HER Fea­ture

' Spread­ing a lit­tle hap­pi­ness along the way'

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Grace Brown, pho­tog­ra­phy by Grace Brown and sub­mit­ted

“I think my fa­vorite mem­ory from my time with En­tre Nous will al­ways be sub-debs. You can just see the jour­ney these young women set out on at age 12 as it hap­pens. That part re­ally kept me go­ing over the years.”

F ol­low­ing some of the most no­table surges in the early fight for women’s rights, sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions cater­ing to the needs and de­sires of these newly em­pow­ered women be­gan form­ing across the na­tion. How­ever in­clu­sive these new or­ga­ni­za­tions claimed to be, the ma­jor­ity re­mained seg­re­gated. Groups of African-Amer­i­can women at­tracted to this home-group style gath­er­ing had only one choice: they had to cre­ate their own women’s club.

In 1937, a group of women de­cided to take a risk and form a club cater­ing to their needs and serving their com­mu­nity. That small group of women, com­prised of a few Al­pha Art Club mem­bers and women from the com­mu­nity, gath­ered in the home of Thelma Perry on Jan. 29 to dis­cuss how they would go about cre­at­ing what be­came known as the En­tre Nous Club.

Last month, HER mag­a­zine sat down with two women who have been mem­bers of En­tre Nous for decades, cur­rent pres­i­dent Elaine Jones and for­mer pres­i­dent Emma Ste­wart. Through the com­bined ef­fort of these women and all past and present club mem­bers, African-Amer­i­can women in Hot Springs have had a sa­cred or­ga­ni­za­tion de­signed to equip them with the tools every suc­cess­ful woman needs for over eight decades.

“Our founders formed this club in hopes of spread­ing a lit­tle hap­pi­ness along the way and pledg­ing our aid to oth­ers in the com­mu­nity, just like it says in our song,” said club pres­i­dent Elaine Jones.

“They be­lieved if they could not do big things, they would do small things in a big way.”

Just last month, club mem­bers cel­e­brated 81 years of pro­mot­ing char­i­ta­ble, civic, and so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties. Although to­day’s club mem­bers are able to op­er­ate more lib­er­ally, the chal­lenges faced by early and found­ing club mem­bers are worn as a badge of honor.

The women met twice each month at a mem­bers house where they would cook a full meal to en­joy to­gether. Many women be­gan bring­ing their cro­chet­ing to the meet­ings. Even­tu­ally, they would start cro­chet­ing scarves and lap robes for the el­derly.

Step­ping away from their other obli­ga­tions gave each woman the op­por­tu­nity to fo­cus on her own well­be­ing and in­stilled a greater sense of pur­pose in them. Every woman in En­tre Nous would look for­ward to their meet­ings be­cause their in­flu­ence ac­tu­ally started mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives.

“Back then it was more of a so­cial get to­gether, where the women could meet at some­one’s house to share a meal. Once a month they would all meet up at a church and sit through the ser­vice to­gether,” said for­mer pres­i­dent and mem­ber Emma Ste­wart.

“Years later, they be­gan to in­cor­po­rate el­e­ments of char­i­ta­ble and civic work into the club’s over­all mis­sion. Now we do a lot of work cen­tered around car­ing for the older gen­er­a­tion and pre­par­ing the way for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of strong women,” she said.

In 1945, the club ex­panded to in­clude a younger gen­er­a­tion of women re­ferred to as “sub-debs.” Older mem­bers of En­tre Nous were re­ferred to as debu­tantes. When younger women would join the club, a debu­tante would take a new mem­ber un­der her wing and ac­quaint her with club mem­bers and op­er­a­tions.

“I think my fa­vorite mem­ory from my time with En­tre Nous will al­ways be sub-debs. You can just see the jour­ney these young women set out on at age 12 as it hap­pens. That part re­ally kept me go­ing over the years,” said Jones.

Each “sub-deb” would learn the es­sen­tials of proper eti­quette from one of the debu­tantes. This peer men­tor­ship be­came a vi­tal part of the club’s mis­sion con­cern­ing civic du­ties. In a time that did not honor or re­spect African-Amer­i­can women, En­tre Nous worked to pro­duce honor­able, re­spectable women.

“When I be­gan work­ing with the girls, we would meet once a month on a Satur­day and go through sev­eral dif­fer­ent things that would help them in life,” said Ste­wart.

“We just taught them how to be ladies. It didn’t mat­ter if it was teach­ing them din­ner eti­quette or how to walk, we did it all,” she said.

While other girls were sent to cotil­lion, En­tre Nous taught their mem­bers ev­ery­thing they would need to be­come an ad­mired, well-man­nered woman. On spe­cial oc­ca­sions, mem­bers would suit up in white dresses adorned in gold de­tail and at­tend the higher pro­file club events. These events gave women the op­por­tu­nity to put to use all those skills to use.

Eight years af­ter cre­at­ing a pro­gram aimed at young women still in school, En­tre Nous mem­bers de­cided to start of­fer­ing four-year col­lege schol­ar­ships to de­serv­ing young women. In years past, the schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ent would be a grad­u­at­ing “sub-deb” who met the club’s aca­demic stan­dards and planned on at­tend­ing col­lege.

“Our first schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ent was Glo­ria Dupree and she be­came a nurse,” said Jones.

To­day, the schol­ar­ship is open to any col­lege-bound young woman who club mem­bers feel meets their stan­dards. Past schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ents have taken jobs

“We stand for pub­lic use­ful­ness and char­ity, for that’s the way the Lord wants us to be...” - Club song

in the med­i­cal field, as lawyers, city of­fi­cials, and even Miss Amer­ica. Many have since re­turned to Hot Springs with the de­sire to en­rich the com­mu­nity that gave them so much.

In their hey­day, En­tre Nous hosted fash­ion shows, el­e­gant par­ties, and the like. Since then, the in­flux of younger mem­bers de­clined and op­er­a­tions down­sized. How­ever, they are still here mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. Now at 12 mem­bers, the club fo­cuses much of their ef­forts on char­i­ta­ble ser­vice to the com­mu­nity.

“En­tre Nouse taught me about com­pas­sion, es­pe­cially to­wards the el­derly. Now that I’m older, I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate how re­spect­ful this club has al­ways been to the el­derly,” said Jones.

“We’ve done vis­its to the el­derly and shut-ins, food bas­kets and hot meals dur­ing Thanks­giv­ing, toys, and books for chil­dren in hos­pi­tals in Lit­tle Rock and Hot Springs, we’ve made afghans and just so many other good things. We love our com­mu­nity and want to show it,” Jones said.

En­tre Nous holds a cru­cial part of Hot Springs’ African-Amer­i­can his­tory in its hands. The club has with­stood the test of time and the chal­lenges fol­low with poise and grace. For such a marginal­ized group of women to have had as much suc­cess as they did, club mem­bers past and present truly shaped the fu­ture for mod­ern women.

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