Extracurriculars At SMU: The Arden Club in 1923-1924

Extracurricular activities have long been an integral part of the academic experience for collegians across the globe, whether their participation be in athletics, the arts, Greek organizations, or student governing bodies. These activities provide students with opportunities that help complement their studies and allow students to branch out into disciplines that they may otherwise have ignored. [1] Such was the case at Southern Methodist University from its earliest days, as the Arden Club provided a dramatic organization for those who wished to perform plays, both long and short, for S.M.U. and the surrounding community. The Club was founded at the suggestion of Ms. McCord, who was at first met with resistance from the university’s president, Dr. Hyer. Though he was a fan of drama, Dr. Hyer rebuffed her request due to the church’s rigidity, for he, “felt that it was his duty to answer Miss McCord with an unequivocal and unexplained “’NO!’”(Abbott 3), as the church would not approve of the club and its activities. Later that year, Dr. Hyer reversed his decision and requested that a play be performed at convocation — Ms. McCord acquiesced and found a group of students to perform an abridged version of As You Like It, which turned into the momentum needed to formally found the Arden Club (Abbott 3-5).  Dr. Hyer’s change of heart inspired not only the Arden Club, but its annual tradition of performing Shakespeare. The 1922-1923 season ended on a sour note: their keynote performance, Hamlet’s cancellation. This, combined with the club’s growing on-campus popularity led to a great deal of anticipation for the Club’s performances in 1923-1924.

The aforementioned increased popularity of the Arden Club was leading to larger and larger audiences for the Club’s performances. The club had become so popular among students and administrators alike that, “The Arden Club initiated an important campus movement which has yet to see its complete fulfillment… the building of a permanent Arden Club theater” (ABBOTT 69). This new building not only was set to house the Arden Club but was intended as a shared space for extracurricular groups to convene. This shared space, today known as the McFarlin Auditorium, was to be financed by the groups themselves as well, as the school elected to not provide funding for the building. In consequence, the Arden Club sold bricks and deposited their proceeds from their April 1924 performance of The Importance of Being Earning into the fund (ABBOTT 70), a fact documented by the Club secretary, Hattie Mae Russell, in Minutes for the twenty-eighth of April: “A motion was made and passed that the $70 from plays be deposited in savings account in name of Student Activity Building to be drawn out at any time the Committee thinks necessary” (Russell).

Like most extracurricular clubs and activities, despite its popularity, the Arden Club still had members who were much less involved than others. To counter this issue, the club accepted new applications while trimming the infrequently attending. As a result during the calendar year of 1924, the Club increased its overall membership from thirty-five to fifty people (ABBOTT 71) In the years immediately following the 1923-1924 season, the Arden Club continued to thrive and accept new members, but ran into a slight hiccup: of the thirty-nine applications received in 1924, only nine were male (ABBOTT 73). This gender disparity was troubling, thus a decision was made by that “the number of girls elected [to the club] will be kept in proportion to the number of boys taken in” (ABBOTT 73). In today’s world, though some may cry afoul at the inequality of acceptance rates, it was a necessary evil in order to be able to produce the best performances. The twofold increase in the quantity and quality of its members allowed the Arden Club to perform more plays for larger audiences, a welcome sight given the Club’s intention to help fund the construction of McFarlin Auditorium. The plays were performed for near maximum-capacity audiences, as even their worst attended show, The Whiteheaded Boy — performed March 7, filled seventy-five percent of the seats (ABBOTT 72). Their strong attendance numbers can be attributed to the quality of the actors and the Club’s reputation, and the 1923-1924 season was no different.

The members of the Arden Club considered their 1923-1924 season to be one of the best to date with not only impressive productions but an important milestone in its short history. A total of 13 plays, both long and short, were performed by the Club, most notably William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In doing so, the Arden Club returned to its custom of performing one of the famous playwright’s script’s the during the season. After the performance “Clarence Ridge[ was recognized] for his portrayal of the half-man, half-brute Caliban” (ABBOTT 72); yet the play itself was not the club’s most noteworthy accomplishment, nor was The Importance of Being Earnest. That honor was bestowed upon the milestone of an original play, performed in early May, 1924. The performance of this original play, entitled Melting Snow and written by student Marion Murray, was sandwiched between the Club’s productions of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Tempsest (ABBOTT 72). Her creativity and ingenuity provided an example for other daring students to follow, in turn assisting the Arden Club in becoming even more embedded in the fabric of the university’s culture for years to come.

The 1924-1925 season was made most memorable by the fire that took place during one of the Club’s performances, made even more iconic by its irony. The moment in which the curtain caught fire occurred at the conclusion of a scene in which the actor, in this case David Russell in a performance of The Passing of the Third Floor Back, declares that “tonight – [he is] making a fire” (ABBOTT 74). As 1925 passed into 1926, the McFarlin Auditorium, partially funded by the Arden Club, was dedicated and opened, and is still standing today. The Club’s impact remains evident even now, as the auditorium serves as a meeting point for students, faculty members, and others in the community to share and debate ideas, perform the arts, and inspire students. These events include various university or club sponsored guest lecturers through the Tate Lecture Series, who challenge and inspire students to achieve. Combined with S.M.U.’s academic and extracurricular offering, these supplemental events help S.M.U. to form the world-changers of tomorrow, showing the Arden Club’s indirect impact on the university.

 

Williams Jones, IV

Works Cited

Abbott, Billy M. A History of the Arden Club of Southern Methodist University from 1915 to 1942. Southern Methodist University, 1951.

Russell, Hattie M. Minutes. 28 April, 1924.

[1] Lovell, Cheryl D, et al. “Why Involvement Matters: a Review of Research on Student Involvement in the Collegiate Setting.” College Student Affairs Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, 1998, pp. 4–17.