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The Paint and Powder Club – “The Oldest Club of its Kind”

Circus Maximus, possibly The Alcazar Theatre, 1977, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-165, MdHS.

Circus Maximus, possibly The Alcazar Theatre, 1977, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-165, MdHS.

The Paint and Powder Club, established in 1893 as a philanthropic and social club, is dedicated both to camaraderie among its members and assistance to local charities from monies raised with theater productions.  Social events are held throughout the year as the members prepare the coming theatrical presentations. It was founded as a men’s club with its membership drawn from Baltimore’s blue blood community, with members performing both male and female parts in its annual productions.  A later member described the creation of the theatrical organization:

“In the “Gay 90’s”, before Baltimore was acknowledged as “Charm City”, it was at its most charming, at least for those of the pampered, well defined Social Set. While the rest of the population worked diligently, the “Playboys” of Mt. Vernon Square, Broadway and Eutaw Place found time to be ingenious, imaginative and creative. From this incubator in 1893, a group of Baltimore’s more influential and affluent young men, with an interest in theatrics and necessary means and leisure gave birth to an extravaganza…” (1)

Harry Lehr in Mustapha, 1894, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-3, MdHS.

Harry Lehr in Mustapha, 1894, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-3, MdHS.

Alfred Baldwin Sloane in Mustapha, February 1894, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-5, MdHS.

Alfred Baldwin Sloane in Mustapha, February 1894, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-5, MdHS.

These early “playboys” included members of prominent Maryland families with surnames including Hiss, Worthington, Gambrills, Cassard, McComas, Rennard, Gilpin, Stieff, and Ridgely. One-later infamous-member was socialite Henry Symes “Harry” Lehr, son of the German Consul to Baltimore. Lehr would gain renown as a high society hanger on known for bizarre antics, including impersonating Tsar Nicholas II at a party, and hosting the “dog’s dinner,” an elaborate soiree in which “100 pets of wealthy friends dined at foot-high tables while dressed in formal attire.” (2)

Paint and Powder’s first show, “Mustapha,” was presented in 1894 at Baltimore’s Fords Grand Opera House on W. Fayette Street. Written by member Alfred Baldwin Sloane, later Broadway’s most prolific composer of musical comedies, the play was “ALL original—script, songs, cast, costumes and sets…and ALL proceeds to charity. The venture was a smash hit…socially, dramatically and aesthetically…it was fun, wildly popular and apparently indestructible.” (3) It went on to play other theaters in Baltimore including Albaugh’s Lyceum Theatre on North Charles Street, before heading off to Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia. The Baltimore performances raised $5,800 (approximately $100,000 in 2016 dollars) for the also recently established Children’s Country Home in Orange Grove, Baltimore County, a charitable agency which gave “poor children the benefit of two weeks in the country during the heated season.” (4)

Reese Cassard in Joan of Arc, 1895, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-35, MdHS.

Reese Cassard in Joan of Arc, 1895, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-35, MdHS.

Rowland C. West in Joan of Arc, 1895, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collectio, PP195-8, MdHS.

Rowland C. West in Joan of Arc, 1895, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collectio, PP195-8, MdHS.

The following year the club was incorporated and it’s roster listed 64 members. Their second production, “Joan of Arc,” also debuted at Ford’s Theatre. The play was written by Guy Wetmore Carryl of Columbia College, after the club had failed to find a play of acceptable quality from a submission contest held in Baltimore.

Plays were also staged at the Maryland Theater, Lehman’s and the Lyric (today the Lyric Opera House). Over the years, the repertoire expanded to include plays written by club members and other shows already familiar to audiences. By 1936, Paint and Powder had produced 17 plays, mostly vaudeville and musical comedies in nature. The 1941 show was the Broadway Musical comedy hit “Oh! Kay,” and in 1947, it was Gershwin’s “Girl Crazy.” The 1977 show was “Away We Go”; “Show Business” was the 59th production.

A variety of charities have benefited from Paint and Powder productions over the years. The 1936 charity was the Hospital for Women in Maryland. The 1941 show benefited the British Work Relief Society. In 1951 it was Franklin Square Hospital. The 1952 recipient was the Fund for Mentally Retarded and Handicapped Children. Church Home and Hospital was the 1961 recipient. Other charities that have benefitted  through the years are the Hilgenberg Children’s Center for Speech Disorders, William S. Baer School, the Children’s Scholarship Fund, the Maryland Conservatory of Music, Students Sharing Coalition, the Y of Central Maryland in Harford County, Linwood Center, the Women’s Industrial Exchange (which remains a Baltimore icon), and the Mental Health Association of Maryland Baltimore, which included a message of appreciation from Rosalynn Carter in the printed program for its good work.

In the 1930s female performers joined their male counterparts on stage for the first time. In 1994, the board of directors approved membership for women, and four years later, a woman was elected president. She was also the first person to serve for three presidential terms.

In addition to its plays, Paint and Powder has a men’s Singing Chorus, “a women’s Singing Chorus, a mixed chorus called “The Counterpoints,” a music group called “The Keystone Kops,” and another called the “Uptown Society Band.” Its Paint and Powder Club theme song,“Have Another,“ refers to its annual stage presentations.

Scene from Judge Judy, the Musical, 2015. Image from paintandpowderclub.org

Scene from Judge Judy, the Musical, 2015.
Image from paintandpowderclub.org

The Paint and Powder Club is thought to be the oldest of its type in the United States. Similar clubs exist in Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities, but Baltimore’s Paint and Powder Club considers itself the oldest. Paint and Powder is incorporated in Timonium, Maryland. Aside from a few years during World War II and at a few other times, the organization has held its annual theatrical production every year. Last year the club put on “Judge Judy, The Musical”:

“A musical takeoff of the T.V. Show. It takes place in a court room with Judge Judy presiding over cases brought to her by Bill, the bailiff and a court reporter sitting near the judge’s bench, wisecracking throughout the trials. Outlandish people sing and dance away their excuses for their mostly stupid crimes & Judge Judy fantasizes her way to stardom.” (5)

In May of this year, a revue of highlights from performances over the past 40 years will be held to commemorate the organizations 123rd year of existence. (Michael Mark)

Michael Mark is retired Professor Emeritus of Music at Towson University and a volunteer in the Special Collections Department of the Maryland Historical Society.

The Maryland Historical Society holds a large collection of materials related to the Paint and Powder Club dating from the club’s inception in 1893 to the present, including photographs, correspondence, programs, newsletters, meeting proceedings, and member lists.

Circus Maximus, Possibly The Alcazar, 1977, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195, MdHS.

Circus Maximus, Possibly The Alcazar, 1977, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195, MdHS.

Plot of Mustapha, MS 1735.1, MdHS, reference photo

Plot of Mustapha, MS 1735.1, MdHS, reference photo

Set for Lady Be Good, Poly Auditorium, 1953, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-58, MdHS.

Set for Lady Be Good, Poly Auditorium, 1953, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-58, MdHS.

Program for the Paint and Powder Club's 1971 performance of 'Miss Print' at 706 Cathedral Street, today the home of the Baltimore School for the Arts. Paint and Powder Club Program, April 30, May 1, 1971, MS 1735.1, MdHS (reference photo).

Program for the Paint and Powder Club’s 1971 performance of ‘Miss Print’ at 706 Cathedral Street, today the home of the Baltimore School for the Arts.
Paint and Powder Club Program, April 30, May 1, 1971, MS 1735.1, MdHS (reference photo).

Thomas Robb Jr., 1907, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-14, MdHS.

Thomas Robb Jr., 1907, Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195-14, MdHS.

Sources and Further Reading:

(1) Paint and Powder Club Inc., Roster and By-Laws, 1975-1976, MS 1735.1

(2) Henry Symes Lehr, Wikipedia

(3) Paint and Powder Club Inc., Roster and By-Laws, 1975-1976, MS 1735.1

(4) Maryland, It’s Resources, Industries and Institutions (The Sun Job Printing Office, Baltimore, MD, 1893), 466.

(5) Judge Judy, The Musical, PaintandPowderClub.org

History of the Club, PaintandPowderClub.org

The Paint and Powder Club – Early Baltimore Drag, Charm City History, March 1, 2013.

Paint and Powder Club Inc., Roster and By-Laws, 1975-1976, MS 1735.1

Paint and Powder Club Photograph Collection, PP195, MdHS.

Baltimore Paint and Powder Club Archives, MS 1735, MdHS.

Discussion

2 Responses to “The Paint and Powder Club – “The Oldest Club of its Kind””

  1. I have been a member of Paint and Powder for 7 years and also past president. This club is amazing we have members from 21 to 93 and they are all active.

    Posted by Jerry Chiat | 23. Nov, 2016, 9:58 pm
  2. I have had the privilege to be a member of this fine organization and this year, 2016-2017, I am the President. It is a fabulous group of hard-working dedicated people who want to perform and have fun for charities as well as comraderie.
    We welcome any new people.

    Posted by Bonnie King-Rose | 12. Jan, 2017, 12:36 pm

Reply to Bonnie King-Rose

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