Then, in 1916, the club decided to bring in a professional
theatrical group to raise more money for its charitable causes
and booked the Washington Square Players of New York City to
perform here. Apparently, no one locally had read the script
and, during the performance, one actress undressed down to her
slip, exposing bare shoulders and legs in front of the audience.
Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
If I were a muckraking journalist a century ago, writing
for the National Enquirer or whatever the scandal sheet of the
day was then, I would have relished using the above headline,
even though it's somewhat unfair to a group of DeKalb women who
had organized only two years earlier.
According to club records from 1916, the DeKalb Drama Club,
consisting of 12 ladies of some prominence in the community,
needed a fundraiser to boost their benevolent work on behalf
of families in need and children. They had organized in 1914
under the leadership of Mrs. James (Harriette) Ellwood Lewis
and Mrs. William F. Martin with the intention of studying
modern drama and of doing some constructive work to benefit the
welfare of children in the community. They met in members
homes to make layettes (baby clothes) while one member read aloud
a play each week. Thus, they combined philanthropy with an appreciation
of the arts.
Members of the DeKalb Drama Club pose for a group
photo while on a recent tour of the Sycamore History Museum at
the Engh farm. The club reached a milestone in 2014-2015: It
is marking its centennial year. (Photo provided)
The shocking display of a lady in her underwear horrified
some in the audience. But when it was learned the club had collected
$134.64 profit from ticket sales, the ladies soon recovered.
Just recently, Cheryl Johnson, who is compiling a history of
the drama club covering its 100 years, from 1914 to 2015, shared
this scintillating tidbit from research she has been doing for
Cheryl and Diane Schmitt, the club's president during
its centennial year, related the highlights of the clubs
activities for me. Diane herself holds some kind of record, being
a 39-year member. They said the late E. Nelson James, a well-known
Northern Illinois University faculty member, even produced the
humorous play, "Almost a Fiasco," about the brouhaha
in 1916 for the club's 75th anniversary in 1989, which
was presented again in 2013.
I should mention some of the community work drama club
members have accomplished over the years. Now with a set membership
of 30, they continue their meetings in members homes and
donate to many causes. Early on, members paid to bring two teachers
from Chicago to start a kindergarten in DeKalb schools, paying
each teacher $50 a month for three months, plus $10 more for
Members placed considerable emphasis on the welfare of
children, so, in 1918, they brought a visiting nurse to town
to educate the public on the need for better health care. Later,
they helped pay for a DeKalb County nurse and contributed to
the county TB sanitarium. They also donated to the construction
of a swimming pool at Hopkins Park, decorated a room at the DeKalb
Public Hospital in 1933, and purchased $50 in stock when the
Stagecoach Players organized in 1947.
Skipping ahead a half century, their latest donation to
the new DeKalb library expansion project will help pay for the
restoration of the original librarians desk, which dates
So even though it's small in numbers, the club has had
quite an impact over the 100 years of its existence.