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Ladies Literary Club records

Identifier: Collection 275

Scope and Contents

This collection was originally a devised collection, combining several small accessions of materials transferred from the local history book collection along with unprocessed materials in the archival backlog. That initial collection contained mostly the yearbooks and written histories of the club, along with those yearbooks of other area women's literary clubs. Most of these materials had been given by the Ladies Literary Club to the library over many years.

With the official closing of the Ladies Literary Club in 2005, however, a place was sought for the historical records of the club which still remained in the club building. Given the significance of the Ladies Literary Club to the founding of the Grand Rapids Public Library, it was a logical choice for the materials to be given for the Library Archives. In Summer 2006, these began to be delivered to the Grand Rapids Public Library, and the revised and expanded collection now includes minutes, financial records and membership files, scrapbooks, documentation on the building and its renovation and a few photos, along with other ancillary materials.

One of the challenges of accessing information within this historical records is to figure out how it is being recorded from one time period to another. For example, membership records are most often found with the financial records, but may also be found as lists within the same books that included the minutes and annual reports.

Also, only in later years are there files designated as program planning. For earlier time periods this information may be scattered throughout the collection on the programs held, recorded in the general or board minutes or in the clippings in the scrapbooks or perhaps indirectly reported through the ledger entries. Finding information on a specific speaker takes a great deal of reading and digging. Ideally, some interested volunteer my someday prepare a name index to the various scrapbooks and documents.

Unfortunately, the collection is very limited when it comes to images, though they may have been taken, and may be found in the scrapbooks, or even in other photo collections within the Archives, such as the Robinson Studio Collection.


  • 1872-1987


Biographical / Historical

The roots of the Ladies Literary Club are found in the Ladies History Class of Grand Rapids, started by Marion Louise Withey in 1869. This class was modeled after her Aunt Lucinda Hinsdale Stone’s history classes for women in Kalamazoo. The first meeting took place at Park Congregational Church, which was then still under construction. The books collected or needed for the class prompted the formation of the Ladies’ Library Association on March 21, 1870. Later that year, and after additional fundraising for the collection, the name was changed to the City Library Association. Located on Monroe Street, Miss Francis Holcomb was the first librarian.

In October 1871, the Club joined their book collection with those of the YMCA and the Board of Education, to provide the support and the volumes for the first Public Library of Grand Rapids. The largest of these original library collections, some 1200 items, came from the Ladies Literary Club, which formed more permanently under that name on April 10, 1873. Francis Holcomb, the Club librarian, became the first Librarian of this new Public Library. A model for the new Club’s constitution was found by once again following a Kalamazoo model, that of the Kalamazoo Ladies Library Constitution (formed 1852, with building constructed in 1878). However, the Club did not officially incorporate until approximately 1882, with a mission to “promote literary, educational and scientific pursuits and to establish and maintain a library”.

In July 1887 the cornerstone was laid for a permanent club building at 61 Sheldon Boulevard, with the building finished in December of that same year. The lot had cost the club $3,500. The building was constructed by John Frey from the plans of local architect William G. Robinson. It’s original cost is said to be around $6,000(?). Robinson’s style has been described as partly Richardsonian Romanesque, with curved arches over the windows and doorway. It is built of Grand Rapids pressed brick and Ohio blue stone, trimmed in terra cotta. The core of the building is the auditorium, seating some 440+ people. There is a proscenium style stage and a library reception room. In 1894 the buildings heating unit exploded, and the membership Club met at the All Souls Church, until new heating facilities could be installed. By 1900?, the building required it’s first major repairs of some $6000 (?). In 1931 the building was remodeled by architects Rindge and Rindge of Grand Rapids, at which time the size of the building was increased by one third, with the south entrance added and a new stage done. In 2002, a new roof was added at a cost of $57,000.

The building was sold to Calvin College in the Fall of 2006, which had already been using the LLC auditorium for downtown activities. Calvin, which desired the building to expand its downtown presence, had immediate plans for a $1 million dollar update anticipated to begin shortly after the sale.

Several subgroups of the organization have existed over the years, including the Scribbler, the Shakespeare Club, the Tuesday Study Class, Americanization and Education Extension Committee, the Art and Travel Class, the Committee on Child Labor and Women in Industry, the Current Literature Class, the Evening Club, the House Committee (important in the renovation of the historical building). There were also funds, such as the Henry Field Koon Memorial Shoe Fund, which providing shoes to the poor children particular during the 1930's.

The club has some notable pieces of art that are part of their holdings. In 1899, a carved chest was given by D.W. Kendall in memory of his wife. Members of the club stored Shakespearian materials in the chest, and when this subgroup broke away from the club, the chest went with them. Later, the Shakespeare Club gave the chest to the Grand Rapids Public Library. Today, it sits in the Grand Rapids History & Special Collections department, under the portraits of Grand Rapids founders, Louis and Sophie Campau.

In 1902, Kendall also gave a carved table and chairs. Frederick Stuart Church's painting “Spring Fantasy” was donated in 1903 in memory of Mrs. Hollister. In October 1915, Lorain Pratt Immen donated a Tiffany stained glass window, called the “Shakesperian” window due to this literary theme, which Immen loved. It is 8.5 feet high and 4 feet wide, now on an inside wall of the Library, to the South, which was probably an outside wall until the 1930s renovation which added to the South side of the building. Mountain Landscape by Edward Henry Potthost, donor and date unknown. Chapel of Roslyn Castle painting (where). Still Life with Rose, thought to be Mathias Alten.

History written from documents in this collection.


40.2 Linear Feet (Over 40 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Ladies Literary Club was a women's club in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The group, organized in the 1860s, sought to promote literary and scientific pursuits. When the organization closed in 2005 they donated their records to the library.

The club held regular meetings with educational talks and hosted a number of local and national speakers. Many prominent, local women were involved with the club and this collection may be a good source for photographs or other documents relating to those women.

This collection includes minutes, scrapbooks, year books, programs, ephemera and images. Records from other satellite groups, such as the West Side Ladies Literary Club or the Burton Heights Literary Club, are also represented.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Ladies Literary Club donated the bulk of the materials in this collection. Other materials were transferred from the local history book collection or given by various and unknown donors.

Accession numbers: 1979.017, 1986.461, 1999.058, 00.[318]., 00.[625]., 1986.267, 00.[2307].1 ; 2005.040, and transfers from the Local History Book Coll.; 2004.055; 2006.054; 2007.048; 2008.041

Related Materials

For additional and overlapping information on women’s clubs in the Grand Rapids Area, see also:

Collection 32, East Side Ladies Literary Club. Papers.

Collection 20, Grand Rapids Federation of Women's Clubs. Records.

Collection 187, Lorain Pratt Immen Collection

Collection 176, Ralph B. Baldwin Papers. Mrs. Baldwin (Lois Johnston) was President of the LLC 1960/61 and 1961/62.

Collection 331, Shakespeariana (Shakespeare) Club. Originally a subgroup of the LLC.

Finding aid for the Ladies Literary Club records
R. Mayne
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Grand Rapids History Center Repository

Grand Rapids Public Library
111 Library Street NE
Grand Rapids Michigan 49503 USA