With little more than housework, children, and church to occupy their thoughts in 1896, a group of women in Kokomo decided they wanted more.
Kokomo was small, with only about 8,000 people living here. It was growing; the gas boom was bringing in more and more people. But opportunities for enrichment were limited, especially for women.
So, 126 years ago, two women, Elizabeth Carroll and Evaline Darby, organized a club called Symposium. Considered the oldest women’s organization in Kokomo, it continues today.
On May 20, 1896, a few women met in the home of Evaline Darby, forming a “literary circle for the establishment of good feeling, liberality of thought and speech, and for general advancement intellectually.” Their wish was to broaden their experiences both culturally and spiritually.
By October of that year, this circle had grown to 25 women. The group studied serious topics, including socialism, child labor, Jewish heroes and prophets, Siberian exiles, wireless telegraphy and liquefied air, as well as American humorists and “woman’s duties.” Members studied and prepared papers on subjects – without the aid of the internet – to present to the group. They also studied art and presented the first art exhibit in Kokomo.
Through the years, Symposium expanded its emphasis on art and extended it to the beautification of Kokomo. Additionally, members decided to extend their desire to educate not only themselves, but the entire community. In 1964, Symposium received a $25,000 endowment from Ann Darby McCann, in memory of her mother, founding member Evaline Darby, that would help finance its efforts.
Notable speakers, including CBS journalist Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” (a former Kokomo resident who was inducted into the Howard County Hall of Legends in 2010) and actress Arlene Francis, were brought to Kokomo to speak in public gatherings. Kokomo native and musical conductor Margaret Hillis (a 2011 Legend) performed with the Kenosha, (Wis.) Symphony Orchestra and the Kokomo Festival Chorus at Havens Auditorium through the efforts of Symposium. As the cost of bringing public speakers to Kokomo has greatly increased, present Symposium President Mary Tetrick said the group has joined with other local organizations to sponsor events. These include bringing authors Delia Owens, Where the Crawdad Sings, and Jamie Ford, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, in conjunction with the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, and CNN reporter and author Bakari Sellers in conjunction with Ivy Tech Community College.
Symposium members continue to focus on educating each other and the community. Recently, Symposium donated to the Children’s Education Science Lab at the Russiaville Library.
Today Symposium continues to meet in members’ homes as it did in 1896 and limits membership to 30 so it can continue to do so. Members come from diverse backgrounds and religions. Members still research subjects and present papers to each other, a task made much easier with the assistance of the internet. For 2022, programs are focusing on dwellings, with members learning more about everything from Native American homes to log dwellings, Frank Lloyd Wright designs to mansions of the Gilded Age and Sears homes.
Although Kokomo women’s lives are no longer as restricted as they were 126 years ago, they are still as driven to learn as they were in 1896, Tetrick said.
A video tribute of Symposium can be seen here.