Club women continue legacy

BELLWOOD – More than 100 years ago, two sisters in Bellwood formed a club for women in their area. When the women gathered, they didn’t talk about the latest fashions or popular hairstyles.

Misses Mary and Elizabeth Bell, who started the Kosmos Club in 1900, didn’t want everyday chitchat for their group.

Meeting monthly at each other’s houses, the women went deeper, exchanging intellectual ideas, talking about current events and the books they had read. They would end their get-togethers with desserts and coffee.

Almost 120 years later, the club is still active, and although members said their focus has changed a little, they still seek out educational pursuits as part of their meetings.

The group now often travels to area historical or cultural sites, including the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, the Mishler Theatre, the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Loretto and Fort Roberdeau, to name a few.

Four members of the club are direct descendants of original charter members.

Sarah McCloskey of Bellwood is a descendant of the Bell sisters. She said the sisters took great care in choosing the name “Kosmos” for the club.

“They were very specific about it, and they met to discuss it,” McCloskey said. “It’s a Greek word meaning ‘of the world,’ and that’s what they wanted to know about, knowledge of the world.”

In the early days of the club, the proctoral was more formal. The sisters personally invited women in northern Blair County to join their club, and they drafted a charter and bylaws.

Jean Williamson of Antis Township, another descendant, recalled when members would come to meetings dressed in hats and white gloves. McCloskey remembered women draped in fur wraps and mink stoles.

According to a program from a club meeting in 1989, the Kosmos Club members are interested in things “relating to the universe and all nature.” The program, which had a review of meetings for the year, listed various topics.

In August of that year, one member was asked to “recall a headline as a teenager and expand on it,” and at the September meeting members listened as “a tragedy, and funny article (were) reported.”

Because they met in homes, the group limited itself to 22 members according to the club’s charter, McCloskey said. Today, there is only half that number, but they continue their monthly meetings and make donations to each site they visit and to local charitable causes.

Anna Mae Huff of Tyrone said she thinks one reason the club has lasted so long is that the members come from a variety of backgrounds, making the group more diverse.

“We’re not all alike,” she said. “It’s not like we’re all farmers or we’re all teachers. We’re all different, so when we come together, it makes it more interesting.”

Betty Jacobus of Logan Spring Farm in Antis Township, who is another descendant of a charter member, said she thinks the original club members wanted to expand their knowledge and especially enjoyed reading. But things began to change in later years.

“After the second World War, people got busy, and there was more focus on telling interesting things that happened in life,” she said. “Now I think we come together more because we like to see each other.”

They get a chance to chat because after they tour a site, they usually adjourn to a restaurant for lunch. But occasionally they still meet in private homes, such as when a few times a year, they have lunch at Jacobus’ or McCloskey’s house.

Last month, they had lunch at the Presbyterian Village at Hollidaysburg, where one of their members, Peggy Martin, lives. She is another descendant of a charter member.

As they ate, they looked over old programs and talked about the different sites that they had toured, some of them awe-inspiring such as the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona and some of them not as structurally impressive but just as interesting in their own way, like local fire and police stations.

“We have interests in what’s around us,” McCloskey said.

The group also has invited speakers to its meetings, such as Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva, District Justice Fred Miller of Tyrone, and former Blair County Commissioner Donna Gority among them.

Other club members include Judy Swayne of Antis Township, Helen Geist of Bellwood, Irene Turnbaugh of Fallentimber, Joyce Knowles of Antis Township, Joann Hample of Bellwood and Carole Holes of Bellwood.