Clubs, Exclusionary

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CLUBS, EXCLUSIONARY. Exclusionary clubs are voluntary associations whose new members are selected by the existing members for conviviality. Exclusionary clubs often exercise the right of private segregation based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or ancestry. The earliest known private supper club was the South River Club of Annapolis, Maryland, established around 1700. In the 1830s many private supper clubs consciously emulated the new British men's clubs of London by selecting members for their social esteem. These included New York City's Union Club (1836), Boston's Temple Club (1829), and the Philadelphia Club (1834). Their new clubhouses contained meeting rooms, restaurants, gaming facilities, and residential quarters for members. Intraclub rivalries, quarrels, and discriminations encouraged new clubs. New York City's Union Club spawned nine additional exclusionary men's clubs over such matters as ancestry, as in the case of the Knickerbocker Club (1871), and politics, as with the Union League Club (1863). The latter formed namesake clubs in Chicago and San Francisco with reciprocal memberships.

After the Civil War, city clubs formed country clubs. The Country Club (1882) in Brookline, Massachusetts, was the first to admit members' families to full participation. By 1900 over one thousand private country clubs provided outdoor social sports to members. Women formed their own exclusionary clubs. Architect Stanford White designed the New York City Colony Club for women in 1907. Boston's Chilton Club (1910) and Philadelphia's Acorn Club (1889) catered to socially esteemed women of those cities. In 1895 New York City listed fifty-six exclusive clubs; in 1951 the number was up to sixty-eight. The U.S. Supreme Court officially ended private segregation with its decision in New York State Club Assn. v. City of New York (1988). Up-and-coming politicians began dropping their membership in exclusionary private clubs—as associate attorney general–designate Webster Hubbell did in 1993—to avoid unfavorable publicity.


Mayo, James. The American Country Club: Its Origins and Development. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.


See alsoSocial Register .