‘An interesting and animated discussion’: The Geelong Ladies Reading Circle Project.

‘An interesting and animated discussion’: The Geelong Ladies Reading Circle Project.

The Geelong Ladies Reading Circle is one of the longest running reading circles in Australia. The earliest recorded meeting was on the 21 February 1907 and members of the group met regularly throughout the 1900s and into the 2000s.[1]

During the early years, meetings took place on a monthly-basis (excluding January and December) and were held at members’ homes. Meetings involved members reading extracts, plays and chapters as well as delivering papers that they had researched and written.[2] These rigorous monthly discussions were followed by supper, which was provided by the hostess.[3] The Reading Circle was, and continues to be, an exclusive group: new members must be nominated, seconded and elected with a show of hands by the majority.[4] Many of the rules that were established during the Reading Circle’s formative years have been maintained throughout the decades and are still in place today.

In the beginning, the Geelong Ladies Reading Circle elected to read novels; poetry; essays; travel writing; biography; and history.[5] Each year, the members tried to cover each category. For example, the books and subjects read for 1924 were as follows:

– February: The Ordeal of Richard Feverel by George Meredith.

– March: Kim by Rudyard Kipling.

– April: [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow.

– May: China.

– June: The French Revolution.

– July: Napoleon.

– August: [Lord] Byron’s Life

– September: Pocket Philosophies, Arnold Bennett.

– October: Becket by [Alfred] Tennyson.

– November: A magazine evening.[6]

Members continued to read these genres and forms of writing over the years. However, by the late 1960s, novels had fallen out of fashion with the group. In a letter to the editor of the Age on 15 November 1969, the secretary of the Geelong Ladies Reading Circle explained that the books chosen for the meetings ‘cover geography, biography, travel, essays and poetry, the one novel a year being allowed for holiday reading over the Christmas period’.[7] It is clear that the members of the Reading Circle during the late-1960s felt that novels were ‘too lightweight’.[8]

The Geelong Ladies Reading Circle collection held by Kim barne thaliyu/Geelong Heritage Centre consists of minute books and memorabilia. This is an immense collection that is constantly growing—indeed, new material was donated by current members of the group earlier this year. Despite the longevity of this group and its expansive collection, there have been few historical accounts written about this significant group. My research project aims to address this lack of historicization.

One of the major outcomes of this project is to conduct oral history interviews with present and past members. If you would like to contribute to this project, you can find more information here. For further information, you can contact Deakin University researcher Jacquelyn Baker via email: bakerjacq@deakin.edu.au.

This project has received Deakin University ethics approval (reference number: HAE 22 073). This project has been generously funded through a stipend from the Geelong Heritage Centre.

Jacquelyn Baker is a PhD Candidate who recently submitted her thesis which examines the history of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Melbourne through the lens of place and space. She is currently on a career pathways placement as a researcher at Kim barne thaliyu/Geelong Heritage Centre. Jacquelyn also volunteers as a fills presenter on community radio and has a particular interest in talks and interview based radio. 

 

 

[1] Geelong Ladies Reading Circle, Minute Book 1907-1912 [Minute Book], np. Held at the Geelong Heritage Centre, Geelong. Archive File no.: GRS0137 0001.

[2] Geelong Ladies Reading Circle, Minute Book 1907-1912, np.

[3] Geelong Ladies Reading Circle, Minute Book 1907-1912, np.

[4] Geelong Ladies Reading Circle, Minute Book 1907-1912, np.

[5] Geelong Ladies Reading Circle, Minute Book 1907-1912, np.

[6] Geelong Ladies Reading Circle, Minute Book 1924-1927 [Minute Book], np. Held at the Geelong Heritage Centre, Geelong. Archive File no.: GRS0137 0004.

[7] H. Huffam to the Editor, ‘Saturday Review’, Age, Melbourne, 15 November 1969, Held at the Geelong Heritage Centre, Geelong. Archive File no.: GRS0137 0012.

[8] R.L. Lee, Woman War Doctor: The Life of Mary De Garis (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014), 135.

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