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The Art and Travel Club fulfilled a need

By Wendy Larson

Hormel Historic Home Guest Columnist

In the late 1800s, it was expected that the educated women of Austin—especially teachers — put aside their careers for marriage and concentrate on their homes. But leaving behind a teaching career for a group of like-minded women in Austin did not mean they gave up their love of learning.

In 1903, a group of eight women — headed by Elizabeth Hormel, the sister of Hormel Company founder George Hormel — formed a group to discuss art. The group’s enthusiasm for artists and their works were deemed worthy of bi-monthly meetings. About a year after the first gathering, travel was added to their discussions and thereafter they called their group the Art and Travel Club.

The eight founding members were Elizabeth Hormel, Mrs. H.A. Avery, Mrs. L.D. Baird, Mrs. F.O. Hall, Mrs. L.W.  Decker, Mrs. W.R. Earl, Mrs. S. S. Washburn and Miss Grace Baird. Two of the wives were married to businessmen, the others to a lawyer, a judge, a dentist, and a doctor.

Elizabeth Hormel was an artist and Grace Baird was a teacher. The group soon expanded to 10 members and later to 20. Bi-monthly meetings were held at one another’s homes in the afternoon. Topics were picked at the last meeting in May, as well as who would host. Meetings convened again in September.

Music,  composers, churches, artists, and their works, centered around a specific country. If the woman who hosted had a piano, a solo piece might be played or sung. Each woman was expected to prepare two to three papers and participate in the discussion; research on the papers was done over months and this at a time when books on a single subject might be scarce in Austin.

There were rules. Prospective members were voted on and had to attend at least one meeting as a guest and members could not miss more than three meetings unless they were out of town or sick. Through the years, the group contributed through fundraisers to the Salvation Army, the Austin High School, and other community needs.

In 1927, George and Lillian Hormel gave their home to the YWCA when they moved to  California. The club was the first group to meet there. With the new facility the original membership of eight swelled to 60. 

The Art and Travel Club fulfilled a need for learning and culture for many women in early Austin and later.