Effeness
 
 

William Wayne Weems
 
 
 

Copyright 2003 by William Wayne Weems
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Photo of Effeness girls.

(“Flappers? Us?  Who are you calling flappers?”)

October 4, 1951.

The Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee is the location of a live radio broadcast. The host of the show claims to be puzzled by the name of the club to which many of his female guests belong. He is informed that the name of the Effeness club is an acronym for “Every Friday night sewing club”. He also soon learns that this day is their twenty-third anniversary as a club.

He asks Katherine Roth Pearce how the Effeness club was started. She says it started with a little country girl from Clarksville, Tennessee....
 

The young lady had graduated from high school and come to Nashville to work...
 
 

(“I had a perfect attendance record too”)

Once in Nashville she found she had no friends there, so she decided to start a club.

Some club members she found at Church, some at the Wrenne State Bank where she worked....

(Isn’t that Thelma Neal at the desk? And the pretty one standing on the right is Edna Wood (later Dennis) who joined in the early years and was a club member for a long time).

Also a cousin, Vera Saunders, came into town and was all for the idea of forming a club. So members at the initial meeting of the Effeness club were the new arrival from Clarksville, Cecil Pearl Davis (later Weems), her cousin Vera Saunders (later Douglas), Madge Harper (later Graves), Mildred Pitt (later Parsons) and Mamie Odom (later Matthews).

Shortly thereafter another cousin, Ethel Saunders (later Moore), Katherine Roth (later Pearce), Dorothy Parman (later Carothers), Lena Jones (later Cato) Annie Baggott (later Cathey), Thelma Neal and Frances McDaniel (later Compton) all joined and became faithful members.

Mildred Burnett (later Pace), Birdie and Eleanor Mocker, Vivian Spinks, Margaret Davis (sister of Cecil Pearl, later Crutchfield) and Lois Swann Lusty were just some of the ladies who joined the Effeness club and then dropped out, some after more than a decade of membership. After Edna Earle Dean (later Camey) joined the ranks the club members, dissatisfied with the felt disorganization and fragmentation when the club had nearly twenty members, closed its membership rolls in 1941 and enforced a rule that said if one quit the club under any but strictly limited circumstances one couldn’t rejoin. However, continuing friendships and family relationships ultimately led to the creation of a larger and more loosely organized group with a descriptive title of “The Friendly Fourteen”, which included the Effeness members. About the only Effeness activity the Friendly Fourteen did not participate in was the monthly meetings. To a casual observer it might appear that Lois Lusty, Elise Cutrell and Willie Mae Shockley were loyal members, since they appeared at so many Effeness gatherings. However, the last two never joined the club.

Monthly meetings of the Effeness “girls” were held on a more or less continuous basis from 1928 to 1998. All club business was accomplished during the monthly meetings, but the importance of sewing as regular activity steadily declined during the first three decades of the club’s existence. Food increased in importance, from brunch style appetizers to sit— down dinners. At special meetings the mothers of the members would be honored and outrageous costumed skits performed to entertain them. Edna Earle Carney, who composed the last twenty or so years worth of the club’s monthly minutes in rhyming iambic pentameter is seen on the following page playing Elvis in 1957 at a “mother’s meeting”. From the first organizational meeting to today, Cecil Pearl Davis Weems was always the club’s President.

Effeness Club Minutes
October, 1957
by Edna Earle Carney, Secretary

We met last month with Edna Earle 
And wished a happy birthday to the club 
Although to think how old it is--- 
Really brings a rub!

Everyone was there you know 
Except we missed Mamie a lot 
When one of us is absent
The rest sort of goes to pot!

Cecil had a little business
And Annie collected our money---
She also told us what we had---
As a treasurer she’s a honey!

Most of the girls looked awfully cute
All in their new fall dresses:
They were primped from head to toe
With even new curls in their tresses. 

Edna Earle had some contests
Which really took us back
To the time when we were quite young---
Some few years ago, for a fact!

The contests would have been more fun
Except the ice cream got runny---
So the hostess ended them right quick

Which wasn’t very funny.

The table had a birthday cake
All centered with green and white
We’re glad we’re Effenessers
It’s truly a delight!

 
It isn’t just a social club
Or a club that’s meant to make money;
Altho we deal in rummage 
Until sometimes it isn’t funny!

We like to think that this, our club,
is mostly made of love,
and we ask only to be together
To feel we’re blessed from above

May the years that are in front of us
Be as good as those in the past;
And may the love in all our hearts 
Last and last and last and last!

And so club meeting was over
We always hate to go:
But we’ll meet with Thelma the next time
And I hear it’s gonna snow!


 
 

(Seventy years ago we could make any costumelook good!)

 

While monthly meetings were full of gossip and activity the present day reader will find them less entertaining than an account of some of the club’s parties and trips. Obviously these young women were all “social animals” and eager to get out and party (though their version of the “roaring twenties” was alcohol-free and considerably more prim and proper than anything the media might lead us to envision today). Yet the ominous cloud of the great economic depression was beginning to spread slowly over the land.

The young Clarksville immigrant had obtained business books which described periods of economic boom and bust following each other in such predictable and regular fashion that one attempted to plot them as a sine wave curve. As “The Business Guide” by J. L. Nichols observed in its 1928 edition, “our periods of great prosperity are inevitably followed by a corresponding depression” (pg 282). But there was nothing predictable or regular about the economic collapse which followed the 1929 Wall Street bust. Things didn’t get better. They slowly became worse and worse. Marriages and children were deferred. The bewildered employees of the Wrenne Bank were sent home when all State Banks were closed, but three club members (Thelma Neal, Edna Wood and Cecil Pearl Davis) were lucky enough to be called back to work in the reorganized Wrenne Mortgage Company. Ultimately Vera Douglas and Ethel Moore had to follow their husbands to available work in cities far away. But the club girls found a way to put a silver lining in at least one of the storm clouds; by cleaning up foreclosed homes for resale they were able to use those properties for their parties, and few people in town had such an impressive venue for their merrymaking.

(So it is little and crowded. Hey, hard times.) 

(The back seat which opens up is called a “rumble seat” since you are over the rear axle
and can both feel and hear it “rumble”.., yes, the bags will get wet, but we went to San
Antonio and Chicago this way).

(At last, a real car! Now we can take many long trips!)

But even if cars were improving, the roads were lagging far behind. Only major intercity routes were paved, and each of them went directly through the middle of every small town en route, making a deliberate circle around the courthouse. 30 years later folk would drive these two lane roads in the middle of the night to avoid the congestion and the plodding pace of local traffic. Yet gas was cheap, rail travel was expensive and air travel was both costly and risky as Katherine Roth found out during her 1933 trip to Chicago when local traffic caused her to miss a return flight..., which was destined to crash near the Ohio River, killing all aboard. Katherine never flew in a commercial airliner again.
So, as a working girl you couldn’t afford the time to bounce along poor roads choked with traffic to some distant locale. You needed a nice scenic locale nearer to your home, perhaps along one of the nearby small rivers.

(Welcome to Camp Sycamore. No, we don’t swim in these outfits, even if it is 1932).

The solution was the river camp, “cottages” spread along the high bank of a local river in a small community that included common facilities such as a market, dance pavilions and even entertainments such as bowling with wooden balls and pins. The “cottages” were available for weekly rental on a system that one sees today in timeshare condos. This is where the Effeness members spent most of their vacation time in the 1930’s.

(Roy Carothers in 1931: “Hey, except for swimming 
holes this river bed is dry”) 

(1935: “We girls revolted at doing all the cooking
and cleaning (where is the  vacation in that?) so 

we hired a cook”)


The close location of such river camps meant as many as 35 to 40 non-camping friends
could drive out from the city to chat during a typical week’s stay, and there was always a large contingent of “gentlemen friends” spending the night under the same roof for days at a time. But if the chaperoning of the assembled club ladies by married couples of their own age seems a bit of a thin justification for this behavior it should be noted that the crowd itself effectively discouraged certain behaviors, the sleeping arrangements were separate, most club girls were proudly prudish, and alcohol in any form was forbidden at their camp cottages.

(Of course, the girls loved to clown for the camera in 1935)

 

(Check this out, Osama.. .oops, its 1933 ....we 
mean Adolf)

(Sure, we all work together for a successful 
camp in 1936)


   The camping experience was so important to the Effeness “girls” that they returned to the concept several times later in their history, first at the farm on the Davidson/Robertson County line acquired by their new member Roberta Crowley and later when Katherine Roth Pearce and her husband Claude Pearce actually built a camp style “cottage” along the Cumberland River near Nashville. The Crowley farm was in fact a working farm, with several rickety barns and an ancient cabin with a breezeway between its two large rooms. It wasn’t until the cabin was destroyed and a more permanent barn built that modern sanitary features were added to the Crowley farm, something that may have put off the Effeness members since they were getting older and less adventurous.

In the late 1940’s Claude Pearce completed work on what he called his “camp” on what is now Pennington Bend Road. The Pearces owned another house across the river in Inglewood but at that time convenient access was available through the regular service of the large “Judge Hickman” ferry which crossed the Cumberland to the low bank at McGavock Pike. Of course, the “camp” itself was on the low bank downstream on the Cumberland from the confluence of the Stones River; neither of these rivers were constrained by hydroelectric dams at the time and flooding was a regular fact of life at the “camp”. Most of the large furniture there was of the sort placed on patios of the period, with cushions over rope frames and large wooden wheels to aid in moving the items about. The camp itself was of sturdy log construction with exposed ceiling beams inside. When a big flood was expected furniture cushions were flung over the rafters and delicate items like the early square screen Zenith television (it took 12 to 18 separate adjustments to change channels, and children were forbidden to touch it) were actually suspended from the rafters by ropes. 

(Probably Claude hoped to avoid the number of
"high bank" steps down to the river as seen at this
camp in 1934; but "low bank" lands flood.)

The worst effects of river flooding were the destruction of Claude’s boat docks. For many years a restaurant sat alongside the Cumberland about where the Briley Parkway bridge stands. An unusually broad and gently sloping river frontage caused the developers to build facilities there for swimming and boating. The entire facility was called “Woodale Beach”. Claude had more than one inboard engine wooden Chris-Craft power boats over the years, each of which he named “Kitty”. But the lower river bank at the camp was much too steep for easy boat access. So, inspired by the facilities at Woodale Beach, Claude built a wooden staircase there down to a floating boat dock at the water’ s edge where he hoped to keep his “Kitty” boats ready for use. Floods carried the whole thing away. Claude then rebuilt the staircase and dock with stronger materials, but ultimately this was swept downriver too. While boating activities continued at the “camp” there were no more staircases or boat docks constructed.

The best feature of the “camp” to some in those days before universal air conditioning was the large roofed and screened-in rear porch or deck. One could usually catch the river breeze there without the bother of insects, so that was where most meals were served.

(Not every entertainment at the river camps
was added to the Pearce property.)

Later on a large permanent barbeque pit was added at the southern end of the “camp” property, and on long fourth of July and Labor Day weekends Otto Cato would spend all night on a cot beside the glowing coals, rising on occasion to see how the meat was cooking. Many of the club families would keep him company by spending the night on folding beds at the “camp”, usually preparing things like hand-cranked (and truly fresh) ice cream. 

(At the camp in 1960)

(In 1957)

(“Candy” and Claude, 1957)

(Another group shot from 1960)

Otto Cato would be miffed if we failed to mention the Bordeaux Civic Center, which he helped construct in the days when all hoped for a bright future for the little community across the river from North Nashville. He was able to get that building for the club’s cold weather parties, such as their New Year’s party.

Trips to distant locales (above, Lookout Mountain) were seldom made by the club as such, but rather by two or more club members traveling together. Perhaps the only exception was the 1965 charter of a bus for a day trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It was just too difficult to synchronize so many individual schedules for so long an absence at the same time; hence the beauty of the camp experience, where people could come and go when they pleased and stay for what time they had.

Noccalula Falls, 1939
 

(Florida, with charter member Vera in the “back seat”. Vera would stay in Florida until 1998)
 

 

(Florida, 1936)

(Not Shirley Temple but Cecil’s niece Sue, 1939)

Still, they went on trips, most notably before the second world war curtailed travel and before the prosperity the war bought made possible the realization of previously deferred dreams of children of one’s own....which despite their many blessings do tie one down. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

(Symbols of the 1939 New York World’s Fair)

(Which  Lena rides with aplomb)
 

(Annie knew if you go in the train in 1940, you go in style)

 

 

(“Leave the driving to us” 1940 style. Ethel Lusty 
is beside the driver)

(And away-y-y-y we go!)

A great many Effeness club members joined a special train organized by the Inglewood Baptist Church in 1958 to see the Billy Graham crusade in New York City. Ample sightseeing time was allowed in the tour. The train was 22 passenger cars long.

The husbands of Effeness club members had a major impact on their selection of trip destinations, one of the few instances in which males made a significant difference in their social agendas. The men discovered the little fishing village of Carrabelle on Florida’s Gulf coast. An ambitious and hard-driving captain named Anderson took his passengers perilously far into the Gulf of Mexico to previously undiscovered fishing grounds. The size of the fish caught there was eye-popping by Tennessee standards.

(Claude Pearce, Sam Weems, Wayne Weems, John L. Matthews, Jr. and Everett Camey on a Carrabelle pier, 1956)

But the ladies who went along for the trip were disappointed. Carrabelle had a beautiful white sand beach littered with the remains of sting rays, and the waters there were stained brown from the discharge of rivers lined with paper pulp mills. The town had a restaurant but few other amenities, and if they attempted to go to sea with the men they became violently seasick. Any crisis that may have been brewing was abruptly defused by Captain Anderson, who decided that his Carrabelle locations were fished out and moved his boats to Panama City.

Panama City had world-class beaches, plenty of shops and entertainments, and so many people that Captain Anderson soon built much bigger boats. The ladies were delighted and came along whenever they could. But when they tried going out to sea on the bigger boats, they still remained seasick for the whole voyage.
 
(“Goofy Golf” a miniature golf course with outlandish
painted concrete decorations) 

(Panama City, 1960)


1960


(Is time beginning to tell on the “girls”?)

1968

During this entire period monthly meetings continued, along with all the stresses and trials of ordinary life, so with their 40th Anniversary it is perhaps not too surprising that the club members began to slow down a bit. And father time was giving another pointed reminder of their progress as their own children began to get married. (Lena and Otto Cato had one child, a daughter named Brenda; Cecil Pearl and Sam Weems one child, a son named William Wayne; Earl and Frances Compton two boys, Reavis and Jerry; and Mamie and John Matthews one son, who they named John L. Jr.) 

(Marriage of Jean and John L. Matthews, Jr.)

The girl in the right background, Sara Lusty Grossholz, is the second child of Lois Lusty and soon to be a social lion in her own right.

The response of the Effeness ladies to the courtships and weddings of these “club children” was interesting, to say the least. Two, Annie Baggott Cathey and Thelma Neal, decided to get married again themselves.

(Thelma and Russell Vardell)

               (Annie and Logan Pruitt)

Willie Mae Shockley also married A. L. “Bud” Rust after the death of her first husband, Marion Shockley.

(The ladies of the club, 1972)

With the approach of the Club’s 50th Anniversary time began to force still more changes upon the activities of the members. After the completion of Old Hickory Dam and Percy Priest Dam the Army Corps of Engineers declared the Pennington Bend area to be free of any but the most extraordinary floods. The new Opryland complex began building there, Cecil and husband Sam moved there, then Katherine Pearce and husband Claude built a new home next to their old camp buildings, which they ultimately sold. The Corps then blew up a low flow-over dam and navigation locks at the tip of the Bend. The Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County made a park out of the plot of land that had included the lock keeper’ s house. Lock Two Park became a favorite picnic spot for the club. 

(Lock Two Park, 1989)

But the Corps of Engineers did not drop the lake level in the reservoirs created by its new dams when spring came as TVA did. Some say they were pressured by wealthy lakefront home owners. In any event, when record rains fell in 1975 all they could do was open the floodgates on their dams and let the water through. The new Opryland theme park was devastated, and water rose to the ceiling of the furnished basement of the new Pearce home. They were forced by loss of power to ride out the flood in the Weems home, where the basement was only partially furnished and partially flooded.

Clearly, the sale of the Pearce camp on Pennington Bend Road and the death of Claude Pearce in 1976 marked the end of an era. Yet Lena’s Sister, Sadie Smith and her husband Lawrence now had more time to devote to the activities of the Effeness and their “Friendly Fourteen”, and Claude House was likewise seen more often in club gatherings.

(Claude House, 1983)

 While monthly meetings continued apace one of the worst of time’s grim realities struck the club repeated blows in the increasing number of funerals for members, their husbands, family and friends. Even so, some new faces appeared to help fill the gaps. Buford Crowley had died a relatively young man with kidney failure, yet it took his widow Roberta years to remarry. When she did, the adjustments to her marriage, pressures of her farm business and her own illness caused her to disappear almost entirely from club affairs before her own passing. But when Katherine Pearce sold her riverfront home and moved into a Madison condo with Helen DuBois she effectively made Helen an honorary Effeness member.

(Roommates. 1987)

Occasional Picnics were attempted throughout the 1980’s but as they were seen as an increasing bother more and more group social gatherings were held at restaurants. This is a problem for any photo collection since group photos in such a setting tend to be static and constrained, showing mostly the same folk in many of the same poses, only growing older with the years. So on the following page you will see someone grow up in restaurant photos.
 
(Why did we think picnics a lot of trouble? Well, here we are at the Weems riverfront home in 1988, there has been a cloudburst, and we had to drag tables and all into their unfinished and cluttered basement!)

(Look at Lois’ granddaughter Kristi Joy, second 
from the end in this 1983 photo)

             (And in this 1986 photo)

By the year 1990 regular Effeness club meetings had been replaced with occasional meetings, sometimes in association with other gatherings. The ills and infirmities of age made such schedules much more realistic. But if Annie Baggott Cathey Pruitt had all but disappeared from view after her husband’ s illnesses and a devastating auto accident, club members were able to again welcome charter member Vera Saunders Douglas when she returned from Florida after her husband’s death.

Some favorite gathering places in the 1990’s

The new Carney home, its broad covered garage ideal for picnic style meals)

(Ethel Lusty’s common dining room in her assisted living facility, which she could reserve with complete meal services for herself and her guests. A big problem was finding an unlocked door at the building’s ground level.)


In the new millennium the surviving members of the Effeness Club, who once met together monthly with punctual regularity, converse on the telephone but seldom manage those face to face gatherings that doubtless helped keep them together for so long. Yet their accomplishment is more than longevity. Totalitarian ideals are being touted under new guises today. Some argue that overreaching and overbearing government regulations are required to impose an outer uniformity and inner docility necessary for members of an increasingly diverse society to “get along” with each other. If the proud, individual, independent and occasionally even headstrong Effeness ladies could nonetheless achieve a signal degree of unity in the midst of diversity, perhaps the rest of us can too.
The Effeness club grew through family associations and itself acted as an extended family. Yet each member maintained her own independent relationships with family members not connected with the club, and these have been very important to club members as they find themselves less able to maintain their lifestyle unaided. So the Effeness club ladies have carried on, with the help of their “significant others”, of their children, of caring family members, and each other.

(Valentine’s Day, 1994)

                             (Christmas, 1995)

 

1992

                                   2002



(The "girls" and guests not too long after their radio broadcast.)

(25th Anniversary, 1953)


Program

Invocation........................................Rev Bunyan Smith

Welcome.............................................Edna Earl Carney

Piano Solo............................................Nancy Strausser

Introduction Of Members
   By President..................................Cecil Pearl Weems

Guitar Duet....................................................Jim Ralston
                                                                         Dick Reyes

History Of The Club..........................Mamie Matthews

Solo.............................................................Joyce Collins

Cutting Of Anniversary Cake.........Cecil Pearl Weems

Assisted By..............................................Annie Cathey
 
 

                                       Refreshments

Serving

Nieces Of The Club Members

Sue Carroll Jones

Jacqueline Fleming

Dolores Jones

Joyce Collins

Sylvia Draper

Anna Marie Cartwright

Annie Ruth Cartright

Betsy Simkins

Dorothy Elaine Reed

Glenn Ann Keith

Judith Odom

Joan Startup

Carolyn Startup

Martha Grizzard

Hilda Pruett

 


IN MEMORIAM

EARL COMPTON    JUNE 23, 1972
FRANCES MCDANIEL COMPTON    DECEMBER 22, 1986
CLAUDE PEARCE    APRIL 1, 1976
THELMA NEAL VARDELL    OCTOBER 2, 1984
RUSSELL VARDELL    JUNE 22, 1998
MAMIE ODOM MATTHEWS     MAY 4, 1998
JOHN L. MATTHEWS, SR.   OCTOBER 14, 1984
LENA JONES CATO    OCTOBER 18, 1996
OTTO CATO    AUGUST 8, 1972
BRENDA CATO STREET   SEPTEMBER 23. 1997
EVERETT CARNEY   FEBRUARY 21, 1995
ROY CAROTHERS    SEPTEMBER 20, 1995
SAM M.WEEMS, JR.   JUNE 7, 1989
ANNIE CATHEY PRUITT   FEBRUARY 23, 2002
CLAUDE HOUSE   AUGUST 29, 1999
ETHEL LUSTY    APRIL 13, 2001
BIRDIE MATTHEWS MOCKER   MAY 3, 1997
SADIE JONES SMITH   JANUARY 27, 1991
LAWRENCE SMITH    JANUARY 2, 1991
LOIS SWANN LUSTY    OCTOBER 11, 1991
STEWART LUSTY    FEBRUARY 3, 1974
ROBERTA CROWLEY GEORGE     APRIL 15, 1982
BUFORD CROWLEY     AUGUST 16, 1960
ELISE RUSSELL CUTRELL     AUGUST 28, 1981
MILDRED BURNETT PACE     OCTOBER 1, 1998
MADGE HARPER GRAVES    NOVEMBER 1, 1996
ETHEL SAUNDERS MOORE     MARCH 18, 1999
VERA SAUNDERS DOUGLAS     FEBRUARY 7, 1994
CECIL PEARL WEEMS     MARCH 26, 2004
DOROTHY PARMAN CAROTHERS     DECEMBER 9, 2004      

AND MANY OTHERS WHO LIVE ON IN OUR MEMORIES
AND IN OUR HEARTS
 


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