More than 150 friends gathered last week to celebrate the centennial anniversary of The Chautauqua Circle.
“This is a dream come true,” said Sylvia Suitt, immediate past president of the club in welcoming guests to the luncheon at Villa Christina. “We have been looking forward to and planning this celebration for two years.”
The Chautauqua Circle of Atlanta held its first formal meeting on September 8, 1913, one hundred years ago this month.
“Mrs. Henrietta Curtis Porter, our founder, had invested much thought, hope and resolution into making her dream of a formal circle of scholars a reality,” said Marilyn Holmes, president of the CC. ‘Much in her life had prepared her for the pursuit of this dream.”
Luncheon guests were treated to a video presentation of the CC history and entertained by vocalist Kathleen Bertrand accompanied by Kenny Banks. They also received a copy of the club history in a souvenir journal, along with a book mark carrying the 100th anniversary theme, “Scholarship, Sisterhood and Service.”
Henrietta Curtis was born in Marion, Ala., to parents who had been held in bondage. Her father, Alexander H. Curtis, was one of hundreds of freed men who, during the reconstruction era after the Civil War, were serving in state legislatures across the South.
When the Reconstruction era ended in 1877, Curtis and other African Americans found themselves fighting against harsh conditions and debilitating circumstances. Like her father, Henrietta was determined to persevere for the improvement of herself and others.
Her husband, Dr. James Porter, a pioneering dentist and a distinguished citizen of Atlanta, also supported Henrietta. She was also greatly influenced by her friend, Mrs. Ariel Hedges Bowen, who had received her diploma from the highly respected Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. Without her there might not have been a Chautauqua Circle of Atlanta.
In September 1913, they invited ten others to join them for the first formal meeting. The charter members were Mrs. Samuel Archer, Mrs. Joseph Bibb, Mrs. Matthew Bullock, Mrs. Antoine Graves, Mrs. John Greenwood, Mrs. Ella Landrum, Miss Bessie Landrum, Mrs. John Ross, Mrs. Thomas Slater, and Mrs. John Brown Watson.
The founders of the Chautauqua Circle were strong willed, forward-looking women. For the most part, they were products of the historic Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta, moderately prosperous residents of a progressive city already calling itself the “Gate City of the South.” Furthermore, they were citizens of a nation struggling to understand concepts of equality for people of color and for women.
Through the years, CC members have been tenacious in their quest for uplift of self and others.
“We take great pride in the accomplishments of current member Shirley Franklin and her unique contributions to the city of Atlanta,” said CC member Faye Tate. “We continue to search through our archives and family histories to document the records of the many others who have helped shape our club.”
Franklin was the first woman to be elected Mayor of Atlanta and the first black woman to be elected mayor of any major Southern city. She served in that position for two terms, from 2002 to 2010. In 2005, TIME Magazine named her one of the five best big-city American mayors.
Her experience and expertise are called upon by many organizations. She currently serves on the Board of Delta Airlines and is the Barbara Jordan Visiting Professor in Ethics and Political Values at the University of Texas in Austin’s Lyndon Bain Johnson School of Public Affairs.
The Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center has mounted an exhibit of CC’s history that will be on display through October. It is open to the public during business hours.
(Photo: Chautauqua Circle President Marilyn Holmes (seated center) is flanked by members of the club which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month.)