The Arden Club Membership: A Ten-Year Evolution 1916-1926

In 1916, under director Mary McCord, Southern Methodist University founded a dramatic club called The Arden Club; Mary McCord directed the club for twenty-seven years and deserves a considerable amount of commendation (“Southern Methodist University Arden Club Collection”). Between 1916 and 1918 the club’s charter members consisted of the students who participated in the first opening play or those who worked closely with Miss McCord in the Department of Speech (“. The ten-year evolution between 1918 and 1928 serve as significant formative years for the club’s popularity and growth not only on campus but also in the surrounding Dallas area. Within these ten years, the Arden Club grew in professionalism and formality ultimately advancing the nature of the organization – for example, the founding constitution that outlines the establishing principles of the club were revised and accepted in 1921(Abbott ). Several elements of the organization’s nature transformed over time, but a comparison between the membership policies in 1918 versus 1928 paints a seamless picture of the ten-year evolution. Membership policies such as meetings, elections, and duties reveal similarities and differences between 1918 and 1928 and ultimately give an insider view to what it may have been like to be an active, past, or prospective member during this time.

By the Fall of 1918, two years after the founding, the club is actively searching for new members due to the recovery from WWI. From 1914-1917, male college students in the United States went to service instead of enrolling in college and SMU’s Stationed Training Corps on campus had strict rules and drills leaving no time for extracurricular involvement (Payne 61). But in 1918 students returned and the Arden Club Members along with Mary McCord are out recruiting by showcasing several advertisements to join the club using a variety of techniques to catch the readers eye.[3] In the early years, the process to become a member seems simple and straightforward. The Club’s 1916-1921 founding constitution states that all students who are actively enrolled in Southern Methodist University are eligible for membership (Abbott [4]). Additionally, those who are interested shall schedule a tryout with Mary McCord. The next steps for a prospective member would be to come before the membership committee who then announces the final decision at the upcoming weekly meeting. However, a few cases recorded in the meeting minutes display an inconsistent membership voting and decision process from the constitution. For instance, on November 20th, 1918, four new members were announced and congratulated for a successful tryout without a vote from general club members (Capers Though on January 15th, 1919, the membership committee listed five students at the club’s meeting for the active members to vote upon (Capers [6]).

In contrast to the 1918-1919 relaxed membership programming, the membership process in 1928 instills consistent practices that reflect the club’s overall formality and professionalism. Due to the increased exposure and popularity of the Arden Club, the organization created a subordinate organization called the Junior Arden Club to accommodate more students. The Junior Arden club stood as the stepping stone to participate in the Senior Arden Club. The members of both the Junior and Senior club were not based on current grade level, but more on their experience and talent and the clubs had different meetings, plays, and budgets (Abbott 85). The Senior Club became more of an honor and commitment which received amplified recognition. Considering this expansion, the steps to become a member are much more dynamic. To become a member of the Junior Arden Club, it requires a faculty recommendation, active member recommendation, and the director’s recommendation (Abbott [7]). Those students who work with Mary McCord in the Department of Speech or School of Expression were often recommended (Abbott 87). After a student is recommended, they would be granted a tryout which would be voted upon by the Senior club to determine their member status. In addition to the membership committee, the club in 1928 had a nomination committee to evaluate, perform, and collect the recommendations (Abbott 86). These long steps lead to Junior Arden Club membership, and those that wish to be part of the Senior Arden Club have evaluations of past play performances and give speeches to the meeting then step outside to wait for a final vote (Capers [8]). The process to become an Arden Club member has a dramatic difference in 1919 and 1928; however, the evolution doesn’t stop here but continues throughout the duties of an active member.

Active members in 1918 and 1928 both required dues, attendance, and subject to penalties but to a different extent. In the earlier years, the members had smaller fees for dues and penalty fines which points to a more significant correlation in the growth of the economy between 1918 and 1928. Not only did payments go up in the ten years but the commitment level increased for the members. The Arden Clubs members in 1928 require a considerable amount of commitment and participation such as attendance to meetings and practices. The 1918 members could have up to six unexcused absences for a school year before they risked having their membership revoked upon a club vote (Abbott). In contrast, the 1928 members could only have three unexcused absences with a stricter termination policy (Abbott [9]). These policies are practiced throughout the documented meeting minutes— all the meeting minutes in 1918 and 1928 begin with roll call and reading out absence excuses for an approval vote[10]. The Arden Club’s set policies varied due to the increase in the club’s popularity but the core policy of having required attendance for both practices and meetings with a subject to penalty remains similar throughout the years. An analysis between the 1918 and 1928 mandatory enactments for the active members distinguishes the amount of value the club gained in ten years. The stricter policies are a result of holding the members to a higher commitment and value level to ensure the continued growth and reputation of the Arden Club’s performance.

A comparison between 1918 and 1928 membership practices highlight the evolution of SMU’s dramatic club and also points to a time where several big-picture historical changes were happening such as World War 1 recovery and economic growth. The Arden Club’s founding constitution required revision to adjust to the growing student population and number of students longing to be members of the campus’ dramatic club. Even though membership is just one aspect of the many policies and practices, further assumptions can be made regarding the progression of formality and professionalism. An anecdotal example would be officer elections and the change of behavior towards holding a leadership position. In 1918-1919, a member who wanted to hold an officer position had a greater chance than a member in 1928. The attitude shifted from requesting a position with a majority vote to competitive tryouts with disappointments. The Arden Club’s membership evolution began with a new club actively recruiting members to a high demand turning away members ultimately highlighting the impact ten-years had on this organization.

Jenna Howard


[1]The impact in surrounding Dallas area is beyond the scope of this discussion; however, see the growth in the audiences and locations of plays for further research

[2] Appendix A [The 1916 and 1928 Constitution]

[3] Advertising techniques can be seen in The Campus [Nov-Dec 1918]

[4]Appendix A [1916 Constitution]

[5] Meeting Minutes [Nov. 20th, 1918]

[6] Meeting Minutes [January 15th, 1919]

[7] Appendix A [1921 Constitution]

[8] Seen in May 2nd, 1928 Meeting Minutes

[9] Abbott, Appendix A [1921 Constitution]

[10]Meeting Minutes [1918 and 1928]

Works Cited

Abbott, Billy Mack. A History of the Arden Club of Southern Methodist University from 1915 to 1942 … Thesis (M.A. in Speech and Theater) – Dallas, S.M.U., 1951.

Capers, Goldie. The Arden Club Meeting Minutes. Hamon Arts Library [Dallas, Texas] 1918-1919

Payne, Darwin. One Hundred Years on the Hilltop: the Centennial History of Southern Methodist University / Darwin Payne. First edition., DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, 2016.

“Southern Methodist University Arden Club Collection.” University of Texas Libraries, Texas Archival Resources Online,

The Students of Southern Methodist University. “The Campus”. Southern Methodist University [Dallas, Texas], 19 Mar. 1918.