Perspectives on the Round Table Club of Eugene1 (90 Years of History) - Organized November 20, 1912
Ninety years ago on November 20, a preliminary meeting of ten university professors was held in Villard Hall on the University of Oregon campus. The purpose of this meeting was to consider the advisability of establishing a college alumni association. The vision from the start was for this group to have a broad representation from outside of the university. Indeed, the first motion of the club was to limit the members of the organization to thirty (30), not more than half of which should be members of the university faculty. A temporary president (J. B. Taylor) and secretary (E. S. Conklin) were approved, and with a third attendee (E. A. Thurber), plans were made to draw up a constitution and to arrange for a first program.
A second organizational meeting was held in Villard Hall in December, 1912. This meeting, dense with decisions that we live with today, included the reading, modification, and approval of our constitution. This handwritten document named our organization "The Round Table of Eugene" and laid out the club's object to be "the social and intellectual enjoyment of its members." Also at this meeting, formation of a membership committee was authorized, with the mandate to present names "of additional candidates... up to the full complement" at the following meeting.
On January 14, 1913, the first regular meeting at which a scholarly paper was presented was held at the Congregational Church. All members present signed the new constitution and heard the first paper ever presented to the Round Table Club, "The Catholic Church from the Protestant Standpoint."
Although this organization has seen hundreds of members and more than seven hundred original manuscripts, the most fundamental conclusion to be drawn from its large documented history is its stunning sameness. The club has met on the second Tuesday of the month, with a few exceptions, from October through May for 90 years. The May meeting has been "ladies" or "guests" night since 1913. Qualifications for membership have remained elevated; membership in the club has included judges, specialists in the field of medicine, political figures, business CEOs, chancellors of the State System of Higher Education, University presidents, faculty, and religious and other community leaders. The purpose of the club has not been modified to include benevolent or charitable activities. Occasionally, some fine tuning of terms such as "honorary" member vs. "associate" member can be found in the constitution; and, some Articles have been expanded to clarify terms. However, few significant amendments have been made over the years. The most important changes to the Round Table have been the increase in the numbers of active members (members under the age of 65) from thirty to seventy, roughly paralleling the increase in the population growth in the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area, and the decision to include women as members.
The latter was surely the most fractious portion of Round Table history and had been discussed off and on within the membership since the 1980's. It is intriguing that, although the then Eugene Guard did not cover the establishment or the meetings of the Round Table Club in the early 1900's, the Register Guard did cover the controversy over the admission of women, which was narrowly approved by constitutional amendment in 1995, when the gender-neutral term "members" was substituted for "gentlemen." The years surrounding 1995 marked a time of resignations, first because women were not accepted as members, and then because women were accepted as members. However, the resilient fundamentals of the constitution and the scholarly nature of the Round Table itself quickly weathered this storm and the club continues today much as before.
The bonding forces in this organization seem to be twofold: First, the university and non-university communities need each other. The Round Table Club allows its members the forum to recall "just where that piece of land came from that is about to be rezoned...," and to exchange applied and theoretical ideas. Second, the presentation of an original paper focuses our differing backgrounds onto a single topic for the evening; for thirty or forty minutes, we are all thinking about the same thing, challenging the same speaker, and exposing our different perspectives. The comprehensive subject index of papers found in the collection of Round Table documents lists subjects literally from A to Z: "Academic Freedom" to "Zaabalawi," a good reflection of our varied interests.
In closing, there are times when members have wondered, "Why the name, Round Table?" My answer to that query is that the name is appropriate. According to legend, King Arthur had his meeting table created in the round, so that there could be no arguments about the order in which his knights should be seated. The round table allowed everyone to sit at the table as equals. Although we, as the Round Table Club of Eugene, have not yet achieved the diversity for which we strive, we are respectful of equality and are well on our way to coming "full circle." Above all, we continue to enjoy on second Tuesdays of the month the social and intellectual encounter of our members.
Respectfully, Chris Holzapfel, President, 2002-2003
1 Information contained in this summary is taken from the Special Collections #271 from archived copies of the "Eugene Guard" and "The Register Guard" in the microfilm section of the Knight Library, University of Oregon, and from the King Arthur legends collection in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur published in 1470.
2 There are seven "Articles" in the constitution today, as there were in 1912, and wording is preserved when changes have been made, whenever possible. Similarly, our current by-laws are much the same as the original by-laws.
3 My thanks to long-time members Keith McGillivary, Arnold Ismach, and Bill Loy for comments on this summary. Round Table Club of Eugene History