Cambridge has many institutions. Some have survived, others have fallen by the wayside. There’s a few I would not mind bringing back. One being, The Cambridge Club’s Ladies’ Night.
The Cambridge Club was formed in October of 1879 and sought “to promote literary and social culture among its members”. The groups meetings spanned such topics as “The Car Problem in Harvard Square” (1887) to “The Worth of Women’s Education” (1901) to “My Winter in North Greenland” a 1925 presentation by Donald B. MacMillan, an American explorer. In fact, (at least according to the Cambridge Club’s view of history) it was a discussion at the Cambridge Club on the needs of the Cambridge Public Library that convinced Frederick H. Rindge to build the structure that still stands today.
Unfortunately, like so many of the institutions of that time period however, somehow those goals did not regularly include women. However, the last spring meeting of each year was Ladies’ Night. This included a huge dinner at Young’s Hotel in Boston as well as a lecture or perhaps music. In 1917 the Ladies’ Night included a talk and lantern-slide show on poor housing conditions in Boston and Cambridge while in 1898 it was a female soloist and a male “humorist”, known nowadays as a comedian.
The Cambridge Chronicle of 1893 stated that the hotel’s “large dining hall was none too large” since the guests that year included 75 male members almost all with a lady.
In 1886, those tables were arrayed with foods from mock turtle soup, Roast Philadelphia Capon, Croquettes of lobster a la Cardinal and Banana Fritters, oh and Charlotte Russe, which lo and behold is a dessert in addition to a junior-sized clothing store. Below is the menu for the 1886 Ladies’ Night from the Cambridge History Room’s Collection.
An menu from the Ladies’ Night in 1889 held by the NYPL shows roughly the same food but it seems that when the men dined alone they were a little more (by their standards) reserved. This undated menu someone has placed on Flickr shows a slightly less robust menu both food wise and decoration.
But the men of Victorian Cambridge had other means of entertainment. Read about an annual Cambridge City Council tradition from the time.
For more information check out The Cambridge Club, 1879 – 1939 at the Cambridge History Room or search the Cambridge Newspapers from the era online at Cambridge Public Library’s Historic Cambridge Newspaper Collection.