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The Wednesday Club: A Musical Soirėe

"A Musical Soiree, The Wednesday Club, 1872, unidentified artist, PP248.68, MdHS (reference photo).

“A Musical Soirėe,” The Wednesday Club, 1872, unidentified artist, PP248.68, MdHS (reference photo).

In 1858, German born musician and publisher Otto Sutro was a popular bachelor with an active social life in Baltimore. To reciprocate for the many social invitations he received, he invited his friends to Wednesday evening gatherings in his quarters at 67 N. Charles Street. These parties were so popular that more and more people began dropping in on a regular basis. Thus began the Wednesday Club. The first formal meeting of the Club was on Sutro’s birthday—February 24, 1858. It continued as a social club that featured amateur music and drama presented both by its members and by distinguished artists from outside the Club, often widely recognized performers. The club’s articles of association, created years later, declared that the organization’s primary object was “the cultivation, performance and enjoyment of music. Its secondary object the promotion of rational amusement by any literary or artistic means…The Club will meet every Wednesday evening throughout the year, for the enjoyment of its objects.”(1)

"smoke pictures, entirely accidental (of course), a hot night, "5 Points drawings," ca 1870s, Adalbert Volck, PP248.60.4, MdHS (reference photo).

“smoke pictures, entirely accidental (of course), a hot night, “5 Points
drawings,” Wednesday Club, ca 1870s, Adalbert Volck, PP248.60.4, MdHS (reference photo).

The Wednesday “reunions” and monthly soirėes began to add new members who wished to share in the club’s fun and artistic activities.  Its constitution limited membership to one hundred gentlemen; women were invited as guests to the Wednesday reunions and the soirėes. Dentist and artist Adalbert Volck was a member of the club and provided drawings for the club’s performances and events.

Half of each reunion was characterized by fun and even silliness. The other half consisted of music or drama, often opera and plays. A regular feature of each Wednesday reunion was Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus,” in which everyone participated by singing and banging on all kinds of noisy objects that substituted for anvils. Each evening ended with the singing of  “So Say We All of Us,” and the social activities ceased promptly at midnight. New Year’s Eves celebrations consisted of even more outright frolicking and artistic entertainment.

Sutro continued to direct the weekly gatherings and the monthly soirėes for many years. The club  met during the Civil War, although in secret after martial law was declared in June of 1863 and the convening of social clubs banned. As the club’s membership grew, Sutro and the directors had to locate larger quarters for its activities.  The club moved to rooms over Needle’s Linen Store  and then to the Monumental Assembly Rooms on the corner of Center and St. Paul Streets. The club quickly outgrew that location and a few future venues as well. The final move was in 1879 to 1209-1213 N. Charles Street.

The Wednesday Club had a clubhouse and theatre at 1209-1213 N. Charles Street until the club's demise in 1886. The following year Albaugh's Lyceum Theatre opened at the site. Albaugh's Lyceum Theatre, ca 1887-1925, PP23.861, MdHS.

The Wednesday Club owned a clubhouse and theatre at 1209-1213 N. Charles Street from 1879 until the club’s demise in 1886. The following year Albaugh’s Lyceum Theatre opened at the site.
Albaugh’s Lyceum Theatre, ca 1887-1925, PP23.861, MdHS.

The Wednesday Club endured until 1886 when “at the height of its power the organization went suddenly out of existence following a dissension among some of the stockholders.”(2) In 1887, the clubhouse and theatre on Charles Street was sold at auction to John W. Albaugh, who opened his Lyceum Theatre  that same year. Sutro, who also founded the Baltimore Oratorio Society, died in 1896.* A 1943 Sun article provided a description of Sutro, which probably could have applied to any member of the fun loving Wednesday Club: “A person who, by day, devoted himself wholeheartedly to business and who, ‘by night, was a high-spirited musician seeking relaxation and inspiration along with a bit of high-jinks, in the twin arts of music and drama.”(3)

(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.

A Quartette, 1878, Adalbert Johann Volck, Adalbert Johann Vocl Photographic Collection, PP248.57, MdHS.

A sketch of a Wednesday Club meeting. A Quartette, 1878, Adalbert Johann Volck, PP248.57, MdHS. (Reference photo)

"a pause," 1878, Adalbert Volck, PP248.61, MdHS (reference photo).

“a pause,” 1878, Adalbert Volck, PP248.61, MdHS (reference photo).

Wednesday Club, Programme, "Our Boys!,"MD 5746, BCLM Works on Paper, MdHS (reference photo).

Wednesday Club, Programme, “Our Boys!,” 1878, MD 5746, BCLM Works on Paper, MdHS (reference photo).

 

"Our Boys," 1878, Adalbert Volck, PP248.57, MdHS (reference photo)

“Our Boys,” 1878, Adalbert Volck, PP248.57, MdHS (reference photo)

"A Scrap of Paper," 1878, Adalbert Volck, PP248.62, MdHS (reference photo).

“A Scrap of Paper,” 1878, Adalbert Volck, PP248.62, MdHS (reference photo).

 

Sources and further reading:

* A new version of the Wednesday Club emerged in the early 1900s, putting on performances at the Albaugh’s Lyceum Theatre.

(1) Wednesday Club, Articles of association, 1876 : report of the trustees to the stockholders, to March 31st, 1883, PAM 5267, MdHS.

(2) Katherine Scarborough, “Reign of the Wednesday Club,” The Sun, March 21, 1943.

(3)”Recalling Unique Group,” The Sun, April 4, 1943

Charles Street (1209-1213 North), Passano-O’Neill File, MdHS.

Headley, Robert K. Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006).

Wednesday Club Book, 1869-1886, MS 885, MdHS.

Wednesday Club Book, 1876-1903, MS 885.1, MdHS.

Wednesday Club Record Book, 1878-1879, MS 886, MdHS.

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