In her article “Let’s Do Lunch” (Details, 1990), Jody Shields considers ladies lunch–women entertaining other women at home–a “revolutionary” development in women’s history. A first step to freedom, getting out of the house and into a wider world.
And, I would add, the first step in creation of the ladies-at-home-bridge-lunch club.
The women’s club movement of the mid-19th century, says Shields, played a major role in that transformation of women’s lives. The clubs pursued cultural studies, took up worthy causes, got involved in the suffrage movement. Clubs need a place to meet, and since women could not then meet in public restaurants, lunch at homes of members served that purpose.
At some point, one can only guess, some women decided that they’d meet for lunch and not pursue worthy causes–play cards instead.
No doubt there were bridge lunch clubs earlier, but by the 1890s, both bridge-whist and the custom of ladies getting together for lunch was well established–the ladies-only-bridge-lunch club was on its way. Philadelphia’s Hamilton Club, in 1893, allowed card-playing wives, sisters, daughters and friends of members to use the clubhouse from 9 to 3 on any day except Sunday.
In my book I mark this historic happening in bridge history with the Married Woman’s Card Club described by John Berendt in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Berendt says the Club was begun in 1893 by “sixteen ladies in search of amusement.” The chosen amusement was to play bridge, still bridge-whist back then. And like the millions of women who still meet today for lunch and bridge, the Married Woman’s Card Club still exists–or did until 1994 when Berendt published his best-seller book about a true crime story set in Savannah. That’s 100 years!!