Collection on Clubs, Societies and Associations, 1785-2005

Extent: 15 boxes, 6 oversize drawers
The Museum of the City of New York’s Collection on Clubs, Societies, and Associations consists of a variety of materials spanning from 1785 to 2005 relating to the city’s numerous professional, social, and special interest organizations.

Historical Note
Clubs formed along common interests and goals have long existed in New York City. During the Colonial period, New Yorkers formed clubs and associations for political and professional purposes, such as The New York Marine Society, a club composed of seafarers. Artistic, literary, social and special interest clubs began gaining popularity in the mid-nineteenth century. These clubs were initially very exclusive, awarding memberships only to men of certain descent, ethnicity, means or occupation. According to Jackson’s Encyclopedia of New York City, “a study of club life in 1871 found that half the members descended from only about twenty families and that each man usually held several memberships, perhaps belonging to a university club, a tennis or yachting club, and a literary club” (1995). By the end of the nineteenth century, over 100 clubs existed within the city, to which nearly 50,000 memberships had been awarded. Prominent clubs at the turn of the 20th century included the Union Club, the Century Association, the Lotos Club, the Friars Club and the Montauk Club; many of these are represented within the collection. By the 1950s, club memberships within the city began to dwindle with the increased use of automobiles which led to the movement of families to the suburbs and accelerating pace of city life. However, New York is still home to numerous clubs and associations that provide like-minded people a place to connect face-to-face, a rarity in today’s world of pervasive digital culture.

Scope and Content
The Museum of the City of New York’s Collection on Clubs, Societies and Associations consists of a variety of materials spanning from 1785 to 2005 and relating to the city’s numerous professional, social and special interest clubs, societies, and associations. Membership clubs experienced a peak in popularity from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, and the bulk of the materials are from this time period. The main formats of material in the collection are invitations, menus, admission tickets, programs, and membership cards and certificates. The items represent both the day-to-day activities of clubs, such as meetings, elections and news, and special events, such as banquets and lectures. The clubs illustrate the wide variety of interests, identities and occupations of New Yorkers, from the Engineers’ Club to the Fat Man’s Association and Clam Bake Society.

Click here to view the full finding aid for the Collection on Clubs, Societies and Associations.

Related Material
Museum of the City of New York Collection on Politics
Museum of the City of New York Collection on Sports
Museum of the City of New York Collection on Civic Events
Museum of the City of New York Collection on Infrastructure

The Museum is grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities; this collection was reprocessed as part of the NEH project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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