A CLUB, as every one knows, is merely an organization of peoplemen or women or bothwho establish club rooms, in which they meet at specified times for specified purposes, or which they use casually and individually. A clubs membership may be limited to a dozen or may include several thousands, and the procedure in joining a club may be easy or difficult, according to the type of club and the standing of the would-be member.
Membership in many athletic associations may be had by walking in and paying dues; also many country golf-clubs are as free to the public as country inns; but joining a purely social club of rank and exclusiveness is a very different matter. A man to be eligible for membership in such a club must not only be completely a gentleman, but he must have friends among the members who like him enough to be willing to propose him and second him and write letters for him; and furthermore he must be disliked by no oneat least not sufficiently for any member to object seriously to his company.
There are two ways of joining a club; by invitation and by making application or having it made for you. To join by invitation means that you are invited when the club is started to be one of the founders or charter members, or if you are a distinguished citizen you may at the invitation of the governors become an honorary member, or in a small or informal club you may become an ordinary member by invitation or suggestion of the governors that you would be welcome. A charter member pays dues, but not always an initiation fee; an honorary member pays neither dues nor initiation, he is really a permanent guest of the club. A life member is one who pays his dues for twenty years or so in a lump sum, and is exempted from dues even if he lives to be a hundred. Few clubs have honorary members and none have more than half a dozen, so that this type of membership may as well be disregarded.
The ordinary members of a club are either resident, meaning that they live within fifty miles of the club; or non-resident, living beyond that distance and paying less dues but having the same privileges.
In certain of the London clubs, one or two New York ones, and the leading club in several other cities, it is not unusual for a boys name to be put up for membership as soon as he is born. If his name comes up while he is a minor, it is laid aside until after his twenty-first birthday and then put at the head of the list of applicants and voted upon at the next meeting of the governors.
Since a gentleman is scarcely likely to want to join a club in which the members are not his friends, he tells a member of his family, or an intimate friend, that he would like to join the Nearby Club, and adds, Do you mind putting me up? I will ask Dick to second me. The friend says, Ill be very glad to, and Dick says the same. It is still more likely that the suggestion to join comes from a friend, who says one day, Why dont you join the Nearby Club? It would be very convenient for you. The other says, I think I should like to, and the first replies, Let me put you up, and Dick will be only too glad to second you.
It must be remembered that a gentleman has no right to ask any one who is not really one of his best friends to propose or second him. It is an awkward thing to refuse in the first place, and in the second it involves considerable effort, and on occasion a great deal of annoyance and trouble.
For example let us suppose that Jim Smartlington asks Donald Lovejoy to propose him and Clubwin Doe to second him. His name is written in the book kept for the purpose and signed by both proposer and seconder:
Proposer: Donald Lovejoy
Seconder: Clubwin Doe
Nothing more is done until the name is postedmeaning that it appears among a list of names put up on the bulletin-board in the club house. It is then the duty of Lovejoy and Doe each to write a letter of endorsement to the governors of the club, to be read by them when they hold the meeting at which his name comes up for election.
Board of Governors,
The Nearby Club.
It affords me much pleasure to propose for membership in the Nearby Club Mr. James Smartlington. I have known Mr. Smartlington for many years and consider him qualified in every way for membership.
He is a graduate of Yalvard, class 1916, rowed on the Varsity crew, and served in the 180th, as 1st Lieut., overseas during the war. He is now in his fathers firm (Jones, Smartlington & Co.).
Lovejoy must also at once tell Smartlington to ask about six friends who are club-members (but not governors) to write letters endorsing him. Furthermore, the candidate can not come up for election unless he knows several of the governors personally, who can vouch for him at the meeting. Therefore Lovejoy and Doe must one or the other take Smartlington to several governors (at their offices generally) and personally present him, or very likely they invite two or three of the governors and Smartlington to lunch.
Even under the best of circumstances it is a nuisance for a busy man to have to make appointments at the offices of other busy men. And since it is uncertain which of the governors will be present at any particular meeting, it is necessary to introduce the candidate to a sufficient number so that at least two among those at the meeting will be able to speak for him.
In the example we have chosen, Clubwin Doe, having himself been a governor and knowing most of the present ones very well, has less difficulty in presenting his candidate to them than many other members might have, who, though they have for years belonged to the club, have used it so seldom that they know few, if any, of the governors even by sight.
At the leading womans club of New York, the governors appoint an hour on several afternoons before elections when they are in the visitors rooms at the club house on purpose to meet the candidates whom their proposers must present. This would certainly seem a more practicable method, to say nothing of its being easier for everyone concerned, than the masculine etiquette which requires that the governors be stalked one by one, to the extreme inconvenience and loss of time and occasionally the embarrassment of every one.
But take the case of young Breezy: He was put up by two not well-known members, who wrote half-hearted endorsements themselves and did nothing about getting letters from others; they knew none of the governors, and trusted that two who knew Breezy slightly would do. His casual proposer forgot that enemies write letters as well as friendsand that moreover enmity is active where friendship is often passive. Two men who disliked his manner wrote that they considered him unsuitable, and as he had no friends strong enough to stand up for him, he was turned down. A gentleman is rarely black-balled, as such an action could not fail to injure him in the eyes of the world. (The expression black ball comes from the custom of voting for a member by putting a white ball in a ballot box, or against him by putting in a black one.) If a candidate is likely to receive a black ball, the governors do not vote on him at all, but inform the proposer that the name of his candidate would better be withdrawn. Later on, if the objection to him is disproved or overcome, his name can again be put up.
The more popular the candidate, the less work there is for his proposer and seconder. A strangerif he is not a member of the representative club in his own citywould have need of strong friends to elect him to an exclusive one in another, and an unpopular man has no chance at all.
A notice is mailed to him next morning, telling him that he has been elected and that his initiation fee and his dues make a total of so much. The candidate thereupon at once draws his check for the amount and mails it. As soon as the secretary has had ample time to receive the check, the new member is free to use the club as much or as little as he cares to.
The new member usually, but not necessarily, goes for the first time to a club with his proposer or his seconder, or at least an old member; for since in exclusive clubs visitors living in the same city are never given the privilege of the club, none but members can know their way about. Let us say he goes for lunch or dinner, at which he is host, and his friend imparts such unwritten information as: That chair in the window is where old Gotrox always sits; dont occupy it when you see him coming in or he will be disagreeable to everybody for a week. Or They always play double stakes at this table, so dont sit at it, unless you mean to. Or Thats Double coming in now, avoid him at bridge as you would the plague. The roasts are always good and that waiter is the best in the room, etc.
A new member is givenor should ask fora copy of the Club Book, which contains besides the list of the members, the constitution and the by-laws or house rules, which he must study carefully and be sure to obey.
Country clubs are as a rule less exclusive and less expensive than the representative city clubs, but those like the Myopia Hunt, the Tuxedo, the Saddle and Cycle, the Burlingame, and countless others in between, are many of them more expensive to belong to than any clubs in London or New York, and are precisely the same in matters of membership and management. They are also quite as difficult to be elected to as any of the exclusive clubs in the citiesmore so if anything, because they are open to the family and friends of every member, whereas in a mans club in a city his membership gives the privilege of the club to no one but himself personally. The test question always put by the governors at elections is: Are the candidates friends as well as his family likely to be agreeable to the present members of the Club? If not, he is not admitted.
Nearly all country clubs have, however, one open doorunknown to city ones. People taking houses in the neighborhood are often granted season privileges; meaning that on being proposed by a member and upon paying a season subscription, new householders are accepted as transient guests. In some clubs this season subscription may be indefinitely renewed; in others a man must come up for regular election at the end of three months or six or a year.
Apart from what may be called the few representative and exclusive country clubs, there are hundredsmore likely thousandswhich have very simple requirements for membership. The mere form of having one or two members vouch for a candidates integrity and good behavior is sufficient.
Golf clubs, hunting clubs, political or sports clubs have special membership qualifications; all good golf players are as a rule welcomed at all golf clubs; all huntsmen at hunting clubs, and yet the Myopia would not think of admitting the best rider ever known if he was not unquestionably a gentleman. But this is unusual. As a rule, the great player is welcomed in any club specially devoted to the sport in which he excels.
In many clubs a stranger may be given a three (sometimes it is six) months transient membership, available in some instances to foreigners only; in others to strangers living beyond a certain distance. A name is proposed and seconded by two members and then voted on by the governors, or the house committee.
The best known and most distinguished club of New England has an Annex in which there are dining-rooms to which ladies as well as gentlemen who are not members are admitted, and this annex plan has since been followed by others elsewhere.
Excepting that the luxurious womens club has an atmosphere that a man rarely knows how to give to the interior of a house, no matter how architecturally perfect it may be, there is no difference between womens and mens clubs.
In every State of the Union there are womens clubs of every kind and grade; social, political, sports, professional; some housed in enormous and perfect buildings constructed for them, and some perhaps in only a room or two.
When the pioneer womens club of New York was started, a club that aspired to be in the same class as the most important mens club, various governors of the latter were unflatteringly outspoken; women could not possibly run a club as it should be runit was unthinkable that they should be foolish enough to attempt it! And the husbands and fathers of the founders expected to have to dig down in their pockets to make up the deficit; forgetting entirely that the running of a club is merely the running of a house on a large scale, and that women, not men, are the perfect housekeepers. To-day, no clubs anywhere are more perfect in appointment or better run than the representative womens clubs. In fact, some of the mens clubs have been forced to follow the lead of the foremost of them and to realize that a club in which members merely sit about and look out of the window is a pretty dull place to the type of younger members they most want to attract, and that the combination of the comfort and smartness of a perfectly run private house with every equipment for athletics, is becoming the ideal in club-life and club-building to-day.
Good manners in clubs are the same as good manners elsewhereonly a little more so. A club is for the pleasure and convenience of many; it is never intended as a stage-setting for a star or clown or monologist. There is no place where a person has greater need of restraint and consideration for the reserves of others than in a club. In every club there is a reading-room or library where conversation is not allowed; there are books and easy chairs and good light for reading both by day and night; and it is one of the unbreakable rules not to speak to anybody who is readingor writing.
When two people are sitting by themselves and talking, another should on no account join them unless he is an intimate friend of both. To be a mere acquaintance, or, still less, to have been introduced to one of them, gives no privilege whatever.
The fact of being a club member does not (except in a certain few especially informal clubs) grant any one the right to speak to strangers. If a new member happens to find no one in the club whom he knows, he goes about his own affairs. He either sits down and reads or writes, or looks out of the window, or plays solitaire, or occupies himself as he would if he were alone in a hotel.
It is courteous of a governor or habitual member, on noticing a new member or a visitor, especially one who seems to be rather at a lossto go up and speak to him, but the latter must on no account be the one to speak first. Certain New York and Boston clubs, as well as those of London, have earned a reputation for snobbishness because the members never speak to those they do not know. Through no intent to be disagreeable, but just because it is not customary, New York people do not speak to those they do not know, and it does not occur to them that strangers feel slighted until they themselves are given the same medicine in London; or going elsewhere in America, they appreciate the courtesy and kindness of the South and West.
The fundamental rule for behavior in a club is the same as in the drawing-room of a private house. In other words, heels have no place on furniture, ashes belong in ash-receivers, books should not be abused, and all evidence of exercising should be confined to the courts or courses and the locker room. Many people who wouldnt think of lolling around the house in unfit attire, come trooping into country clubs with their steaming faces, clammy shirts, and rumpled hair, giving too awful evidence of recent exertion, and present fitness for the bathtub.
The perfect clubman is another word for the perfect gentleman. He never allows himself to show irritability to any one, he makes it a point to be courteous to a new member or an old members guest. He scrupulously observes the rules of the club, he discharges his card debts at the table, he pays his share always, with an instinctive horror of sponging, and lastly, he treats everyone with the same consideration which he expectsand demandsfrom them.
The informal club is often more suggestive of a fraternity than a club, in that every member speaks to every otheralways. In one of the best known of this type, the members are artists, authors, scientists, sportsmen and other thinkers and doers. There is a long table set every day for lunch at which the members gather and talk, every one to every one else. There is another dining-room where solitary members may sit by themselves or bring in outsiders if they care to. None but members sit at the round table which isnt round in the least!
The informal club is always a comparatively small one, but the method of electing members varies. In some, it is customary to take the vote of the whole club, in others members are elected by the governors first, and then asked to join. In this case no man may ask to have his name put up. In others the conventional methods are followed.
In every club in the United States a member is allowed to introduce a stranger (living at least fifty miles away) for a length of time varying with the by-laws of the club. In some clubs guests may be put up for a day only, in others the privilege extends for two weeks or more.
Many clubs allow each member a certain number of visitors a year; in others visitors are unlimited. But in all city clubs the same guest can not be introduced twice within the year. In country clubs visitors may always be brought in by members in unlimited numbers.
As a rule when a member introduces a stranger, he takes him to the club personally, writes his name in the visitors book, and introduces him to those who may be in the room at the timevery possibly asking another member whom he knows particularly well to look out for his guest. If for some reason it is not possible for the strangers host to take him to the club, he writes to the secretary of the club for a card of introduction.
Mr. Strangleigh goes to the club by himself. A visitor who has been given the privileges of the club has, during the time of his visit, all the rights of a member excepting that he is not allowed to introduce others to the club, and he can not give a dinner in the private dining-room. Strict etiquette also demands, if he wishes to ask several members to dine with him, that he take them to a restaurant rather than into the club dining-room, since the club is their home and he is a stranger in it. He may ask a member whom he knows well to lunch with him in the club rooms, but he must not ask one whom he knows only slightly. As accounts are sent to the member who put him upunless the guest arranges at the clubs office to have his charges rendered to himself, he must be punctilious to ask for his bill upon leaving, and pay it without question.
Putting a man up at a club never means that the member is host. The visitors status throughout his stay is founded on the courtesy of the member who introduced him, and he should try to show an equal courtesy to every one about him. He should remember not to obtrude on the privacy of the members he does not know. He has no right to criticise the management, the rules or the organization of the club. He has, in short, no actual rights at all, and he must not forget that he hasnt!
In a very smart London club (the words quoted are Clubwin Does) you keep your hat on and glare about! In Paris you take your hat off and behave with such courtesy and politeness as seems to you an affectation. In New York you take your hat off and behave as though the rooms were empty; but as though you were being observed through loop-holes in the walls.
In New York you are introduced occasionally, but you may never ask to be introduced, and you speak only to those you have been introduced to. In London, you are never introduced to any one, but if the member who has taken you with him joins a group and you all sit down together, you talk as you would after dinner in a gentlemans house. But if you are made a temporary member and meet those you have been talking to when you are alone the next day, you do not speak unless spoken to. In Paris, your host punctiliously introduces you to various members and you must just as punctiliously go the next day to their houses and leave your card upon each one! This is customary in the strictly French clubs only. In any one which has members of other nationalitiesespecially with Americans predominating, or seeming to, American customs obtain. In French clubs a visitor can not go to the club unless he is with a member, but there are no restrictions on the number of times he may be taken by the same member or another one.
Failure to pay ones debts, or behavior unbefitting a gentleman, is cause for expulsion from every club; which is looked upon in much the same light as expulsion from the Army. In certain cases expulsion for debt may seem unfair, since one may find himself in unexpectedly straitened circumstances, and the greatest fault or crime could not be more severely dealt with than being expelled from his club; but club honorexcept under very temporary and mitigating conditionstakes no account of any reason for being unable to meet his obligations. He mustor he is not considered honorable.
If a man can not afford to belong to a club he must resign while he is still in good standing. If later on he is able to rejoin, his name is put at the head of the waiting list, and if he was considered a desirable member, he is re-elected at the next meeting of the governors. But a man who has been expelled (unless he can show cause why his expulsion was unjust and be re-instated) can never again belong to that, or be elected to any other, club.