Table of Contents

Overview of the Collection

Historical Information

Charter Members

Scope and Contents

Arrangement

Restrictions

Index Terms

Related Items

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Administrative Information

Series Description

Series 1: Chronicles

Series 2: Additional Papers

Series 3: Publications

Series 4: Photographs & Artifacts

Contents List

Plainfield Public Library
Shakespeare Society of Plainfield, N.J. Records [1896-1998]

Shakespeare
Photograph of Shakespeare Society members in costume, 1912.

Part of the Local Organizations Collection at the Plainfield Public Library
Finding aid written and encoded by Sarah Hull in March 2009, and updated in January 2010;
collection processed in March 2009 and January 2010 by Sarah Hull.


Overview of the Collection
Repository: Plainfield Public Library, Local History Department, 800 Park Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060
Creator: Shakespeare Society of Plainfield, N.J.
Title: Papers of the Shakespeare Society of Plainfield
Dates: 1887 – 1998, with gaps
Accessions: PPL-MSS-2009-11; PPL-ART-2009-1; PPL-VIS-2009-6
Quantity:

2.5 linear feet of records
Comprised of 4 boxes:
Three (4) 10”x15”x5” document cases

Abstract: The Papers of the Shakespeare Society of Plainfield chronicle the creation and 107-year history of the Society from 1896 to 1998.  The collection includes six leather-bound volumes containing the meeting minutes of the Society. The volumes contain an assortment of record types including, hand-written and typed minutes, photographs, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and other Society-related papers. The collections was later expanded with an additional minutes binder and a small selection of papers, publications, photographs, and artifacts.
Language: The records are in English.

Historical Information

The Shakespeare Society was created as the “Shakespeare Club of Plainfield” in October 1887 by Mrs. Frederick F. Beals with eighteen charter members.  The first meeting was held in the Beals’ home, and the first reading selection came from King Lear.  The Chronicles reflect the personality of the club. For 107 years, the Society members prided themselves on being the antithesis of a stodgy, academic group.  It has been noted, in fact, that they were not a learned society or literary club; they simply liked to read Shakespeare aloud.  The office of president was not highly sought after at all.  Society presidents were elected for only one or two meetings – usually for the reading selection from a single play.  S/he would be responsible for casting the reading selection -- a difficult task.  Several plays had numerous roles, while club members numbered 23 or less.  More often than not, member absences would reduce the available readers to half that; giving multiple parts to each person.  This would sometimes result in one member engaging in a Shakespearian repartee with him or herself - - a humorous, but not necessarily desirable occurrence.  It became a de facto rule that the election of the president would fall to a member who was absent from the prior week’s meeting – more or less as a punishment. 

According to the minutes, members would offer to host meetings in their homes; all offers always accepted “with great alacrity.”  On cold winter nights, readings were held next to a cozy fire.  In springtime, hostesses would treat their guests to the fresh aroma of garden flowers.  Each meeting would end with a candlelit social hour accompanied by a delicious dessert repast of scrumptious cakes, delicious ice creams, and delectable sauces (preferably two of each), as well as a choice of Sanka™ or regular coffee (as was decided one night by an anonymous kitchen vote of 10 to 5, respectively).  If only one type of cake was offered or ice cream was not, it was noted in the meeting minutes without fail.  Verily, it could be argued that the Society membership appreciated their desserts as much as, if not more than, the actual readings of Shakespeare.  Meetings ran from 8pm to 11pm; sometimes ending closer to the proverbial witching hour if conversation was more lively than usual (or the hostess included brownies on the menu).

Although mentioned in the Society Chronicles, an official Constitution and By-Laws is not found within this collection.  There are, however, handwritten selections from 1909 taken “at random” from the Club’s Constitution (located in Volume 1, page 291).  Those excerpts read thusly:

“The object of the Shakespeare Club is to read selected and strictly expurgated works of Wm Shakespeare, to afford a convenient excuse for the meeting of the elect of Plainfield for a free discussion of the affairs of the universe, and especially of our own neighbors.

Membership shall be restricted to those who have lived 25 years in Plainfield and who are at least half a century old.  Sufficient discretion to eliminate the very human element from the poet’s writings seldom is found in younger people.

Accomplished and experienced readers are debarred from membership.  They would create a discord in the placid harmony of the club.

Anyone attempting to change the usual tone of his voice while reading or to put any expression with the part shall be warned at the first offense, and when repetition of the same he shall be expelled from membership.  If artistic readings were allowed, the club would soon degenerate to the low level of professional actors.

Anyone guilty of discussing a play of Shakespeare after the reading is finished shall be fined five dollars - the fines to go toward the annual picnic…

…Any member loosing her place through inattention shall not feel aggrieved when the President reads her part.

Anyone failing to [speak] in reading such words as hell, damn, strumpet, vile, or such lewd phrases and sentences as so often occur in Shakespeare, as well as in Holy Writ, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Only safe plays should be read. The safest of all is Julius Caesar which should come before the club at least once a year.”*

Over the course of a century, a variety of current events and topics are found within the meeting minutes.  Social discussions ran the gambit beginning with women’s suffrage in the 1890’s and continuing up to solar and nuclear energy in the 1970’s.  During the 1950’s, health concerns about desserts regarding the number calories crept up, and later in the 1980’s worries about cholesterol were noted.  Some Society “firsts” include: the first minutes written in ball point pen on May 8, 1959, the first use of the word “chocoholics” on the November 18, 1977, in 1988 we see the first use of computer-printed minutes (a dot-matrix printer), and on March 30, 1990 the first woman president led the meeting not as a substitute, but in her own right.

One of the more important topics of local concern is the creation of Shakespeare Garden in Plainfield.  The idea of such a garden to be planted in Cedar Brook Park was proposed initially by Society members to the Plainfield Garden Club in 1927.  The Shakespeare Garden Committee reports are included in the Chronicles starting in 1932 (volume 3).

Not only do these chronicles fully document the activities of the Shakespeare Society, but they are interesting and entertaining reading as well.  The entries follow a typical pattern expected in club minutes – that of roll call, reading and approval of prior week’s minutes, any club business and casting of parts, then close with a few lines about the social hour and desserts.  The writings are full of wit, humor, drama, a touch of sarcasm, and, of course, the occasional poem.   Mr. Shakespeare would be proud.

*For those unfamiliar with this play, “Julius Caesar” is one of the Bard’s bloodiest and most tragic of plays.

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Charter Members

Mr. & Mrs. Frederick F. Beals
Mr. & Mrs. Howard Fleming
Mrs. Charles Hyde
Mrs. Minnie E. Edgerton
Mr. & Mrs. D. Shepard
Mr. & Mrs. George H. Goddard
Mr. & Mrs. Isaac L. Miller
Mr. & Mrs. William L. Patton
Mr. & Mrs. Chas. W. Opdyke
Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Huntington
Mr. & Mrs. J. Evarts Tracy
Miss Julia Scribner
Dr. Ellis W. Hedges
Mr. & Mrs. Edward C. Perkins
Mr. Eugene H. Hatch
Mr. & Mrs. William E. Lowe
Mr. & Mrs. Frank Otis Herring
Mr. & Mrs. Walter E. Stewart

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Scope and Contents

The Shakespeare Society of Plainfield Records chronicle the creation and 107-year history of the Society from 1887 to 1994.  The collection includes six leather-bound volumes containing the meeting minutes of the Society:

Volume 1: October 1896 to June 1916 – well-worn, spine is broken, brittle pages.

Volume 2: October 1916 to June 1927 – well-worn.

Volume 3: October 1927 to December 1937 - includes papers from January 1938. The spine is broken, and pages are brittle. There is a Society history on page 270. This volume contains writings regarding the beginnings of the Society and the celebration of the 50th anniversary.

Volume 4: January 1938 to June 1952 – natural wear.

Volume 5: May 1952 to June 1971 – natural wear.

Volume 6: October 1971 to March 1994 – natural wear. The majority of the entries are typed in this volume.

The volumes contain an assortment of record types including hand-written and typed minutes, photographs, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and other Society-related papers.  Contents appear in their original order, but metal fasteners and loose, deteriorating pieces of tape have been removed.  Although worn with time, four of the volumes remain in good condition.  As noted above, two of the volumes are brittle with age, and their bindings are loose and falling off.  Researchers should take particular care in handling both of these ledgers.

A later donation expanded the collection with the addition of a minute book dating 1994 to 1998, as well as various club papers, internal publications such as brochures and booklets, external publication such as articles and pamphlets, two scripts used by the club, and a variety of artifacts and photographs.

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Arrangement

The Shakespeare Society Records are arranged into four series:

Series 1: Chronicles, Volumes 1 to 7, 1896 to 1998
Series 2: Additional papers, including poems from 1937 (and undated) and two scripts.
Series 3: Publications, 1962
Series 4: Photographs and Artifacts

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Access and Use

Restrictions on Access

The Shakespeare Society of Plainfield Records are available for research.

Access is restricted to materials prepared by the Local History department staff. All materials must be viewed in the Plainfield Room and may not be removed to another area of the library without permission of the Library Director or designee. Materials must be handled carefully and kept in order. Materials must not be leaned upon, altered, folded, ripped, or traced upon. Marks may not be added or erased from materials. Materials must be returned directly to Local History department staff and inspected before the researcher leaves the Plainfield Room.

Restrictions on Use

One photocopy may be made (by Plainfield Public Library staff) of each document for the purpose of research; official Local History departmental reproduction fees may apply. Permission to publish must be obtained by the Plainfield Public Library Board of Trustees as delegated to the Library Director. Permission to publish does not constitute a copyright clearance. The researcher is responsible for further copyright restrictions. The Plainfield Public Library is not responsible for the misuse of copyrighted material

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Index Terms

This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.

Organizations:

Plainfield Garden Club, Plainfield, NJ
Shakespeare Club of Plainfield, N.J.
Shakespeare Society of Plainfield, N.J.

Places:

Plainfield (N.J.)--History

Subjects:

Literary clubs
Shakespeare clubs
Social clubs

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Related Items

Plainfield Garden Club, Shakespeare Garden.

"Garden Club of Plainfield" collection; Local History Department, Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield, New Jersey.

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Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

This collection consists of paper documents and artifacts, which do not require any additional technology for access.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Identification of item; Date (if noted); "Papers of the Shakespeare Society of Plainfield, N.J.," Box and Folder Number; Local History Department, Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield, New Jersey.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated on behalf of the Shakespeare Society since the late 1880s when Volumes I and II were entrusted to the Library for safekeeping.  Since that time, all volumes have been held by the Plainfield Public Library.

Processing Information

The collection was processed by Sarah Hull in March 2009 and January 2010. The finding aid was written and encoded by Sarah Hull in March 2009, and updated in January 2010. Finding aid content follows the guidelines suggested by Describing Archives: A Content Standard.

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Series Description of the Collection
Series 1: Chronicles [1896 to 1998]

Series Description
Series 1 contains the seven volumes of (mostly) leather-bound chronicles of the Society.  The Chronicles record the minutes of meetings held two Fridays a month since 1896.  It is composed solely of paper documents, most of which are hand-written. In later years minutes are typed or word processed on a computer.  Attached within some of the books are photographs of Club members and activities, member correspondence, newspaper clippings, and interesting ephemera.

Arrangement
Series 1 is arranged chronologically and fills three boxes

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Series 2: Additional Papers [1936--1962, undated]

Series Description
Series 2 contains additional poems written by members of the Society, as well as some invitations and blank post cards. There are also two scripts used by the club. It is composed solely of loose (unbound) paper documents which are typed.  The pages are somewhat brittle with age.

Arrangement
Series 2 is arranged chronologically and fills one folder.

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Series 3: Publications [1931--1988, undated]

Series Description
Series 3 contains various publications, which are mostly from external (non-club) sources. There are also newspaper clippings (clipped by club members). It is composed solely of paper documents which are typed; some are bound.

Arrangement
Series 3 is arranged chronologically and fills four folders.

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Series 4: Photographs and Artifacts [undated, circa 1947, 1950s, 1960s-1970s]

Series Description
Series 4 contains photographs and artifacts of the club. The photographs, both black and white and in color, in this series were not part of any of the minute books. It is composed solely of photographs and artifacts used by club members.

Arrangement
Series 4 is arranged chronologically by media type and fills four folders.

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Contents Listing
Box Series Folder Title Date

1 1 1 Chronicles of the Shakespeare Club, Volume 1 October 1896 – June 1916

1 2Chronicles of the Shakespeare Society, Volume 2 October 1916 – June 1927
2 1 1 Chronicles of the Shakespeare Society, Volume 3 October 1927 – January 1938
  1 2 Chronicles of the Shakespeare Society, Volume 4 January 1938 – June 1952
1 1 Chronicles of the Shakespeare Society, Volume 5 May 1952 – June 1971
  1 2 Chronicles of the Shakespeare Society, Volume 6 October 1971 – March 1994
  2 3 Additional papers 1937, undated
4 1 1 Minutes book (unbound) 1994 to 1998
  2 2 Papers 1936-1962, undated
  3 3 Publications (The Shakespeare Garden by Esther Singleton Wm Farquhar Payson) 1931-1965, undated
  3 4 Publications (pronouncing proper names in Shakespeare) 1947
  3 5 Publications (history) 1965, undated
  3 6 Newspaper Clippings 1976-1988, undated
  4 7 Photographs (3) B&W 50th anniversary circa 1947
  4 8 Photographs (14) Royaltone color photos of Shakespeare toga party circa 1980s, 1991
  4 9 Photographs (14) Color photos of patio party circa 1960s / 1970s
  4 10 Small hook (used in tightening laces, etc) undated
 

 

  Shakespeare Society rubber stamp undated

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Updated January 2010