Cambridge Walking Club
1/2 document box
.21 Linear Feet
Processor: Christopher J. Lenney
Date: October 2005
Access: There are no restrictions to items in this collection.
Permission to Publish: Requests for permission to publish from the collection should be made from the Executive Director.
Copyright: The Cambridge Historical Society does not hold copyright on the materials in the collection.
The Cambridge Walking Club held weekly excursions of three to six miles “on every pleasant Saturday” in spring and fall, with winter walks taken if weather permitted. Summer was the Club’s “off-season,” as many members spent extended vacations away from Cambridge. Club outings typically explored the still rural suburbs within twenty miles north and west of Boston. Cross-country routes between railroad and trolley stops were favored, taking the walkers through parks newly established by the Metropolitan District Commission (1893), as well as over private property. Among the Club’s 1914 itineraries were: Dover to South Natick via Pegan Hill; Kendall Green to Prospect Hill; and Wellesley Farms to the Newtons.
The Club was governed by a “self-perpetuating Board of Managers” or Council. Membership was elective, nominations being submitted in writing by current members, and voted on by the Council. Membership lists tend to confirm the assertion of the Cambridge Chronicle (6 June 1930) that the Club was composed of “well known personages connected with Harvard and many prominent Old Cambridge residents.” Among the noteworthy, but less recognizable names listed in 1921 was that of “Miss Marian C[ushing] Eliot,” —the unmarried sister of the poet T. S. Eliot—who resided in Cambridge at that time.
The Club clearly had a strong social element. The Club drew its members from a select rank of mostly Cambridge society, and in its heyday membership seems to have been purposely composed of nearly equal numbers of single men and women, described, in the words of the prospectus, as “ladies and gentlemen … interested in outdoor recreation.” Conviviality was encouraged: receipts for ice cream and cake are among the most common expenditures in the Club’s financial records.
The demise of the Club was brought about by many factors, both internal and external. From its inception, the Club had difficulties with flagging commitment. “The elastic character of membership in The Walking Club is such that there is uncertainty as to the status of some of its members,” is how the Board of Managers put the problem in 1894. Recruitment was a constant concern, and names of new prospects to tap for membership are found sprinkled throughout the records. Over time, the demographics of the Club shifted to an older, married membership, as can be inferred from the titles Mr., Miss, and Mr. and Mrs., appearing on the membership lists. In 1911, the club had 43 members, nearly the constitutional limit. On the list for that year were: Mr. (20), Miss (20), and Mr. and Mrs. (2). Ten years later, in 1921, there were still 43 members, but the breakdown was quite different: Mr. (8), Miss (18), Mr. and Mrs. (8) and Mrs. (1). (The 1921 figures include three ministers and one professor.) The aging of the membership is also reflected in the letters of resignation found in the correspondence folder. Reasons offered include the recent purchase of country property, business pressures on Saturdays, and the need to spend free time with family.
The chief reason for the demise of the Club was, however, external. As the Cambridge Chronicle (6 June 1930) succinctly expressed it: “The automobile and the gradual urbanization of the countryside have dealt a death blow to a famous old Cambridge institution.” By the 1920s, frugal excursions by train and trolley to increasingly suburbanized destinations lacked the appeal they once had for older, more affluent Cantabrigians in the motor age. The initial motion to disband came in 1927, but was voted down. Three years later, after a period of virtual quiescence, as well as the death of the Club’s secretary and prime mover, George C. Deane, the motion to disband was again put before the Club and was carried on 12 May 1930. The residual balance in the Club treasury ($20.62), rounded up with members’ contributions, was donated in Deane’s memory to the Cambridge Museum for Children.
While the Club ceased to exist in 1930, the goals for which it was established did not. Interest in fitness walking surged at the turn of the twenty-first century. By 2005, over one hundred walking clubs were listed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in towns across the state. These clubs were often sponsored by local councils on aging and senior centers, among them the Cambridge Energetic Walking Club. The original Cambridge Walking Club, in its own candid assessment, met its demise because “it was hopeless to recruit new members from a younger generation accustomed to the use of an automobile.” Ironically, interest in the goals of the club seems to have skipped a generation, when, three-quarters of a century later, a later generation of Cantabrigians, accustomed since childhood to the automobile, rediscovered the joys of walking.
The Cambridge Walking Club was by no means unique; but the movement of which it formed a part has been little studied. The character and goals of this movement appear to have varied from club to club, and not all shared the same ideals of “walking” as the Cambridge group. An early spate of club-formation in New York was likely inspired by the international vogue for “pedestrianism,” or race walking, which flourished in the 1870s-1880s. Three New York clubs were all founded ca. 1878: the Westchester Walking Club, the American Walking Club, and the Saturday Morning (or Ladies’) Walking Club. Elsewhere, in Baltimore, the Strollers Club was established in 1901, specifically as an upper-class or “Society” walking club. Still later, in Chicago, The Prairie Club was founded in 1908, inspired by Alexander Wilson, a Maine guide and former member of the Appalachian Mountain Club. The Prairie Club in its early days sponsored Saturday afternoon walks in the rural outskirts of Chicago. While the Prairie Club evolved to become a much broader conservation-recreation organization, it continues (2005) its tradition of weekly walks year-round.
Collections of official records of American walking clubs are unusual. None appear in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections under the standard subject heading: Walking—Societies, etc., although those of a Japanese and an Australian club are listed.
Records of the Prairie Club are housed at the Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest, Gary, Indiana. The club is also the subject of two published histories, Emma Doeserich, et al., Outdoors with the Prairie Club (1941), and a pictorial volume in the Images of America series, Cathy Jean Maloney, The Prairie Club of Chicago (2001).
The New York Public Library holds on microfilm: Anna Louise Moran and Anne L. O'Loughlin,
Official Handbook, Girls' Walking Club, South District Public Schools, Hartford, Conn., 1913.
Of possible related interest is:
Shurcliff, Arthur A., New England College Men Walking and Talking, the Annals of a Society of Saunterers in the Late Horse and Carriage Days of 1905-1906. Boston, Old Corner Book Store, 1948. While a work of fiction (or highly disguised fact), this privately printed “memoir,” was written by a well-known landscape architect, who served on the Harvard University faculty from 1899 to1906. No formal walking club is known to have existed at Harvard, however.
Arlott, John (ed.), The Oxford Companion to World Sports and Games. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.
American Council of Learned Societies, Dictionary of American Biography. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1943-
Gordon, Lyndall, T. S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.
ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2002) (search terms: “walking club”)
“Walking Dealt a Death Blow,” Cambridge Chronicle, 6 June 1930. (Clipping in Folder 7.)
The Records of the Cambridge Walking Club document the organizational, financial, and recreational affairs and activities of the Club from its founding in 1894 until it was disbanded in 1930. The main body of records is found in
Folder 1, and consists of a single leather-bound volume, arranged chronologically. It includes the constitution and bylaws of the Club, minutes of annual meetings, cash accounts, treasurers’ reports, lists of walks, and some clippings and scrapbook material. An amount of loose material of a similar nature accompanied the record book and has been arranged into six additional folders (2-7). These folders are briefly described below.
Folder 2. Organizational Records include printed copies of the constitution, proposed amendments, the printed prospectus of the Club, and some minutes of meetings not entered in the main book.
Folder 3. Financial Records include receipted bills for meeting refreshments, and for typist’s and printer’s services.
Folder 4. Membership Records consists of annotated draft and final membership and address lists for various years, and copies of the pocket-sized membership lists printed for distribution.
Folder 5. Excursions includes reports on walks and lists of destinations, attendance charts, and statistics, names of trip leaders, and reasons for canceled trips. The most detailed trip account was that submitted by W.F. Corne on 1 June 1904. His typescript report describes a Memorial Day weekend excursion to Gloucester, with visits made to Dogtown, Bass Rocks, and a moonlight stroll. The most unusual walk announcement, that for an 18 April 1908 trip to Concord, was written in verse and parodies Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” While most walks were called off on account of rain, that for 12 May 1917 was canceled so members might attend the “Joffre celebration,” referring to the much-ballyhooed visit of the French marshal to Boston and Cambridge, coinciding with the U.S. entry into World War I.
Folder 6. Correspondence is comprised of incoming letters only, and relates chiefly to membership, annual dues, and resignations.
Folder 7. Miscellaneous includes news clippings on walks and walking, a list of naturalist’s field guides, and a slug of Gothic lead type bearing the Club’s letterhead. (Purchase of “a die and writing papers” was authorized in 1913, per Record Book, p. 106).
It should be noted that that many of the Club records were made on corporate stationery, and on the back sides of form letters, circulars, and other ephemera. Among such items are a Standard Oil shareholder letter, a World War I Red Cross circular, and a notice for a talk on the newly founded McDowell Colony of Peterborough, N.H.. While perhaps not of direct research value on the Club itself, this aspect of the material does give glimpses into the personal lives and business interests of the individual Club members.
Multiple carbon or printed copies in excess of two were removed from the collection, except when the copies were annotated. Several loose items (1 attendance sheet; 1 membership list; 2 meeting notices) were found interleaved in a blank section of the record book. These were removed, annotated to that effect, and filed with similar items in the corresponding folders.
Cambridge Walking Club (Cambridge, Mass.) —Archives.
Walking —Massachusetts —Cambridge.
Suburbs —Massachusetts —Boston —History.
Clubs— Massachusetts —Cambridge.
Walking —Societies, etc.
Cambridge (Mass.) —Social life and customs.
Cambridge Walking Club
Series I. Records (1894-1930)