“It all began in the late summer of 1898, on the front porch of Mrs. William Garlock’s home, on the corner of Wabasha and Lafayette streets,” according to a historian’s report in the early years of the Ruskin Club. William McKinley was president, and Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. “In that year 1898, the receipts of the United States Government for the month of January were $59,646,698; the government expenses for the same month were $27,095,000, leaving the government with a surplus for the month of $32,551,698,” reported Alice J. Selover in a 1968 research paper in commemoration of the 70th year of the Ruskin Study Club. It would be 22 years before American women would be granted the right to vote. In Winona, ground was broken for a “new and modern hospital,” the St. Paul’s Guild House was being erected, and the Jefferson school was to be enlarged due to the large enrollment of people desirous of education, according to Selover.
Like other women’s clubs of this time, the purpose of this club at its inception was the study of art. It was originally called the Ruskin Art Club and was named for John Ruskin, an English art critic of the Victorian era, an art patron, draftsman, watercolorist, and the author of many texts on art and architecture. The first formal program on October 10, 1898, was entitled “The Origin and Beginning of Art.” In 1925, however, the club changed its name to the Ruskin Study Club, and members were permitted to present their research papers on topics other than art. Certain years, club members chose a specific topic for all presentations that year, and those topics often reflected current events and culture.
The Ruskin Study Club continues to meet once a month at members’ homes from October through May. As outlined in its constitution, the purpose of the organization is to afford each member an opportunity to write and present a paper on the topic of her choosing and to provide all members the opportunity for discussion of the presentation; there is a goal of 30 active members. Each year members elect officers: president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and historian. There is also a three-member nominating committee, and several members assist with the important responsibilities of program organization, publicity, and orientation. There are also a number of honorary members who are no longer able to participate on a regular basis.
While 115 years ago, many women did not work and were known as “the wives” of Winona citizens, the members of today’s Ruskin Study Club have (or had) important and interesting careers of their own and are typically involved in other organizations and key activities in the community. Despite their other responsibilities and busy schedules, the Ruskin Study Club remains a priority for them. Each meeting is an opportunity to learn about and discuss a fascinating topic, as well as to socialize over a cup of coffee or tea and dessert. Today’s members are proud to carry on a tradition that started well over a century ago and to continue to meet in some of the same houses as former Ruskin members.