Finding aid for the Ruskin Art Club records 6083

Sue Luftschein
USC Libraries Special Collections
Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, California 90089-0189

Language of Material: English
Contributing Institution: USC Libraries Special Collections
Title: Ruskin Art Club records
creator: Ruskin Art Club
creator: Witmer, Helen
Identifier/Call Number: 6083
Physical Description: 29.26 Linear Feet 34 boxes
Date (inclusive): 1879-2003
Abstract: The Ruskin Art Club was founded October 12, 1888, and is the oldest women's club in Los Angeles. Its original purpose was to study the technique and history of engraving and etching, inspired by founding member Mary E. Boyce's own collection of prints and extensive library of books on art. The Club's main activity were the annual courses of study in the history of art, architecture, or archaeology. These consisted of lectures delivered by the members to the membership at the monthly Wednesday morning meetings. Programs were printed and distributed amongst the membership and were, in effect, syllabi, including a weekly schedule of specialized topics, the names of the members who would research and present on these topics, and the schedule of the presentations. The records document the Club's activities, with especial emphasis on the annual courses of study as preserved in the minutes and programs.
Container: 1-4, 8, 10-13
Container: 5-7, 9, 14, 20, 21
Container: 15-17, 27, 29-33
Container: 18, 19, 22, 28
Container: 23-25
Container: 26, 34

Historical note

The Ruskin Art Club was founded October 12, 1888, and is the oldest women's club in Los Angeles. The founding members of the Club were Mary E. Boyce, Fanny Brainerd, Dora Haynes, Lora Hubbel, and Mary Widney. Its original purpose was to study the technique and history of engraving and etching, inspired by founding member Mary E. Boyce's own collection of prints and extensive library of books on art. The name "Ruskin Art Club" was chosen by the original members at its first meeting, and is significant, as it signaled both an embrace of English art critic John Ruskin's philosophies about the Arts and Crafts movement, and the rights of women. The Club’s activities were designed by its members to give more meaning to their lives than Victorian society ascribed to them. Through "the earnest study of masterful works of art,” the club’s members would become sensitized to beauty in an increasingly mechanized society, and the club would make art available to a wider audience and thus elevate society's values as a whole. In addition, the appellation "Club" had great significance in 1880s Los Angeles, in which clubs were exclusively the domain of men.
The Club’s main activity was the annual course of study in the history of art, architecture, or archaeology. These courses of study, selected by the president, ran for 8 months every year. They consisted of lectures delivered by the members to the membership at the monthly Wednesday morning meetings. Programs were printed and distributed amongst the membership and were, in effect, syllabi, including a weekly schedule of specialized topics, the names of the members who would research and present on these topics, and the schedule of the presentations.
In April 1890, the Club sponsored the first public art exhibition in Los Angeles when it had the entire engraving exhibit from the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition sent to them on loan. The success of this exhibit resulted in a rapid growth in membership to the point where the members imposed a maximum membership of 100 women. The membership also soon outgrew its original meeting location, Mary Boyce’s drawing room, and began meeting in various locations around the city, including the Hamburger Department Store, and the Bella Union, Nadau, and Hollenbeck hotels. In the 1920s, the Club moved into its permanent home at 8th and Plymouth. Originally built by the Congregational Church Extension Society as a Sunday School Room and Parish House, the club occupied the building as its club house and headquarters until 2014, when it was sold.
The Club was an influential presence in Los Angeles and across the nation. Many of Los Angeles’s influential clubs were founded with Ruskin members in attendance, including the Friday Morning Club and the Ebell Club. The Ruskin also developed a longstanding relationship with another of Los Angeles’s important institutions, the Southwest Museum, and in particular with its curator, Hector Alliot. Alliot made his first address to the Club in 1905, and continued to work with them until his death in 1919, particularly in the design of the annual courses of study. In 1889, Mary Boyce attended a meeting of women’s clubs in the United States that resulted in the formation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, with the Ruskin as one of the original 60 founding members.
Membership began to wane during the Depression, and in the 1960s, the Board of Directors amended the by-laws to permit men to join.
In 1988, the Ruskin Art Club celebrated its centennial, an event recognized in a number of official city commendations. In the aftermath of that celebration, however, a period of crisis ensued: many members, mindful of the organization’s dwindling numbers and a societal climate in which club membership was in general decline, proposed to sell the clubhouse and regroup as a more informal, home-based association. The move was defeated by a single vote – Margaret Clausen’s, who, then, found herself faced with resuscitating the Ruskin Art Club without many of the older members.
In the 1990s, a new generation emerged: Jim Burns helped to develop a “Music in Mansions” concert series; composer Alfred Carlson, a student of Arnold Schoenberg, became Ruskin Art Club composer-in-residence; weaver Estelle Carlson launched a popular series of textile exhibitions; choral conductor and silent-movie musician Robert Mitchell performed regularly and the club sponsored a series of weekly luncheon programs. The club also organized summer concerts at the historic Southwest Museum in the Arroyo Seco. In 1997, local historian Joseph Ryan delivered the first “Ruskin” lecture on the history of the club, later published as a monograph, and led the ultimately successful campaign to designate the Ruskin Art Club headquarters as an official Los Angeles historical monument.
As the new century dawned, Gabriel Meyer, the Ruskin Art Club’s first male president, steered the club back to its earliest roots in the ideals of John Ruskin and in association with other historic California arts and crafts-oriented institutions: the Judson Studios in Highland Park, the Gamble House in Pasadena, the California Art Club, the Huntington Library and the Southwest Museum. In addition, the club sought to organize itself more effectively for the future by shifting its legal status from a members-only organization to a non-profit public arts corporation. New younger members also spearheaded a host of new programs at the clubhouse in the first decade of the new century: chamber concerts, the “Jazz at the Ruskin” series, annual “Ruskin” Lectures, a symposium honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Arnold Schoenberg, readers’ theater presentations, “Ruskin” study groups, a monthly poetry series in collaboration with Pasadena-based Red Hen Press, a “Modern Masters” literary series designed by the club’s literary programs director, Elena Karina Byrne, and a series of Saturday literary workshops led by local and nationally recognized writers.
However, by 2008, and the celebration of the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Ruskin Art Club, the physical condition of the nearly 90-year-old clubhouse was increasingly inhibiting the club’s mission and its ability to mount programs. In late 2013, the board of directors made the painful and difficult decision to sell the organization’s historic mid-Wilshire property, entrusting its fate to a talented restoration architect and to a new future as a private residence – albeit one that remains a Los Angeles cultural and historic monument. This move allowed the Ruskin Art Club, in its 125th year, to return to its original mission – not to manage property, however historic – but to advance the cause of Ruskin’s thought in the 21st century and to develop ways to support writers, artists, musicians, architects, and thinkers who espouse Ruskin’s values in Southern California.
[Sources: Joseph Ryan, “The Ruskin Art Club: A History” (Los Angeles: Ruskin Art Club), c. 1997); Gabriel Meyer, President of the Ruskin Art Club, October 2014]

Scope and Contents

The Ruskin Art Club records consist of meeting minutes, programs, adminstrative and financial records, clippings, some correspondence, photographs, and ephemera, created and collected by the members of the Club, 1891-2003. The records describe in detail the activities of the Club, which were in the area of art education for its membership. Of particular importance are the minutes and programs, which describe in detail the lectures delivered to the membership by the membership, and formed the core activity of the Club. Also included are some papers created and collected by Helen Witmer, president of the Club during the 1950s and 60s.


Gift of Ruskin Art Club, April 3, 2014.

Conditions Governing Access

Advance notice required for access.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Preferred Citation

[Box/folder no. or item name], Ruskin Art Club records, Collection no. 6083, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California

Separated Materials

The donation included some books from the Club's library. These have been cataloged separately.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Art -- Study and teaching -- California -- Los Angeles -- Archival resources
Women -- California -- Los Angeles -- Societies and clubs -- History -- Archival resources
Women -- California -- Los Angeles -- History -- Archival resources
Los Angeles (Calif.) -- History -- Archival resources
Los Angeles (Calif.) -- Social life and customs -- Archival resources
Ledgers (account books)
Programs (documents)
Ruskin Art Club
Witmer, Helen
Ruskin Art Club -- Archives
Dearden, James A. -- Correspondence
Gnosspelius, Barbara C. -- Correspondence
Witmer, Helen -- Archives
Ruskin, John -- Archives


Minutes 1893-1944

Scope and Contents

The Minutes of the Ruskin Art Club consist of ledgers, typescripts, and manuscripts of minutes for the club meetings, from 1893 through 1944. The minutes are generally written in narrative style and after detailing the business of the meetings (such as the reading of the previous meeting's minutes and transcribing any announcements), the bulk of the individual minutes consist of transcriptions of the meetings' presentations. Some of the annual minutes, especially in the 1930s, also include committee reports and minutes of business meetings.
Box 1, folder 1

Supplementary minutes 1893-1894

Scope and Contents

Also includes a small pamphlet published as the introduction to "California History Cards: Mission Series".
Box 1, Folder 2

Minutes 1894-1895

Box 1, folder 3

Minutes 1896-1897

Box 1, folder 4

Minutes 1897-1899

Box 1, folder 5

Minutes 1899-1900

Box 5, folder 1

Minutes 1900-1902

Box 5, folder 2

Minutes 1917-1922

Box 1, folder 6

Board Minutes 1917-1926

Box 2, folder 1

Minutes 1929-1930

Box 2, folder 2

Minutes 1930-1931

Box 2, folder 3

Minutes 1931-1932

Box 2, folder 4

Minutes 1932-1933

Box 2, folder 5

Minutes 1933-1934

Box 2, folder 6

Minutes 1934-1935

Box 2, folder 7

Minutes 1935-1936

Box 2, folder 8

Minutes 1936-1937

Box 2, folder 9

Minutes 1937-1938

Box 2, folder 10

Minutes 1938-1939

Box 3, folder 1

Minutes 1939-1940

Box 3, folder 2

Minutes 1940-1941

Box 3, folder 3

Minutes 1941-1942

Box 3, folder 4

Minutes 1942-1944


Papers and Programs 1893-2003 bulk 1893-1987

Scope and Contents

The series consists of the Ruskin Art Club's annual courses of study programs and guestbooks.
Box 9, folder 1

[Lecture outlines] 1889, 1890

Box 3, folder 5

"Book for Preserving Valuable Papers Written on the Subjects Studied by the Ruskin Art Club" 1893

Scope and Contents

Hard bound notebook with handwritten copies of papers presented to the Ruskin Art Club. The flyleaf of the notebook is inscribed with the title and date, and "Room/Baker Block".
Box 7, folder 4

"The Ruskin Art Club" 1893, 1924

Scope and Contents

Published (1893) volume of the courses of study from 1888-1893. Signed by Mary E. Boyce, and given to the Ruskin Art Club by Mrs. J.B. Owens. The introduction to this volume states the reason for its publication: "The programs are in demand for the use of other clubs, and this is primarily the reason of combining them into one series and producting this publication, which will also constitute the club's contribution to the exhibit made by the General Federation of Women's Clubs at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago." Accompanied by a certificate from the Mission Play Foundation commemorating the purchase of 10 memberships; dated May 21, 1924.
Box 8

[Programs] 1897-1904

Box 9, Folder 2

Fourth Annual Exhibition catalog 1905

Box 9

Ruskin Art Club Year Books [programs] 1897-1910

Box 9

Ruskin Art Club Year Books [programs] 1910-1924

Box 10

[Programs] 1914-1916

Scope and Contents

This volume of programs was created scrapbook style.
Box 11

Ruskin Art Club Year Books [programs], vol. 1 1924-1936

Box 12

Ruskin Art Club Year Books [programs], vol. 2 1936-1949

Box 13

Ruskin Art Club Year Books [programs], vol. 3 1949-1960

Box 6, folder 12

Programs 1964-1974

Scope and Contents

Unbound programs for 1964-1965; October 9, 1968; 1969-1970; 1970-1971; 1972-1973; and 1973-1974.
Box 6, folder 10

[Huntington Library event] 1969

Box 4, Folder 8

[Presentations and events] 1991, 2003, undated

Scope and Contents

Audiotapes, videotape, CD-ROMs, and notes of and about presentations to the Ruskin Art Club.
Box 17

Guest Book 1929-1931

Box 18

Guest Book 1957-1959

Box 18

Guest Book 1960-1962

Box 18

Guest Book 1962-1965

Box 18

Guest Book 1964-1967

Box 18

Guest Book 1967-1969

Box 17

Guest Book 1975-1987


Administrative records 1891-1991

Box 3, folder 6

[Administrative notebook] 1925-1935

Scope and Contents

Memorandums, financial records, correspondence regarding club status and finances, clippings, receipts, and copies of minutes from 1935 (incomplete).
Box 7, folder 1

Constitution and amendments 1926-1969

Box 3, folder 7

Treasurer's reports 1955-1964

Box 4, folder 2

Treasurer's reports 1980-1981

Box 4, folder 3

Business 1983-1991

Box 4, folder 1

[Financial records] 1927, 1959, 1964-1968

Box 4, folder 4

Treasurer's reports 1986-1989

Box 4, Folder 5

[Insurance policy letters] 1964-1965

Box 14

[Financial and membership ledgers] 1891-1896

Box 14

[Financial and membership ledgers] 1928-1930

Box 6, folder 11

[Sample membership certificate] undated

Box 14

[Financial and membership ledgers] 1929-1930

Box 16

[Financial and membership ledgers] 1930

Box 15

[Financial and membership ledgers] 1939-1950

Box 15

[Financial and membership ledgers] 1950-1959

Box 16

[Financial and membership ledgers] 1959-1963

Box 16

[Financial and membership ledgers] 1963-1968

Box 6, folder 13

[Miscellaneous notes] undated

box 7, folder 5

Curator's Lists 1926, 1927, undated

Box 9, folder 4

Curator's Book 1912

Box 7, folder 6

[Clubhouse property deed and mortgage document] 1926

Box 7, folder 7

[Clubhouse historic-cultural monument application] 1996


Photographs circa 1903-1990s

Box 4, folder 6

[Photographs of John Ruskin and Ruskiniana] undated

Box 33

[Picture postcards of Coniston sent to Letha (Storrow) Lewis] circa 1903

Box 33

[Photographs and slides] circa 1960s-1990s

Scope and Contents

Snapshots of the Ruskin Clubhouse (exteriors and interiors), members, and a 1998 (?) visit to the Southwest Museum to view the Ruskin Art Club collection; commercial slides of Ruskin's estate.
box 34

[Photographs of Club presidents] circa 1910s-1960s

box 34

[Photograph of Ruskin Art Club clubhouse] 1926

box 34

[Mounted photographs of Yosemite and sculpture] undated


History and Publicity 1896-1990

Box 6, folder 8

[Newspaper clippings about John Ruskin and copy of "Dame Wiggins of Lee" 1896-1990

Box 9, folder 3

Hollywood USO citation circa 1944

Box 6, folder 9

For RAC Scrapbook 1958-1959

Box 19

Scrapbooks 1979-1984


Publications, Bibliographies, and Journals 1879-1965

Scope and Contents

This series consists primarily of journals from the Club's library. The books that were originally part of the records have been cataloged separately.
Box 25-26

The American Magazine of Art 1923 January-1928 November

Scope and Contents

Incomplete run: missing vol. 14 no. 2; vol. 15 no. 9; vol. 16 nos. 2, 6, 11-12; vol. 17 no. 8; vol. 18 nos. 5-7, 10-12; vol. 19 nos. 11-12.
Box 30-31

The Architectural Record 1901 February, April; 1902 January, April, August

Box 20-22

[Articles on topics of interest to the Club] circa 1905-1910

Scope and Contents

Articles from magazines, including The American Magazine, National Geographic, Harper's Monthly, the Era Magazne, Munsey's Magazine, the Book Buyer, the Atlantic Monthly Advertiser, and the Booklovers Magazine, on topics including Mexico, Mexican and American deserts, and artists. The articles are handbound in paper covers.
Box 27-28

Brush and Pencil 1902-1907

Scope and Contents

December 1902-April 1907. Not a complete run.
Box 32

Hollywood Bowl magazine 1941-1942, 1965

Box 20

"Little Journeys" by Elbert Hubbard (New York: The Roycrofters) 1918-1919

Scope and Contents

Includes Business Men A.T. Stewart, Philip Armour, Andrew Carnegie; Great Reformers Oliver Cromwell, Anne Hutchinson; Great Teachers Booker T. Washington.
Box 20

"Los Angeles County Culture and the Community", published by the Civic Bureau of Music and Art of Los Angeles County circa 1931

Scope and Contents

Accompanied by a letter from Leila E. Smith, Civic Bureau of Music and Art, to Mrs. Thomas A. Berkebile, President of the Ruskin Art Club, requesting photographs for a new edition. Reverse of the letter has handwritten notes about possible pictures.
Box 31

The Masterkey 1980 July-September; 1981 October-December

Related Materials

Published by the Southwest Museum
Box 22

[Miscellaneous journals] 1883, 1900, 1905, 1908, 1940-1941, undated

Scope and Contents

Clipping from Century Magazine (February 1883); Overland Monthly reprint (1898); The Literary Digest (January 27, 1900); The International Studio (April 1905); American Photography (1908); Contributions to the Intellectual Life of the Western Hemisphere 1890-1940 (Fiftieth Anniversary of the Pan American Union, 1940); Yehudi Menuhin program (1941); Magazine of Celebrities (1941); unidentified magazine fragment.
Box 22

Museum of Fine Arts Boston Gallery Books circa 1890

box 34

[Prints of artwork] circa 1900

Box 29

[Programs for musical performances] 1939-1942

Scope and Contents

Programs for the Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles (1941-1942); the Coleman Chamber Concerts at Pasadena Community Playhouse (October 19, 1941 and February 8, 1942). Also includes a program for the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood for August 9, 1942.
Box 23-24

The Salon; a collection of the choicest paintings recently executed by distinguished European artists, by Prof. Charles Carrol 1881

Physical Description: Nos. 1-20; no. 9 is a fragment. In fragile condition.
Box 7, folder 3

Spanish Arts and Architecture circa 1930

Scope and Contents

Typed list of books on the subject held in the Art Department of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Box 30

Scribner's Monthly 1879 August


Helen Witmer 1956-1969

Scope and Contents

The Helen Witmer papers consist almost exclusively of material (notes, typescripts, letters) regarding Witmer's presentations to the Club on John Ruskin.
Box 6, Folder 1

James Dearden-Helen Witmer correspondence 1965-1966

Scope and Contents

Letters between Helen Witmer and James Dearden, Curator of the Ruskin Galleries. The letters discuss various matters pertaining to materials about John Ruskin, some of which Mrs. Witmer requested for presentations to the Club.
Box 6, folder 2

Barbara C. Gnosspelius letters to Helen Witmer 1958-1959

Scope and Contents

Letters from Mrs. Gnosspelius, Curator of the Ruskin Museum, to Helen Witmer. Many are in response to requests for photographs of Ruskin.
Box 6, folder 3

[Helen Witmer notes and script for presentation "Ruskin as Art Critic", November 12, 1969] 1969

Box 6, folder 4

[Helen Witmer notes for Ruskin presentations] circa 1958-1964

Box 6, folder 5

[Helen Witmer notes for Ruskin presentations] 1962

Box 6, folder 6

[Helen Witmer Ruskin birthday paper] 1956 February 8

Box 6, folder 7

[Ruskin programs] 1956-1964

Scope and Contents

Original folder entitled "All here relating to Ruskin programs, book reviews-panel discussion/April 15, 1964".
Box 7, folder 2

"Effie in Venice", "Millais and the Ruskins"

Scope and Contents

Copies of radio program scripts from the BBC, sent to Helen Witmer.