History of the International Association of Lyceum Clubs

The International Association of Lyceum Clubs was a young woman’s dream to create a network of female clubs around the world, united by the same ideal in the service of women.

Born in Birmingham, England, Constance Smedley moved to London in 1902 with her parents to pursue her career as a writer and journalist. Like all women who planned to work in publishing or the press at that time, she joined the Writers’ club. At the same time, Constance’s popularity increased: the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell accepted to play in one of her performance ‘Mrs Jordan’ and an editor took on her book ‘April Princess’.

But for her, the writers club, which was supposed to help its members, fell short and with her enthusiastic spirit, she presented her ideas for improvement to an unreceptive committee. She was not discouraged by their refusal and instead, with the help of some friends, embarked on the creation of a new club: a club for women, run by women. Her vision for her club was big, without borders: her ambition was to create the first step in a long chain of clubs across the world. Her friend, Jessie Trimble, suggested the name “the Lyceum Club”. The name sounds universal with an intellectual reference: for Americans it recalled the centres of lectures and debates that flourished in their country from the 19th century and for Europeans, the Greek origins of the word Lykeion, the place where Aristotle taught to his students.

Constance’s dream became a reality the following year thanks to the generosity of her father. After having made the family apartment the meeting place of Lyceum’s provisional committee, the new club moved to 128 Piccadilly in June 1904, Lady Balfour accepted the Presidency of the Club, more than 1000 members joined the initiative from the first year and above all, the project immediately took on an international dimension.

The International Association of Lyceum Clubs was formed in the wake of the London club and laid the ground for the opening of new clubs: from 1904, a first club in Amsterdam, quickly followed by another in Berlin in 1905, then Paris in 1906, Florence in 1908 ……… … The opening of these clubs was all thanks to the members’ connections and enthusiasm. Members shared a common interest;
a way for women to demonstrate both their capacity and their talent and to claim their rights (right to vote and equality in the work environment) but also to contribute to peace between nations at a time when international relations were becoming more strained, particularly between England and Germany.
Constance was convinced that a peaceful world order would require the strengthening of international relations to fight against nationalism.

Following her marriage with the artist Maxwell Armfield and health complications, Constance resigned from her position as Honorary Secretary and from the club. Her mother, Annie Elizabeth Smedley, took over and, in full swing, the International Association of Lyceum Clubs continued to develop. In 1912 the first international congress took place in London. It was there that the statutes of the association were voted on by the members. It was decided that the International Congress should be held every two years. New clubs opened in New York and Melbourne. The next congress was held in Paris in 1914 but World War 1 imposed a pause and the international congress only resumed in 1922 in Florence, Italy.

The 20th century brought to the International Association of Lyceum Clubs a lot of changes: two world wars, the emancipation of women, their participation in the political and economic life, the societal and cultural revolution, technological innovations, and a global pandemic. Some clubs did not survive, but despite this, the number of Lyceum Clubs around the world continued to increase and a new generation of women came to support and continue the action undertaken by the older ones. Intergenerational mixtures, the diversity of cultural and educational backgrounds of the members and their passion for their club are a source of pride and inspiration for the Association, whose aim is to support clubs in their development and to promote interclub exchanges. The IALC knows how to adapt to the new environment and challenges of our societies. The headquarter of the International Association of Lyceum Clubs moved to Switzerland in 1968, the International Congress became triennial after the Second World War, Cultural Days are organised between Congresses.

In 1941, Constance Smedley died in West Wycombe. Constance’s founding club, renowned for its dinners attended by leading figures from the worlds of politics and the arts, its theatrical performances and its debates on ideas, went through many vicissitudes: its move to 138 Piccadilly led to a split, and some of its members founded the Forum Club, while the death of one of its patrons forced it into bankruptcy in 1933. After the war, it found refuge with the Forum Club and then the University Women’s Club, before disappearing from the Association in 2003.

Since its inception, the Association has taken the initiative in opening new clubs, bringing members together through the Journées Culturelles Internationales, twinning arrangements and the publication of an international newsletter. It adapts its bylaws to keep pace with changes in society and the needs of its members. It supports artistic projects such as the film made by the dance company Impermanence from Bristol wich evokes the history of the Lyceumclub and its ideals.

This year the IALC is celebrating the 120 th Anniversary of its creation and it can be proud of its extensive network of 65 clubs across 17 countries and of the relaunch of its founding Club in London.

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