Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A correspondence club ~ the subject of the book "Can any mother help me?"

In 1935 a woman living in a remote part of England wrote to a women's magazine, asking "Can any mother help me?" She was a young mother, lonely, isolated and very short of money. She had no access to a library and could not afford even a 'wireless'.  She went on to ask "Can any reader suggest an occupation that will intrigue me and exclude 'thinking' and cost nothing!"

A surprising number of women responded expressing similar frustrations, and together they decided to start a private correspondence club. Each of them had their own pseudonym, and the privacy of the magazine was paramount, fiercely guarded even from spouses. One of them acted as editor, receiving articles from members, hand-stitched them together and sent them off to do the rounds. Each member could write remarks and suggestions in the margins of the magazine if they wished.

The club was active for an astonishing fifty five years during which time some members came and went and others formed strong friendships. Eligibility was by no means automatic, prospective members having to apply, and certain criteria to be met before it was put to the vote. New members were chosen for what they would add to the group in terms of diversity and intellectual stimulation, and as a result the group included women with widely divergent political and ideological views and differing backgrounds. Their privacy being assured they were refreshingly open and forthright in their news and views, and the comments offered add a great deal of substance to the content.

When the group eventually closed down, what remained of the original contributions was donated to an archive. This is where it was found in 2003 by writer and researcher, Jenna Bailey, who went on to write this fascinating book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and only wished it was longer and included more material! 

A modern equivalent of this club would be a members-only multi-author web log. I'm guessing that the success of any such group would lie in the commitment of members to make a similarly paced regular contribution, say monthly. It could be an excellent middle path between individual correspondence and the more solitary nature of single-author web-logging. What a good idea!

Book shop links for interested NZ readers:
Fishpond.co.nz - other edition available

Note: This book is also mentioned in my article 'A brown haze at sunset'

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