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Morgantown’s oldest book club doesn’t talk about books

A book club that doesn’t talk about books.  The thought may seem strange, but the ladies of the Ingleside Book Club, Morgantown’s oldest book club, have 100 years of proof that the concept is a good one.

As they approach the 100th anniversary of the formal literary club in April 2023, current Ingleside members wanted to find a way to commemorate the milestone and preserve the rich history the group has compiled over the past century. 

And what’s the best way to preserve the history of a book club?  With a book of course.  

In 2019, club president Teri Palermo enlisted the help of Populore Publishing, which proposed the group write an Ingleside history book.

So, for the past several years, Ingleside members have reviewed decades worth of meeting minutes, scrapbooks, photographs, old program books, as well as hand-written notes bound with shoelaces, that have been saved in their archives over the years. 

Once completed, the book, which the group plans to title “The First One Hundred Years,” will chronicle the group’s activity through the decades, preserving their story for the future.

The Concept

At any given meeting of the Ingleside Book Club, you will not find a group sitting in a circle discussing the latest edition to Oprah’s book club.  

That’s not to say there might not be a Oprah-endorsed cover somewhere in the room at times – it just won’t be discussed. None of the books are.

Unlike the common perception of a book club, no two Ingleside members are reading the same book simultaneously – and the books will not be discussed at the meeting.  

Every year, each member chooses one book they enjoyed based on a theme voted on by the group.  The current theme for 2022-23 is “Celebrating West Virginia Authors,” so each member has chosen a book written by a West Virginia writer.

Member names and the books they chose are kept on a chart.  At the meetings, which are held twice a month from September through May, each member brings the book they currently have and passes it to the next person on the chart.

Each meeting is hosted by a different member, either at their home or a location of their choice, and one person is assigned to present a program related to a topic within the theme for that year.  At a recent book club meeting, member Theresa George presented a program on Buckhannon native Stephen Coonts.

George read aloud correspondence between herself and the 16-time New York Times bestselling author, who answered the questions she had in great detail.

In the early years of the club, guest speakers were often invited to present programs discussing different topics with the group and musical presentations and sing-alongs were often included in the program.  

After five or six years, early members of the group decided to have members lead the programs themselves.

The History

According to group historian Beth Reseter, the club was founded in 1923 in the South Park neighborhood of Morgantown and had 21 charter members that year – some women from town and others from the university community.

The idea of the Ingleside Book Club was conceived by Marianne Davis and Julia Quisenberry as a “fine way to exchange current books and get better acquainted,” an excerpt from the upcoming book reads.  Davis would serve as the club’s first president.

The original members voted to call the club Ingleside, derived from the Old English “inglenook,” which means “fireside.”

A copy of a program preserved by the club titled “Music in Many Moods” from February 1924, shows that day included “featured solos by Mrs. Vandervort and Mrs. Lee, a piano duet by Mrs. Vandervort and Mrs. Davis and a vocal duet by Mrs. Warman and Mrs. Vandervort.

“All the Inglesiders sang along to ‘Little Brown Jug,’ ‘Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,’ ‘America the Beautiful,’ ‘The Quilting Party,’ and ‘Oh! Susanna.’”

Other early program topics included “‘Original Poems’ by Dorothy Esther Emerson,” “West Virginia Birds,” and “Religious Education in the Home.”

In a club history compiled for Ingleside’s 40th anniversary celebration, charter member Marie Pierce writes, “When the Ingleside Book Club was first organized in April 1923 the club might have been called a group of young matrons.  It was pretty much a group of neighbors who could walk to each other’s homes to meet.  

“Nearly all the members had long skirts, long hair, but not long faces.  We were a congenial happy group of women looking for the good things life had to offer and hoping to improve our outlook.”

Ingleside 2022

A lot of things have changed since the founding members began the club in 1923, but not the spirit of the club.  The members can no longer be described as having long skirts and long hair, but 100 years later they still do not have long faces and would likely be described as a “congenial happy group of women.”

As far as looking for the good things in life – the delicious looking dessert served at the beginning of a recent meeting seemed to have that covered.

While the meetings are meant to be a fun, social gathering for members, that doesn’t mean there will not be order, too.

The actual meeting aspect of the group is fairly formal, with each meeting starting promptly at 1:30 p.m.  Before the week’s program is presented, the minutes from the last meeting are read aloud, officers provide updates, and any old or new business is discussed.  

Books currently in rotation for the group feature many West Virginia authors including John Knowles, a Fairmont native, and children’s author Cynthia Rylant from Hopewell.  Even nonfiction books like the Booker T. Washington autobiography “Up From Slavery,” are being read by members of the group.

Even after 100 years, Ingleside shows no signs of dissolving anytime soon.  Its membership numbers hold strong at 18, compared to the original 21 members in 1923.  A new member was even voted into the club at a meeting earlier this week.

Ingleside hopes their upcoming book will help them get to know the dozens of Inglesiders that came before them in their First One Hundred Years.