The Conway Shakespeare Club met on Saturday, as it does every month, at one of its members’ houses for tea. But this meeting was different because members had the club’s 120th anniversary and the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare to celebrate.
The club started in 1894 when a few women wanted to learn about Shakespeare, member Connie De Boer said. They found a professor at Hendrix College, which then was barely two decades old, and started learning. The next step was a club. By-laws and a constitution were written, and the women started keeping minutes of their meetings.
Those minutes go back an uninterrupted 120 years. The club kept meeting through both World Wars and the Great Depression, and was instrumental in establishing the Faulkner County Library.
Several members have tried to establish where the Conway Shakespeare Club stands in relation to other long-running women’s clubs. It’s hard to pin down, but the club might be the oldest women’s club in Arkansas — which would put it in the running for oldest women’s club west of the Mississippi.
The club invited Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre Company Manager Geneva Galloway to the party, and UCA theatre students acted a scene from As You Like It, Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy.
Galloway said that Shakespeare’s plays have endured while many of his contemporary playwrights’ words have been forgotten because Shakespeare well understood the human condition, and his themes of love and hatred and friendship are clear and lend themselves to adaptation.
And his works are complex enough to lend themselves to serious study, which the club has been doing for several generations. The women don’t stick strictly to Shakespeare, though, and the overall nature of the club is as a literary society.
The club is for women only, though men are sometimes tolerated as guests.