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The Ben-Hur Literary Club was organized on Oct. 25, 1901, by some of Ramsey’s upper crust ladies, and has been identified as one of the longest continuous organizations in Illinois.
The object of the club, as stated in their "constitution," was to "advance the knowledge of literature and promote the art of conversation."
A librarian joined the list of officers that included two vice presidents. Books were loaned to members for two weeks, and a fine of two cents per day was assessed for books not returned on time. The library was discontinued in 1973.
The list of the organizing members is a "Who’s Who" of Ramsey in the last century. Included among the first 30 members were two of the first women to vote in an Illinois election – Sarah Soper and Adrian Stoddard Morrison.
With the membership set at 30, aspirants who wanted to join had to wait for someone to either move away or pass away. And…you had to be invited.
On the 100th anniversary of the club, I was invited to be the guest speaker by club president, the late Lois Stoddard. Lois asked if I could research the original members and come up with a short biography of each lady.
Lois’ mother-in-law, Minnie Stoddard, was a founding member, and the task of researching the women was made so much easier because Lois knew much of Ramsey’s early history. She gave me a brief rundown on who was who, who married whom and how some of the ladies were related.
To add to my talk for the group, I prepared a booklet with the title, “The Literary Ladies of Ramsey” for their 100th anniversary. Contained in the booklet were biographical sketches of each of the 30 founding members. As I researched these ladies, my interest in them grew.
Founding members were: Maye Ande, Catherine Strobel Andrews, Hattie Darby, Jennie Eckler, Grace James Frank, Mary Marty Germann, Nellie Warner Graham, Alpharetta Hess Gray, Janie M. Green, Sallie Green, Pearl Hart, Mary Slaybaugh James, Lillie Crawford Lindhorst, Catherine Franklin Marty, Tena Warner McKnight, Emma Jepperson Moore, Adrian Stoddard Morrison, Roxie R. Morrison, Sadie Brown Morrison, Callie Arkebauier Shutt, Ona James Soper, Sarah Soper, Lillie Stoddard, Minnie Willis Stoddard, Gertrude Young Stokes, Ottie Stokes, Julia Thiele, Margaret VanVranken, Nora Wheeler and Ella Wright.
Lois told me in her younger years that she so wanted to be a member of the group of which her mother-in-law was a founding member. The daughters and daughters-in-law were allowed to prepare, serve and clean up the food for the annual October banquet, but not allowed to participate.
The Ben-Hur ladies wore furs, Lois recalled, and their husbands were the business leaders of the town.
Nellie Graham’s husband, Edward, was a druggist, and after World War I, set up a business with Dr. E.P. Staff. Janie Green’s husband, N.R. Green, along with his brother, J.B., established the first bank in Ramsey, The Fayette County Bank, in 1894. When private banks were outlawed, the bank closed. Later, the Peoples Bank opened, with N.R. Green as cashier.
Ella Wright’s husband, Jefferson T., owned the lumber company. Adrian Morrison’s son, Solomon, along with his brothers, had interest in the Morrison Telephone Company. Solomon’s wife was Roxie.
Minnie Stoddard was the wife of Fred Stoddard, and this family can be traced back five generations to Thomas McKean of Delaware, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Gertrude and Ottie Stokes were daughters-in-law of Elias Bonner Stokes. Elias owned about 6,000 acres of land, some of which became Bonner Stokes State Park. Margaret VanVranken’s husband was the doctor, and Nora Wheeler was the dentist’s wife. Kate Marty’s husband, John, had the reputation for building "the best handmade farm wagon to be found anywhere."
The Ben-Hur ladies read books, made presentations, engaged speakers, discussed current events and made a difference on the landscape of Ramsey.