This New York Times best seller by Helen Hooven Santmyer recounts the lives of a group of women who start a study club in a small town in southwestern Ohio in 1868. Over the years, the club evolves into an influential community service organization in the town. Numerous characters are introduced in the course of the novel but primary are Anne Gordon and Sally Rausch who, as the book begins, are new graduates of the Waynesboro Female Seminary. The novel covers decades of their lives—chronicling the two women’s marriages and those of their children and grandchildren. Santmyer focuses not just on the lives of the women in the club, but also their families and friends and the politics and developments in their small town and the larger world.
In this longest and most ambitious of Santmyer’s books, there is—as with all of her previous work—a poignant sense of a past made present again through an acute sensibility, of human life and experience as somehow cumulative, and of lives and events, largely fugitive and forgotten, as captured and transformed as the stuff of her poetry.
Helen Hooven Santmyer was born in Cincinnati in 1895 and raised in Xenia, Ohio. She is the author of the widely acclaimed “. . . And Ladies of the Club” as well as Ohio Town and The Fierce Dispute. She died in 1986. In addition to her career as a writer, Helen Hooven Santmyer was a Professor of English and Dean of Women at Cedarville College. She graduated from Wellesley College and Oxford University.