- Historic Sites
The Great Club Revolution
What with all this democracy things will never be the same
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
In 1936 in New York City there occured the 100th anniversary of the Union Club, oldest and most socially sacrosanct of New York’s gentlemen’s clubs. From all parts of this country and even from abroad there arrived, from lesser clubs, congratulatory messages, impressive gifts and particularly large offerings of floral tributes.At the actual anniversary banquet, however, as so often happens in gentlemen’s clubs, there was, despite the dignity of the occasion, the severe speeches and the general sentimental atmosphere, a little over-drinking. And one member over-drank a little more than a little. Shortly before dessert he decided he had had enough, at least of the food, and he disappeared. Furthermore, he did not reappear.
Worried, some friends of his decided, after the banquet, to conduct a search. The faithful doorman in the hooded hallporter’s chair gave the news that no gentleman of that description had passed out, or rather by, him, and the friends redoubled their efforts. High and low they combed the missing member’s favorite haunts—the bar, the lounge, the card room, the billiard room, the locker room, the steam room, etc. One even tried, on an off-chance, the library. There, as usual, there was nothing but a seniority list of the Union’s ten oldest living members and a huge sign reading “SILENCE.”
Finally, in one of the upstairs bedrooms, they found the gentleman. He was lying on a bed, stretched out full length in his faultless white tie and tails, dead to this world.
To one of his friends there occurred an idea. It was the work but a moment to enlist support for this, and soon all the man’s friends had joined in. From all corners of the club they procured the Moral tributes; these they piled in great profusion around, under and over the gentleman. Then they worked out, in shifts, a guard duty.
A couple of hours later the guard sounded the alarm. The gentleman had stirred. Quickly but quietly his friends reassembled and filed into the loom, faking planned positions, they stood silently around the bed, hands clasped in front of them, heads decorously bowed, all either actually weeping or giving visible evidence of abundant grief.
The gentleman stirred once more, moaned something inaudible, then sniffed several times. Finally, gingerly, he opened his eyes. At once he shut them again, blinked a couple of times and then reopened them, this time very quickly, as if to take the sight by surprise. This time, hardly believing, he took in the beautiful flowers piled bank on bank, his loyal friends shaken with such obviously deep grief and the dearly familiar bedroom of the dull he loved so well. With a sigh he sank back again and reshut his eyes. Before again resuming his sleep, however, he murmured one line which was not only clearly audible but also clearly happy.
“I never knew,” he said, “it would be like this.”
Today, in the opinion of club oldtimers, it would have been better, from the standpoint of permanent happiness, had the gentleman actually passed on in that manner. For, during the intervening years, what has happened to the great city clubs of New York is one of the most extraordinary social changes of our times. Furthermore, this change is being duplicated, to a greater or lesser extent, in almost every other major city.
Years ago the Union and the Century, the Union League and the University, the Knickerbocker and the Racquet and Tennis, the Metropolitan and the Manhattan, the Brook and the Links, were legendary names. They were names known not only to New Yorkers but to people all over the country, from whom they drew, albeit sparingly, their non-resident members. The power and prestige, the pomp and circumstance of these clubs were awe-inspiring. A young man of Manhattan felt his life was meaningless, if not actually broken, if he did not “have” a club—the expression “make” a club was always frowned upon—and such a young man, looking forward to being had, cheerfully sat out club waiting lists, in some cases ten years long. No humorous magazine, and indeed no sightseeing bus tour, was complete without some reference to the mustached men in the black leather chairs of the oak-paneled rooms overlooking Fifth Avenue; and the famous stammering wit, William R. Travers, who founded the first Racquet Club, used the sight for his most famous bon mot . Passing the Union Club, he was asked if all the gentlemen who could be seen in their chairs from the street outside were actually club habitués. “N-n-no,” replied Travers, “s-s-some are s-s-sons of h-h-habitués.”
Today the change has passed the bon mot stage. In the clubs themselves, if the oldtimers will not discuss their own clubs, they will, at the drop of a share of Gulf Oil, give you very good reasons for not joining any other club. “You wouldn’t want the Knickerbocker,” says a member of the Union. “If Nelson Rockefeller hadn’t bought the place, there wouldn’t be a club.” A member of the Knickerbocker, in turn, warns against the Century. “You could go very wrong there,” he says. “They’re all over a hundred and it isn’t even a club. That’s why they call it the Century Association.”
A member of the Century continues with stern counsel against the Union League. “Look out for those boys,” he says. “They put a tag on everybody—I guess they have to. They never say they’re dining with So- and-so. It’s always So-and-so, president of Such-and- such, and then they both deduct each other from their income tax.” A member of the Union League follows with a strong caution against the Metropolitan. “They take in anybody,” he says. “They get some fellow who doesn’t know the first thing about clubs and the first thing he knows he’s in there, and then where is he?” A member of the Metropolitan proceeds with a critical view of the Manhattan. “It isn’t even just everybody,” he says. “It’s everybody and his friends. Why, they even have two entirely different crowds. It’s textile men at lunch and lawyers at dinner. They never even speak to each other.”
A Manhattan member, obviously, has no use for the University. “They can talk about their library all they want. It’s a rather crowded and not very exclusive hotel. Nobody knows who anybody is and half the time nobody’s even heard of the college they’re from. It’s like a cemetery in there at night, and at lunch time it’s like Jones Beach.” A member of the University has some fatherly advice about the Racquet and Tennis. “They do nothing but drink and gamble and talk about their rice pudding.” he says. “Who wants to join a club on account of rice pudding?” A Racquet Clubber, of course, takes a short snort in the direction of the Links. “They’re always telling you about their big shot executives and how strong they are out-of-town. They have to be, I guess, because in New York nobody even knows where they are.” A member of the Links concludes with a parting shot at the Brook. “They don’t even know what time it is,” he says. “I had to go over there a year ago and tell them it was their fiftieth anniversary.” And, finally, a member of the Brook brings the wheel full cycle by ending up again back at the Union. “I mean to say,” he says, “I could take you up there for lunch. It wouldn’t be a good lunch, I mean to say, and it wouldn’t be a bad lunch. I mean to say, it just wouldn’t be anything.”
This sort of defection is a large change from the Good Old Days. In those days the clubs had their differences, of course. The Century, for example, which dates from 1847, was formed in the belief that the Union was slighting intellectual eminence. “There’s a club down on 43rd Street,” said one Union Clubber, “that chooses its members mentally . Now isn’t that a hell of a way to run a club?” The Union League, a Republican club dating from 1863, was formed in answer to the fact that the Confederate Secretary of State was allowed to resign from the Union Club when, according to Union Leaguers, he should have been expelled: the Manhattan, originally a Democratic club, was formed a year later in answer to the answer. The Knickerbocker (1871) was formed because its members felt the Union was taking in too many out-of- towners and wanted a club limited to men of Knicker- bocker ancestry: the Metropolitan (1891) was formed because the elder J. P. Morgan could not get a friend of his into the Union and thereupon, in the Morgan manner, built his own club; and the Brook (1903) was formed because two young Union Clubbers had been expelled for having attempted, unsuccessfully, upon the bald head of the Union’s most levered patriarch, to poach an egg.
But basically these were minor differences. The gentlemen of New York’s “400” belonged to not one but many clubs and wore them like ribbons—actually wearing them, in fact, on neckties, hatbands, vests, garters and suspenders. The elder Morgan forgot the difficulty about his friend and was soon again a member in good standing, not only of both the Union and the Metropolitan but also of every other major club as well. Even the errant Brook Club eggheads were soon reinstated in their mother t lull, and by the time of the Union’s 100th anniversary, it could boast that the presidents of no less than 13 other clubs were all good Union men. Further back, before the turn of the century, there occurred perhaps the most striking demonstration of club power when the late Union Clubber, Frederick de Courcy May, had, in the course of an argument, the misfortune to kill a New York policeman. Fellow Clubbers promptly rallied round, hid Mr. May for a time in first one club and then another, and finally, when the occasion offered, spirited him away to South America for a year until the unpleasantness blew over.
To understand the causes of this great club revolution it is necessary to look for a moment at club history. The American city clubs were patterned originally on the English ideal of a gentlemen’s club. Although they never carried this pattern to the extreme of the English Club, where in the old days members wore their hats everywhere in the club except the dining room, the American gentleman found, like the Englishman, that his club, and not his home, was his real castle. Here he had the best of his well-bred friends, the most comfortable of his well-stuffed (hairs, the best of food, drink and cigars from his well-stocked larders and cellars, the least irritating of reading material from a well-censored library and the best of games from well mannered losers. Here he could do what he pleased when he pleased where he pleased and with whom he pleased: here, and only here, he found sanctuary and his four freedoms—freedom of speech against democracy, freedom of worship of aristocracy, freedom from want from tipping, and, above all, freedom from fear of women.
Actually, in the case of the latter, he even found freedom from fear of the double standard of the day. It was to a gentlemen’s club, rather than his home, that the extra, or extras, among his lady friends wrote, and the tactful servant would always bring such a letter on a silver tray butter side down; this was, of course, on the chance that the lady might be connected with, or, indeed, in the family of, another member.
With such appeal it is small wonder that the clubs were, in the unpopular sense, of course, popular. Ward McAllister himself, author and creator of the “400” and a leading clubman of the day, blessed the movement. “Men whose personality is not remarkably brilliant and who. standing by themselves, would not he apt to arouse a great deal of enthusiasm among their associates on account of their intellectual capacity,” he said, “very frequently counteract these drawbacks by joining a well known club. Thus it will be seen that a club often lends a generous hand to persons who, with out this assistance, might ever remain in obscurity.”
Today this obscurity might be said to be on the other foot; certainly the four freedoms of the city clubs have gone with the wind. First came the rise of the country club. Then came Prohibition. At first thought to lie a boon to the clubs, with their secret bars and lockers, it proved, in the end. a bane. Clubmen found it easier to stop oil at a speakeasy than risk arrest at their own club. And finally, of course, there came the Depression. The first two club freedoms—versus-democracy and pro-aristocracy—seemed, in their political implications of that era. slightly to the right of Charlemagne. Even today it is a vital part of club tradition that Presidents like Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower are either honorary or actual life members of every major social club while a President like the late Franklin D. Roosevelt was a member of just two, the Century and the Harvard Club, and Harry Truman is neither an honorary nor an actual member of any. The only Democratic club, the Manhattan, changed with remarkable rapidity to ninety per cent Republican, and when Gordon Dean, recent chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, spoke last year to the Union League Club, he was advised that he was the second registered Democrat who had addressed the club in ninety years. “I never did find out who the first one was,” he says. “I think it was Robert E. Lee.”
Not only did the Depression usher in an era when assessments were added to dues, but it also ushered in an era when the club waiting list became a grab bag. “The only reason I got into the Century in 1931,” says lecturer and critic John Mason Brown modestly, “was because they thought I was John Nicholas Brown, the world’s richest baby.” Coupled with club poverty went an almost complete breakdown of club morality. To this day there is hardly a single club which does not complain of members’ stealing. For fifteen years a member has been driving up to the University Club on Sunday morning in a chauffeur-driven automobile, sneaking in and surreptitiously making off with a Sunday paper; at the Union League there is a similar story. At the Harvard Club the purloining of after-dinner coffee spoons became such an accepted practice that the club has had to give them up entirely. Even card playing in many of the clubs became a problem, the low being reached by the brief appearance of a sign on the Racquet Club bulletin board which read, “MEMBERS ARE CAUTIONED NOT TO PLAY CARDS WITH MEMBERS.”
Following the Depression, of course, came two and a half wars, inflation, and, worst of all from the club point of view, a king-and-a-half sized servant problem. The whole tenor of club life depended upon service, and yet the problem of keeping servants and at the same time maintaining the precious third freedom— freedom from want from tipping—became an almost impossible task. No club worthy of the name permits any gratuities to employees, except a regular Christmas contribution, any more than it permits members to pay cash for purchases, and yet a new generation of servants has arisen which fails to understand what an honor it is to serve. But if what has happened to the other three club freedoms is a stern story, what has happened to the fourth freedom—freedom from fear of women— is a positive nightmare. Back in 1838 James Gordon Bennett pondered editorially in the New York Herald as to whether or not he should accept his invitation to join the new Union Club. “What is the use of any social system in which women do not participate?” he asked. “In which their petticoat is not seen—where glossy ringlets cannot enter and make it Paradise … ?”
For a hundred years the laugh was on Mr. Bennett; today the last laugh is not. Even the New York Yacht Club which, in happier days, permitted no gentleman who did not own a yacht of a certain length, now permits ladies, after 5 P.M. and except Saturdays and Sundays, with no boat at all, while the Metropolitan Club allows ladies every day all day and even has fullfledged lady members who can do anything except spend the night. The two most active of today’s clubs, the Regency and the River, the former a bridge club and the latter an East River tennis club, are now completely family clubs. “At the River we have very few what I call ‘tea cozies,’ ” says Mrs. William Grace Holloway, Sr., “except me. But we’re a very successful club for nowadays.”
At the Union the change is the most revolutionary. For a century no lady ever saw the inside of the club unless she were either a female employee or the wife of the club president. If the latter, she was permitted to visit the club once, on some morning when the club was empty, for the sole purpose of seeing her husband’s portrait and where it was hung. Otherwise, literally for 100 years, only one other lady had the honor.
The wife of an inveterate Union Club whist player, she suddenly went berserk one afternoon, pushed aside the doorman in the hallporter’s chair, ran up the stairs and burst into the card room. Immediately there was a deathly silence, and what followed is best recalled by Reginald T. Townsend, president of the Union Club’s Distinguished Visitors’ Committee:
The unfortunate member—whose wife was responsible for this unheard of breach of etiquette—retained his presence of mind. Gravely he introduced his wife to his fellow members at his table. Then he turned to her and courteously and politely asked her to be seated until the rubber was ended. When this had been accomplished he offered his arm to his wife, bowed gravely to the other members and left the Club—never to set foot inside the clubhouse again.
Such a club did not give in to the new era without reluctance. All men’s clubs have strict rules that the ladies who enjoy signing privileges, and hence may use the club without benefit of male escort, must be in the immediate families of members. The Union’s rules have been perhaps the strictest in this regard—but still not strict enough. The late Union Club wit, Albert Eugene Gallatin, arriving at his club one popular Thursday “maid’s night out” and seeing the invasion of a stream of ladies, about some of whom he had doubts, could not resist a sly wink at the ancient door-man. “Do you mean to say,” he joshed, “that the Union Club has come to a day when a man can bring his mistress to the club?” The doorman remembered, along with the great club revolution, the great club tradition. “You may, sir,” he replied stiffly, “if the lady is the wife of one of the members.”
Along with their own decline and fall, the great men’s city clubs have been forced to witness, as insult added to injury, the rise and shine of the great women’s city clubs-the Colony, the Cosmopolitan, the York and even the socio-charitable Junior League. In the past century such a movement would have been regarded as unthinkable, and Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, who with a few Astors, Vanderbilts and other Newporters, founded the Colony Club in 1903, was forced to take all sorts of slings and arrows in the early days. Her own husband told her, “Daisy, I don’t think you can make it pay,” and the Princeton Club put its new house plans in abeyance on the theory that the Colony would soon fail and be for sale at a bargain price. But such was not to be the case. “Anne Morgan sent word that she was keen,” recalls Mrs. Harriman, “especially if we included a running-track in our plans,” and soon there came that memorable night when “that valiant spirit Mrs. Perkins-herself a mother of club presidents” —sailed into the Colony dining room. “I’ve waited for this evening all my life,” she said. “I’ve just telephoned the boys, ‘Don’t wait dinner, I’m dining at my club.’ ”
Today old Colonyites particularly enjoy chuckling over the men’s complaints that their club would become nothing but a rendezvous for clandestine letters. “They were jolly well right,” says the ever-charming Mrs. Margaret Emerson. “Anyway, I know that’s where I got mine.” And, again, the club wheel finally turned full cycle when the Colony boasted, within its own membership, the so-called Sabbatical Club. Founded by the irrepressible Ethel Barrymore, it was originally composed of just seven ladies; seven times a year they met seven men not their husbands for dinner at seven o’clock. Not until 11 o’clock were their husbands allowed to call for them.
Although, as men’s clubs well know, it is an integral part of the great club tradition to exaggerate entrance difficulties, it is particularly galling to men clubbers to face the fact that the Colony and the Cosmopolitan are more difficult to get into than, for example, the Union and the Knickerbocker. Probably the Cosmopolitan has the strictest requirements. Founded in 1911 for women “engaged in or interested in the liberal arts or professions,” it has gradually come to include, along with members like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Helen Keller and Mrs. Richard Rodgers, a large membership category which is called “attractive generals,” but this is, to the misfortune of a large waiting list, so loosely applied that it is now filled to over-flowing.
At the Colony, where no one, including a severe board of male advisors, has ever known just what the qualifications for membership are, there is, in addition to the usual proposing and seconding letters, a final so-called “Inquisition.” This consists of the Chairman of the Board of Admissions and three lorgnette-type assistants. Candidates, facing this group, are never permitted to talk about the subject at hand but spend half an hour discussing the servant problem and namedropping such formidable Colony Club names as the late Mrs. Hamilton McKown Twombly, last granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. “Since the death of Mrs. Twombly,” says Miss Mabel Choate, daughter of the great club wit, Joseph H. Choate, “the Colony has had very little to talk about anyway.” In any case, if the candidate passes, she receives a handsome letter telling her so, together with a bill for initiation fee—$250 plus tax-and a bill for a year’s dues—$150 plus tax. If the candidate fails, she doesn’t hear anything until she hears of someone who received such a letter who she knows faced the Inquisition after she did. Then she knows she was blackballed or voted down.
If the whole club situation looks dark from the point of view of men clubbers, they can at least take heart from some recent goings-on at the Colony. In the opinion of the oldtimers the club, like Society itself, is far from what it used to be. “They’ve spoiled it completely,” says founder Mrs. Harriman, while Miss Jessie Fanshawe, New York’s premier social secretary, seconds the motion. “Frankly it’s stuffy,” she says. “I’ve resigned twice.” At present the club is rocked with dissension over how to overcome this stuffiness and over which rooms male guests should be permitted to enter. Two years ago a member had to be suspended for drinking and last year the entire club was in a virtual state of siege because of the action of one member who insisted on spending the night in the lounge. In the midst of it all Mrs. Thomas K. Finletter, wife of the Secretary for Air, about to deliver a talk to- the club, asked how long she should go on. “Talk,” she was told, “until you hear the canes rattle.” Nor was this an idle boast; the age bracket in the club is so high that no one thought it particularly unusual when a cleaning woman was found drowned in the swimming pool. “After all,” said a member of the Committee on Baths and Athletics, “she was over eighty.”
Present-day Colonyites take out their troubles by carrying on a cold war with the up-and-coming Cosmopolitan—a curious state of affairs since there are quite a number of ladies who belong to both clubs, who are called “ambi-clubsters” and who include, among others, Mrs. John Foster Dulles. “The Cosmopolitan,” says Miss Emily Post sternly, “was once a club for our governesses,” while Miss Katharine Beach cannot forgive the fact that Cosmopolitanites insist on calling their club the “Cos.” “Whoever heard,” she asks sharply, “of a Harvard man saying he was going over to the Har?”
Many male club philosophers believe that this sort of defection will result, ultimately, in the same kind of revolution which has overtaken their clubs. Whether or not this is true, there have already been unmistakable signs of change in the whole idea of city clubs for both men and women. One of these changes is in the matter of anti-Semitism, and in this respect it is worthy of note that the Harmonie Club, most distinguished of Jewish clubs, was not only the fourth oldest of all social clubs —founded in 1852, it was preceded by only the Union, the New York Yacht Club and the Century—it was also the first club to admit ladies. Anti-Semitism reached its peak in the Colony Club’s blackballing of Mrs. Henry Morgenthau, a cause célèbre which occasioned the resignation from the club of Mrs. Roosevelt. Today it is significant that the most successful social clubs —the Century, the Cosmopolitan, the River and the Regency, as well as the socio-theatrical and literary clubs like the Players and the Coffee House—all admit Jewish members.
So, too, do the extraordinarily successful college clubs. Membership in these latter clubs does not merely require previous attendance at the colleges, it also requires being proposed, seconded and voted on like any other social club. Once minor league citadels of sentimental snobbery, they are now easily the most desirable and utilitarian of city clubs. The Yale Club, located across from Grand Central, is so popular that it is difficult to tell where the station leaves off and the club begins, and the Harvard Club’s membership of 7,000 is exceeded only by the New York Athletic Club’s 8,000. Nonetheless, these clubs are the order of the day. Lawyer John Reynolds, who resigned from the Union Club after 22 years of membership, now belongs to just the Century and the Harvard. “I want a club,” he says, “where I can take a couple of friends without producing a birth certificate, a marriage license and a blood test.”
To the new generation the old men’s clubs seem, in prospect as well as retrospect, forbidding indeed. The Knickerbocker which, from the purely social standpoint, is perhaps the most eminent club, has difficulty attracting new members despite the fact that, through Nelson Rockefeller’s largesse, it may now inhabit its ancient clubhouse, located on Fifth Avenue and 62nd Street, rent-free for ten years and ten years more if Rockefeller is still living. The Brook Club is also struggling despite clubdom’s wealthiest membership (numbering an even 400 souls), the most attractive of all the small clubhouses, the most lavish of all accoutrements and a remarkable system where members do not even trouble to sign checks but are trailed by a faithful servant who unobtrusively tots up their account. There are struggles, too, in the giant Metropolitan. Located on Fifth Avenue across Goth Street from the Harmonie, the Metropolitan still boasts the drive-in turn-around from carriage days, a Stanford White castle and such publicity-conscious members as Grover Whalen, Dale Carnegie, Spyros Skouras, Floyd Odium and Samuel Pryor; despite all these and Conrad Hilton too, both insiders and outsiders agree that it isn’t what it used to be.
The Union Club also has its difficulties. The move from Fifth Avenue and 5151 Street to Park Avenue and 69th, across the Avenue from, of all places, the Russian Consulate, was the beginning of the end; as one dissatisfied younger member puts it, “Who wants to go into a dining room where you’re the only one there except for Thomas J. Watson who’s explaining to someone how he got Eisenhower to be president of Columbia?” Even the Century, easily the most distinguished club from a Who’s Who standpoint, has its problems. Ed Streeter, humorous author and president of the Harvard Club, recently elected to the Century, complained to a fellow member that he didn’t like it because he didn’t know anybody. “You’re not supposed to,” he was told. “You have to work at being a Centurion.”
Although clubman J. Carvel Lange, one of the foremost stock market prognosticators, maintains that club memberships nowadays “vary with the Dow Jones averages,” the underlying fact of the great club revolution would seem to be that there is no genuine new generation to take the place of such time-tested veterans as Vincent Astor, Harold Vanderbilt, Winthrop Aldrich and Myron Taylor; all of these men belong to virtually every club but the S.P.C.A. and Boys Town. What should be the new generation has, in fact, many doubts on the score. “Honestly,” says young Mrs. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, “I don’t know what clubs Alfred belongs to, and what’s more I don’t think he does either.” R. Stuyvesant Pierrepont, Jr., who frankly classes such downtown lunch clubs as India House, the Recess, the Lunch Club and the Downtown Association as “pigeon clubs,” believes that now the pigeons, aided by expense accounts, have come home to roost uptown. “At the Metropolitan or the Union League or the University,” he says, “you might do a $ 10,000 deal, but you’d use the Knickerbocker or the Union or the Racquet for $100,000 and then, for $1,000,000, you’d move on to the Brook or the Links.” In the midst of such figures, ex-clubman Edgar Ward becomes philosophical. “The whole club thing nowadays,” he says, “is sort of like English titles. To an American they’re still very impressive, but to an Englishman the Earl of Warwick isn’t necessarily any more social than just plain Mister Charles Winn.”
Certainly there are others who would not agree with this philosophy. Robert Montgomery, who has recently joined the Racquet, Brook and Links clubs, and Fred Astaire, who wore, as a private joke, a Brook Club blue, green and yellow hatband in “The Band Wagon,” are perhaps the foremost joiners today. Among other things they have proved that actors, long regarded socially as something out of a zoo, are now admissible in the best clubs. So far about the only club Montgomery and Astaire have missed is The Leash. This club, founded in 1926, “to promote interest in the thoroughbred dog and to study and apply principles of scientific breeding,” is the only club which does not have a by-law stating that no dogs are allowed in the clubhouse. Otherwise there is no appreciable difference in its function or, for that matter in these trying times, its lack of function.
Sentimentality, always a feature of the clubs in the old days, still exhibits itself, surprisingly enough, in such a club of the world as the Century. Here members are still privileged to buy, from the Brooks Costume Co., a cardinal red vest, and at anniversary dinners it is not unusual to see, wandering around 43rd Street in the small hours of the morning, Centurions dressed in togas, tunics and other regalia of very bygone days. The Links too, despite its big business toughness, has a sentimental side. Originally formed in 1921 “to promote and conserve throughout the U.S. the best interests and true spirit of the game of golf,” the club has a membership which includes Sewell Avery, Benjamin Fairless, Marshall Field, Henry Ford II, Walter Gifford, Thomas Lamont, Henry Luce, Eddie Rickenbacker, Oren Root, Charles E. Wilson, Vincent Astor, Harold Vanderbilt, Winthrop Aldrich, Myron Taylor, Douglas MacArthur, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Robert Montgomery, all of whom apparently live in relatively Spartan surroundings—the club has only two bedrooms—and indulge in excellent meals, very informal bridge (where kibitzing is always encouraged) and reading a scrapbook compiled by the perennial Links president, Charles C. Auchincloss. This scrapbook contains not only sentimental homilies in prose— “The ‘acid’ test of whether a man is a desirable member of a Club is whether, when you meet him in the Club, you are glad to see him”—but also sentimental and laudatory verses to members. One of these verses, honoring U.S. Steel’s Enders McClumpha Voorhees, whose nickname is Van, will perhaps suffice:
If such a club may seem slightly out of touch with the present, so too, at least at times, can its giant parent, the Racquet and Tennis Club at 370 Park Avenue. Along with the Century, the Links and the Brook, the Racquet has been a bastion of defense against women, and its more than 2,000 members still live by its original objective “to encourage all manly sports among its members.” Actually such manliness boils down to all manner of racket games, both on the courts and on the card tables, on the part of its younger members; golfers like T. Suffern Tailer and W. G. Holloway, Jr., and tennis players like Ogden Phipps and Alistair Martin happily combine with indoor gamblers like Barclay Cooke and Stuyvesant Wainwright, Jr. Although once in a while a member like the Duke of Windsor writes a book, an extraordinary number of Racquet Clubbers have no regular occupation beyond clipping coupons or perhaps fellow members. At the same time, while many sports at the club such as court tennis, an involved squash game, or “towie,” a three-handed bridge game, are virtually unknown elsewhere, no sport, or for that matter, drink, passes unnoticed, and the entire club recently applauded when Dwight F. Davis, Jr., was presented with the Knapp Cup for Outstanding Improvement in Bottle Pool.
Unhappily, in these difficult days, even such a club faces the present with uncertainty and the future with alarm; there have been several instances of its members attempting to fall back on the old practice of forming clubs-within-clubs. In the old days these often proved a bulwark against total disintegration during periods of social inflation, and many members hope that nowadays they will do as well.
The most exclusive of these clubs-within-clubs is probably a club called the Phinitny. Formed in 1950 and consisting of just eight members—four so-called “charm boats” and four so-called “slugs”—it has never, according to Secretary Guild Copeland, author of the club verse and a slug, let down the bars in any way, shape or manner. The verse follows: