Past Times

Social clubs catered to Raleigh’s single set

Raleigh’s Spinsters and Bachelors clubs offered a less awkward option for meeting the opposite sex.
Raleigh’s Spinsters and Bachelors clubs offered a less awkward option for meeting the opposite sex. N&O Photo

Although in 1911, they were described as “devoted to books and society, not to the heavier art of studying men,” the social group known as the Spinsters Club quickly became a sponsor of annual balls and social dances. By the 1970s, the Spinsters (and the corresponding Bachelors Clubs) provided a means for young single people to meet. In 1976, N&O writer Stephanie Stallings profiled a couple of local clubs.

The name of the game is the same as it was 20 years ago when it comes to singles finding other singles even though times have changed and Raleigh’s a much larger city.…

Recent years have brought an influx of new apartment complexes in the Capital City that come complete with open bar clubhouses and a planned social program especially for young adults.

But the Bachelors and Spinsters Clubs got their start and prospered in a time “when there was no place for single people to go and practically everyone lived in Cameron Village because that was the only apartment complex in town,” explained former club member Bruce Jennings.…

It’s also possible that the clubs were inspired, in part, by stricter Southern customs that frowned on partying and dancing and consequently made it difficult to meet new people.

The Spinsters Club was started by a clique of Raleigh girls who wanted a purely social club for their enjoyment in addition to the civic-minded Junior League activities. …

The Bachelors Club, on the other hand, was formed to help out lonesome young men who had come to Raleigh as a result of new industries.

“We were beginning to meet a lot of bachelor types who were new to town and who were distressed that they had no way to meet any eligible girls,” explained Joe Elkins, … the club’s first secretary.

Elkins remembered the Dutch treat supper at the old S&W Cafeteria on Fayetteville Street where he and a group of guys hashed out plans for the club.

“Some wanted to make it exclusive like the Terpsichorean Club, but we won out as a way for incoming businessmen to meet young ladies,” he said.

Both the Spinsters and Bachelors Clubs were patterned after already existing clubs in Greensboro and Charlotte.

Today, the clubs are still going strong and present members are just as enthusiastic as members were in the 50s. The primary object of the game remains the same – to meet some desirable person of the opposite sex.

Club members say that the clubs and their activities are preferable even to the apartment parties, bars and discos because they provide the opportunity to associate with professional people of similar interests.

The present members are somewhat different, however from those first pioneers. …

Mixers and casual date parties, for the most part, have replaced the black tie formal dances of the earlier clubs, held at the Sir Walter Hotel and Carolina Country Club. Each club keeps a running list of eligible singles suggested by a variety of sources to invite to their mixers.…

The types of parties may have changed but the clubs still have some bad habits left over from the 50s. They regularly invite far too many of the opposite sex to each function to the delight of the hosts and the distress of the guests.

For example, at the Bachelors Club mixer, women outnumbered guys by two to one. Although the bachelors insisted they had an unusually large turnout, one spinster sputtered, “I’ve heard that for three years.”

“The same people who are complaining will be right back the next time,” John McLaughlin said with a smile, pointing out that the Spinsters Club usually has an overabundance of men at their mixers.

It seems that when formal dances were the rage, the Spinsters pulled the same trick by inviting every eligible male to come stag.

In addition to the girls’ dates, the stags were needed to ensure that each dance was interrupted repeatedly by eager partners. “You thought something was wrong if you weren’t broken in on six or seven times,” explained former club member Mrs. Nancy Duckett of Raleigh.

Bachelors Club members were also notorious for asking a Spinster Club member to one of their dances in order to be sure of a reciprocal invitation as a date instead of a stag.…

Marriages do result from some of the memberships but they’re not guaranteed to happen.

Club members are fond of recalling the story of how Waverly Akins, former chairman of the Wake County County Commissioners and candidate for lieutenant governor, met his wife at one of the mixers.

Mrs. Atkins dispelled that myth, however, when she explained that she and her husband were both members of the respective clubs but actually met on a blind date.

The first requirement to join the clubs is to be single. At first, the Spinsters Club frowned upon divorcees but now they are treated like anyone else. The N&O March 7, 1976

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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