In 1892, seven wives of University of Idaho faculty members gathered together in the home of Jennie Gault with one thing in mind: book club.
This group met once a week to read books, discuss literature, talk about current events, and enjoy the companionship of fellow campus wives. The beginning members included Jennie Gault, Kate Henderson, Sara Ostrander, Ellen Aldrich, Millicent Bonebright, Martha Fox, and C. W. McCurdy.
Pleiades, or the “Seven Sisters”
It is said the group got their namesake after a conversation with Franklin Gault, President of the university from 1892 to 1898. He compared the seven wives to the seven stars in the Pleiades constellation. Also known as the “Seven Sisters”, Greek mythology says these stars are the seven daughters of the Titan god Atlas and the nymph Pleione. Though the number of women in this group eventually rose to more than seven, the name stuck.
Oldest Federated Women’s Club
The first act of the Pleiades Club was to commission an item to be on display at the Idaho exhibition during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL. The Gold and Silver Book was suggested by Jennie Gault, designed by Annette Bowman, and forged in New York. Made from gold, silver, and semi-precious stones, it survived the 1906 fire which destroyed the old administration building.
On March 1, 1894, the Pleiades Club was formally organized and adopted a constitution. Then in 1895, it joined the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Mary E. Forney, former member of Pleiades, said the club was the oldest federated club in the state in continuous existence.
In 1901, the Pleiades Club worked to introduce a free library to the city of Moscow. With the help of the Moscow Historical Club, they raised enough money to rent a room and opened the library to the public. Soon after they advocated for a public library to Andrew Carnegie, who donated money to communities to establish libraries across the country. He gave the club $10,000 for the library, and in 1906 the building was erected. Today it still stands as the Moscow Public Library.
Between the years 1946 and 1947, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs urged their associates to write and send packages of food and clothing overseas. After World War Two, Europe was war-torn and many of the continent’s youth were part of families undergoing hardships or had become orphans. The Pleiades Club received the names of two sisters, Yvette (17) and Marie-Reine Henner (14) of Haut-Rhine, France. Their neighbor Marthe Luttenbacher, had written to the federation explaining the family’s situation.
When Gertrude B. Axtell recalled this memory, she wrote Marthe “told how they were evacuated to a little valley in September 1939, that the Germans stole everything, and her uncle and his two sons were shot. Then from November 1946 to January 1947 they were evacuated again when the French came. She came home to find no roof, no food, no clothing.”
The Pleiades Club sent over boxes to the Henner family and Marthe. Most of the packages took ages to arrive but were greatly appreciated nonetheless.
To view and learn more about the Pleiades Club collection, visit the UI Library’s Special Collections and Archives Department.
Pleiades Club records, MG 025, Special Collections and Archives, University of Idaho Library, Moscow, ID.