firmly established as the greatest colored comedian of the age.”  The rising star organized a group of about 20 experienced entertainers in 1905, and called the “The Memphis Students.”  Their opening show in New York was so successful it was held over for 5 months.  This show has been referred to as the first public concert of syncopated music in history.

A long-cherished dream was realized when he mounted his own musical comedy “Rufus Rastus,” opening on Broadway in 1906.  A critic commented that the depth Hogan brought to his new role took him out of the ranks of “darky comedian” forever in that he had learned to “touch the heart as well as the funnybone.”

Hogan became seriously ill and, in 1908, his business friends produced a benefit show in his honor.  The show lasted four hours and a noted black performer remembered it as the “greatest assembly of colored actors ever to appear in the same theater and on the same stage in one night.”

On 20 May 1909, Hogan died.  His remains were returned to Bowling Green for burial in Mt. Moriah Cemetery.  By Hogan’s request, the local band participating in the service at the Methodist Episcopal Church, played only his favorite ragtime tunes.  At the cemetery, the many floral displays were said to represent the most flowers ever received for any funeral in Bowling Green.

Hogan had an infectious and crusading spirit, talent and generosity; he was appropriately referred to as “a Moses of the colored theatrical profession.”

To see the finding aid for the Ernest Hogan research material, click here. To see other material in our collections about Hogan, search KenCat or TopSCHOLAR.

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