'Spreading a little happiness along the way'
Following 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 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.