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Peg McEntee: New chapter for Salt Lake City's Ladies' Literary Club

Published April 22, 2013 4:34 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There was a time when any woman who arrived at the Ladies' Literary Club not properly attired — fancy dress, hat and gloves — would "practically be blackballed."

That's the memory of Beverly Lund, who joined the club along with her mother and quickly learned what dress — and behavior — was permissible and what was not.

The Ladies' Literary Club was founded in Salt Lake City in 1877 for the purpose of "literary purists and mental culture" — and particularly for non-Mormon women who were the wives of newly arrived businessmen, government officials and religious leaders.

"They were people from back East, and the ladies wanted literature," Laraine Christensen, a former club president told me during a recent tour of the club at 850 E. South Temple.

At its height, the club had hundreds of members who rigorously studied art, drama, music and history.

Today, there are about 26 members and the handsome Prairie-style building is a little run-down. But, earlier this year, the club donated it to the Utah Heritage Foundation, which has big plans for its renovation and reopening.

To that end, the foundation is hosting a "Blue Tea" — the name of the club's predecessor — on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. with a suggested donation of $10. The foundation also is working to raise as much as $1 million for the renovation, and the building could reopen in fall 2014.

My tour offered a rare chance to see the building's interior, with its functional theater, big kitchen, elegant stairways and beautifully preserved furniture, including vintage oak tables, a baby grand piano and a writing desk. The leaded glass windows sparkle with tiny squares of stained glass.

Then there's the basement, with closets full of scrapbooks that will be cataloged and given to the University of Utah's Marriott Library, as will a 1913 collection of frayed and darkened minutes.

For weddings, a row of closets will be adapted so bridesmaids can dress for the occasion.

A favorite of mine is an old poster that reads, "Men's Rights Nothing More, Women's Rights Nothing Less." It dates back to 1987, when the traditionally men-only Alta Club finally — and only after a court battle — admitted women.

Lund told me that, in the aftermath, some men demanded to join the Ladies' Literary Club and that two were allowed in, only to be put on kitchen duty.

"They didn't last very long," she said.

There are so many venerable buildings and bridges and parks and more that need preserving in Salt Lake City and elsewhere in Utah — and so many that already have been lost. That the literary club's building will remain on South Temple is proof that it's possible to save our most important artifacts.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegcmentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @Peg McEntee.