The Countermarch

Can We Talk?

A few months after we moved to Huntington, Indiana, I was inducted into the Cosmopolitan Club, one of the country’s oldest extant discussion societies.  Chartered on January 18, 1894, the Cosmopolitan Club convenes on the fourth Tuesday of every month from September through May.  The membership is entirely male and capped at 25, and all members are required to attend each meeting, unless they have been excused in advance.

The format of the meetings is simple.  One member prepares and presents a paper on a topic of his choosing, and he selects another member to prepare and present a response.  (All of the papers are archived at the Huntington City-Township Library, and only a few from the end of the 19th century have been lost.)  After the paper and the response, each of the other members provides a short commentary of his own.  There are no refreshments, with two exceptions: Every member receives an apple as he leaves the September meeting; and the May meeting takes the form of a dinner, which wives are invited to attend.

The meetings are hosted at members’ houses, and the location rotates through the entire membership.  The preparation and presentation of papers, too, is on a strict rotation, starting with the most senior member and moving consecutively to the next in line.  When the club membership is at its maximum, a new member like myself may wait two years...

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