History of EC/ASECS


Towards a History of EC/ASECS

by Joan K. Stemmler

In June of 1997, Ted Braun sent to the EC/ASECS Executive Committee's discussion list a call for a historian "to record, however briefly, the early history of EC/ASECS, [at least] from the origins to December 1977, when the Newsletter was founded." The idea for a history of the EC/ASECS came up again over lunch in the Maryland Crab House after the 1998 meeting at Salisbury State University. Ted and Anne Braun, Bonnie Robb, and Phil Hines reminisced, and I took notes on a napkin. This beginning history is the result of trying to fulfil Ted's call.

I sent an e-mail to EC/ASECS member Leland Peterson, recommended to me as the man to contact. Leland had a complete archive of the early years of the Society, which he loaned to me in April of 1999. Based on Leland's archives, I made an initial table of data and sent that to Ted Braun, Beth Lambert, Jim May, Linda Merians, and Mary Margaret Stewart. They made corrections and additions and shared their own stores of programs, notes, and remembrances. This table was scrutinized and expanded at the October 1999 meeting at Washington & Jefferson College, where new names were suggested as sources for unclear points. I subsequently contacted at the end of December 1999 Van Baker, Kevin Berland, Sophia Blaydes, Kevin Cope, Beatrice Fink, Dick Hansen, Albert M. Lyles, Bob Maccubbin, Geoffrey Sill, and Calhoun Winton, who generously replied with more information. The table lay fallow all summer until immediately before the October 2000 meeting when I finally contacted W. Reynolds McLeod, our founder, whose telephone number Sophia Blaydes had given me. I spoke to Renny (as everyone seems to call him) in West Virginia where he and his wife Vicki live. The material from all these sources is here gathered, with some last-minute additions by Jim May. A table of data accompanies this narrative drawn from the memories of generous members, excerpts from programs, and the newsletters edited over the years. Especially important as a source is the history written by Elizabeth Lambert after our 20th meeting in Bethany. The personal notes sent to and taken by me along with original material will be placed in an archive at a site yet to be determined. I hope that after this exposure in the Intelligencer oversights may be remedied and corrections made so that a more perfect version shall emerge.

Beth Lambert, as our delegate to the ASECS at the Minneapolis meeting in 1990, wrote a report on the EC/ASECS, its first history. In "What Makes Us Unique?" Beth captured the essence of our society in a still largely accurate description:

  1. EC/ASECS is small--both in area . . . and in membership ([then] 160-200). Members get to know one another, welcome new members, and cherish friendships established through the years. We feel our meetings have a more personal, intimate atmosphere than other academic gatherings.

  2. EC/ASECS almost always holds its meetings on college and university campuses rather than in hotels. We have thus gotten to know a number of campuses in our region.

  3. In the past few years we have always had sessions on "current researcher," "sources for research," and "Teaching the eighteenth century."

  4. Our region is rich in 18th-century sites where we have met: York PA; Williamsburg, VA; Old Salem, NC; Philadelphia, PA; Henry Francis DuPont Wintethur Museum, DE; Gettysburg, PA; Fredricksburg, VA. . . .

  5. The East-Central Intelligencer.

The Origins of EC/ASECS

An almost complete file of programs has been saved by Leland Peterson, chronicling topics of interest, attendees, and events of the early meetings. I tried to pick some highlights of these earliest meetings, and to note in passing when some of the members who later served on the Executive Board or organized meetings first began coming to the conferences.

The First Decade: After the 1969 MLA meeting, MLA members, including James Clifford, Peter Stanlis, and Donald Greene, resolved to found the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, modeled on the Renaissance Society. This first meeting was held in Cleveland in the Spring of 1970, and the idea of an East-Central Regional (ECR) association was born there. Van Baker wrote to me that "some of us who had been Professor Clifford's students at Columbia were . . . talking after the banquet when we were joined by Jim himself. As one of the organizers of the new ASECS, he said he was interested in seeing some regional affiliates started, since in those days most colleges did not offer much money for faculty travel. I don't remember who all was at the table; Cynthia Sutherland Matlack [was] for sure. But it was Renny McLeod who picked up the ball and almost immediately invited us all to come to West Virginia in the fall [of 1970]." Beatrice Fink remembers that Lester Crocker was also important as an initial driving force. Cal Winton recalls the role of Clifford Johnson at Pittsburgh. Renny told me that in that period, when there was more interest in supporting the liberal arts and humanities than now, the University of West Virginia's Foundation Director, Mr. Bonds, "an eighteenth-century type," was willing to provide funding for the new undertaking. Renny recalled that there were fairly young people active in the local area (Micky Ginsburg and Russ MacDonald) who were adventurous, enthusiastic, and willing to try anything.

At the first meeting in 1970, an 18th-century play was produced and good weather contributed to the general feeling of well being. There were three panel discussions with contributors from WVA, VA, PA, MD, and DC. English, History and Philosophy were the represented disciplines. The tradition of banquets and entertainments was established. Mary Margaret Stewart told me she was there at that first meeting, as were Albert M. Lyles and Professor Allan Brown, who hosted the second meeting. Van Baker recalls staying in a dorm and drinking beer in a student sort of pub in the town.

From the programs of the following years, some idea of the meetings can be gleaned. . . . The 1971 meeting at Lehigh University again had three paper sessions with moderators. A scheduled business meeting was placed on the program. . . . In 1972 at Virginia Commonwealth, a Thursday evening gathering allowed for two full days of meeting. A panel of distinguished speakers, Martin Battestin, Jim Clifford, and Paul Korshin, opened the meeting. Section meetings and panels and open discussions on varied topics, including "How to Teach the 18th Century," provided a structure for all fields to meet together. This was the first meeting for Phil Hines and Leland Peterson. Phil remembers that everyone went swimming. . . . In 1973 at Indiana U. of Pennsylvania, there were three panel discussions and a break into 10 sections with concurrent meetings. Calhoun Winton came up from the SESEACS that he had organized, and Sven Eric Molin presented his first paper. . . . 1974 found Beatrice Fink, Leland Peterson, and Phil Hines giving papers. Saturday afternoon was left free for activities in the area, and for the first time the perennial cash bar was publicly mentioned.

John Radner, Geoff Sill, Van Baker and Ted Braun gave papers in 1975. The Business Meeting presided over by the President following the Banquet was the order of the day that year. . . . In 1976, the program for the joint meeting with ASECS in Philadelphia furnished little information about East-Central Regional. At this large meeting there were six plenaries with panels and overlapping sessions. Damie Stillman and Peter Briggs presented papers, and Beatrice Fink chimed in with a session on food and cuisine. . . . An intimate quality prevailed in 1977 as there were no concurrent sessions. Part of the charm of York was the ability to tour 18th-century buildings. Elizabeth Nelson gave her first paper as did Bill Horne. . . . The tradition of moderators and commentators was well established by 1978 when there were 15 sessions with one panel discussion at our Pittsburgh meeting, our fifth in Pennsylvania. Jean Hunter's program included an 18th-century English buffet with Yorkshire pudding, roast mutton, capon sauce, and truffles, before an evening of chamber music by the Bellagio Trio from California. Jack Fruchtman Jr. showed up for the first time. . . . At Williamsburg in 1979 Bob Maccubbin was in charge. The meeting incorporated the Williamsburg Seminars taking advantage of local collections and other colonial resources. Jim May gave his first EC/ASECS paper. Attendance rose from about 25 at the first meeting to about 79 in 1978. In 1971 dues were $3, registration was $6, and the banquet was $5, but by 1978 dues were $8.50 (which included subscription to Eighteenth-Century Life), registration was $20, and the hotel cost $38 for a double.

The Second Decade: The 1980 conference in Winston-Salem featured an interpretation of Old Salem, a Moravian Congregation Town, a choral concert, and a visit to the Museum of Early American Art. There were enough papers given so that concurrent sessions with two and three choices were run. Ann Cline Kelly came for the first time. . . . Concurrent sessions were the order of the day at Bryn Mawr in 1981, when Garden History, History of Science, Political Philosophy and Women Novelists were hot new themes. For the first time, Linda Troost, Irma Lustig, and Beth Lambert spoke. The program included a visit to the Buten Museum of Wedgewood and, as many others have, a reception in the Rare Books Room. At the end of 1981, Leland Peterson stepped down from his long tenure as Executive Secretary. . . In 1982, Renny and Vicki McLeod and Helen Louise McGuffie organized the first conference at Bethany College. Bob Maccubbin arrived several hours early and had lunch in the conference dining room--the only diner there, but cheerfully served by the staff. As he was eating, a chandelier came loose and crashed down about two feet from his table, embedding shards of glass in his trouser leg. Bob doesn't recall the food well. The staff offered to fix him a second lunch after he changed. (This may have happened in 1989--he can't recall which Bethany meeting almost put his lights out.) Peter Briggs and Jim May gave papers in competition with a harpsichord concert (Jim says he only remembers being in competition with Peter's carefully written paper.)

At Delaware in 1983 there was a large conference with almost as many attendees (about 95-100) as members (about 125-130). Special events took us to the Winterthur and New Castle. Peter Briggs' Presidential Address, wherein he consulted the Muse of Marketing, was a howler. For the first time, Henry Fulton, Peter Perreten, Bonnie Robb and Kevin Berland presented papers. . . . Chairman Philip Jason's invitation to members in the Summer 1984 newsletter and a review in the July 1985 newsletter suggest the 1984 conference at Annapolis was "ship shape" in every respect. The meeting began Friday afternoon with a tour of the exhibition "Two Architects: The Influence of Palladio on Buckland" at the St. John's College gallery, followed by dinner and cash bar at the Officers' and Faculty Club, and then a round of papers. After double morning and afternoon sessions on Saturday, we attended performances at St. John's of Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona (performed by a group from St. Mary's College) and Fielding's English ballad opera An Old Man Taught Wisdom (performed by students at St. John's and the Naval Academy). Two sets of concurrent sessions took the meeting to 1 p.m. Sunday. Annapolis left us with distinct memories, as of the walled campus's park-like grounds, the cadets' hats left respectfully on window sills in the foyers of classroom buildings, and laughter flowing out of open tavern doors toward the sailboats rocking close by in the harbor. . . . In 1985, Mary Margaret Stewart at Gettysburg began a tradition of producing superb conference programs. Included for the first time were a statement of the mission of EC/ASECS and a description of the host institution. Historians guided participants during a bus- and foot-tour of the battlefield, and we enjoyed a performance of Robert Tyler's The Contrast, "which in 1787 was the first American comedy acted by professionals." As has often been our good fortune when meeting at colleges, the President of the College hosted a reception for us at his home. Bob Ness, Doreen Alvarez Saar, Linda Merians and Catherine LaFarge were there.

The program for the Mary Washington College meeting in 1986 noted that all participants must be members of the organization. We enjoyed a beautiful campus and toured 18th-century Fredericksburg under sunny skies, and in the evening attended Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. Sayre Greenfield and Betty Rizzo gave papers. Mary Margaret Stewart succeeded Van Baker as Executive Secretary. . . . In 1987, at Ursinus College, Brijrah Singh, Joan Stemmler and Bill Everdell met on the sunny campus. Eager to encourage participation by graduate students, the Society paid the dues and a $100 honorarium to four graduate students selected to participate. Peter Perreten's program, besides a book and MS exhibition, included Susannah Centlivre's The Busie Body and Hadyn's The Creation sung by an 80-voice choir. . . . A sad note was struck at the 1988 College Park conference's memorial ceremony for Sven Eric Molin, who had passed away in November 1987. His name is honored in the Molin Prize for the best graduate paper given at EC/ASECS, proposed with by-laws in 1989 and the focus of donations (including a substantial anonymous donation [by Helen Louise McGuffie] in 1990). Linda Payne for a second year was one of the "EC/ASECS Graduate Scholars" receiving honoraria. Beverly Schneller came for the first time and the meeting ended on Saturday with a collation arranged by Beatrice Fink.

At Bethany in 1989, the warmth of the cozy Millsop Conference Center promoted close fellowship. Bill Yarrow gave the first of his many fine papers on Boswell. Five graduate students reading papers at the conference received funding awards and a year's free membership (Nadine Bhattacharya, Kathleen Kemmerer, Kathleen Leicht, Jon Rowland, and Cheryl Wanko). Christopher Smart's popular songs were superbly sung by Carolyn Black in a program with three accompanists and commentary by Phyllis Black MacDonald and Betty Rizzo, and David Judy directed a performance of Fielding's Historical Register for the Year 1736. Newcomers Marie McAllister, Christine Clark-Evans, Dick Frautschi were there. After rising from $10 to $12 in 1982, dues fell when a subscription to Eighteenth-Century Life was removed from membership benefits, and dues were $8 in 1987, when conference registration was $40. The number of papers presented over the decade ranged from 26 to 56.

The Third Decade: At Dickinson College in 1990, Bob Ness chaired a diverse meeting, with a plenary lecture, music, art and theatre enriching a 15-session conference. Erlis Glass attended for the first time. A committee chaired by Peter Perreten awarded the first Molin Prize to Amy Fulton-Stout for "The Search for Character in the Journals of James Boswell." A committee with Ted Braun, Linda Merians, Leland Peterson, and Mary Margaret Stewart undertook the revision of our Constitution. The Society hosted a jam-packed and lively Friday night reception at the 1991 ASECS in Pittsburgh. ... In 1991 at Millersville, dinner was accompanied by chamber music both nights! The caterers succeeded with several 18th-century meals. Our chair, the young Beverly Schneller, arranged for a play, a recital (Carolyn Black singing Mozart), and a plenary as well as a booksellers' exhibition (possibly the first at our meetings). Programs ceased to include a statement of purposes, last seen in 1990. Molin Prize judges Richard Hansen, Bonnie Robb, and Peter Petschauer selected Jennifer Georgia of Harvard ("French Sources of English Women's Conduct Books"). . . . A joint meeting with the Scottish Studies Society in Philadelphia was a first in 1992. Co-chairs Peter Briggs and Steve Smith and their committee (Irma Lustig, Linda Merians, Mary Margaret Stewart, et al.) avoided a number of financial and logistical nightmares. The Center City site attracted large numbers to the meeting, including new members Kathryn Temple and Lisa Rosner. Irma Lustig hosted a wine-and-cheese reception in the "Rooftop Lounge" of Hopkinson House.

The EC/ASECS was the first group to stay at The Burkshire, Towson's beautiful conference facility in 1993. Most of the thirty-plus sessions were at the Burkshire, but others took us to the Fine Arts Building and the old Alumni House, whose Rathskeller provided one of our best cash bars. Peter Staffel, Deborah Leslie, and Nancy Mace came for the first time; Beatrice Fink provided yet another culinary coup with her after-dinner account of Jefferson's investigations into foods and pleasures at the table; and autobiography was the theme for four sessions. ...The virtual world of electronics was featured at Penn State in 1994, where Kevin Berland presented a Practicum in Electronic Data Base Access. Dick Frautschi and Christine Clark-Evans hosted one of our largest meetings, with 12 sessions offering 4 concurrent sections. Multipartite thematic sessions On the History of Women, Real and Fictional Travel Literature, Appropriations and Transvaluation of Classical Authority, Approved and Disapproved Speech Acts, Representations of Africa and others were featured. Susan Goulding and Evelyn Shevlin came for the first time--as may have Kevin Cope. A. C. Elias, Jr. chaired a research-in-progress colloquium. Charles Mann and Sandy Stelts hosted an exhibition in Rare Books with refreshments provided by James West's Center for the History of Book. Nathaniel Paradise won the Molin Prize. And, in the words of Beatrice Fink, the Scanticon banquet was a scholarly banquet like none other.

At Newark in 1995, another wonderful and populous meeting was topped off by dancing to the music of Jerry Elderly and the Juveniles, with Jerry Beasley at the helm, singing delightful burlesque lyrics on Clarissa, Ted Braun, and Boswell's first take on Johnson (to "Do Wah Diddy"). Leland and Betty Peterson shared the dance floor with Kevin Berland, Laura Kennelly, Deborah Leslie, Sarah Marino, Linda Merians, Sayre Greenfield and Linda Troost, et al. Thursday night was a poetry reading organized by Peter Staffel, with guitar-accompanied renditions of Burns by Luis Gamez and a scene from Dryden's Aureng-Zebe performed by Linda Troost and friends. Friday we returned to the Winterthur for papers, a tour, and dinner. Cal Winton gave a lunch-time plenary on almanacs in the colonial Chesapeake. A new feature was added, the Sunday Morning Synthesis, led by John Radner. Gregory Brown of Columbia and Julie Rak of McMaster won the Molin Prize. Leland Peterson was honored with our first career-service award, named in his honor. And Mary Margaret Stewart, long the Executive Secretary, turned over the books and file cards to Linda Merians. ... In 1996 at Georgetown, the Leland Peterson Award was received by Helen Louise McGuffie and Mary Margaret Stewart. The conference featured one of our best parties (in the old library), a tour of Mt. Vernon and a plenary by Patricia Meyer Spacks. ... Ursinus generously hosted us again in 1997, with Peter Perreten repeating as conference chair. Ted Braun received the Leland Peterson Award for his services to EC/ASECS as well as to ASECS, Van Baker also received the Peterson Award for his service to EC/ASECS, and David Liss won the Molin Prize for "Liberty, Property, and Love: Imagining the English Nation through the 1753 Marriage Act," research for which perhaps went into his award-winning novel.

Salisbury in 1998 provided the most modern of conference centers and most charming of 18th-century gardens and buildings. Bill Horne's program included Thursday night revels with a reading of Tom Thumb, a reception by the President of SSU, piano duets, a performance of The Relapse, a plenary by the delightful Christopher Ricks, a tour of Pemberton Hall, and an 8 a.m. birdwatching hike led by Sayre Greenfield. Don Mell received the Peterson Award, and Jenny Davidson of Yale won the Molin Prize for her paper on Swift's Project for the Advancement of Religion. Ted Braun created a website for the Society. ... The presence of the first crematorium in America in the charming town of Washington, PA gave rise to unusual session topics and paper titles at the 1999 Washington & Jefferson conference. Featured were scalping and torture, wretched deaths, and necrophilia in Clarissa. Calhoun Winton received the Peterson Award, and John Gilbert McCurdy, the Molin Prize. . . . In 2000 at Norfolk, Leland himself presented the Peterson Award to Jim May. Program Chair Marie McAllister, aided by Linda Merians, organized a wonderful conference for us (See Ted Braun's "Notes from Newark" below.) In Philadelphia we hosted a reception for ASECS featuring Jerry Beasley's band. At the end of 2000, our membership was 425. During the 1990s, over 100 papers were presented at the several large meetings, with Penn State drawing slightly under 200 participants. Dues remain a modest $10 while registrations ranged from $110 to $65, depending on the location and whether the banquet was included or not.

Table of Meetings