In 1910 or 1911 (accounts vary), Mrs. Halbert White invited the other members of her French class to her home one Friday for tea, with the intent of augmenting their study of the French Language. The second meeting also included their Instructor, who suggested that the group be called "La Causerie Intime". The five founders were Madame Alice Millet Ayers of Paris, and four of her students:
Mrs. White, Mrs. Edwin P. Helmers, Mrs.
William Beebe, and Miss Ellen Josephine Green. The
meetings were held in private homes and proved
popular, attracting others of like interests. Among
those joining the group was a French scholar, Mrs.
J.J. Vineyard, who began giving lectures on French
history and related subjects, while Mme. Ayers taught
the lessons in the language.
In 1913 it was decided to formally organize as
a bona fide club, so the name was changed to "La
Causerie Française". Mrs. Vineyard became the first
president. Regular meetings were held at the
Athenaeum Club. Luncheons following the classes
were an important part of the program, with assigned
topics for discussion, in French. The staging of plays in the French language became a major cause celebre for La Causerie, and dramatic performances were given at Annual Fetes. The club also claims the distinction of being the first organization in Kansas City to screen French Language movies.
Mrs. Vineyard served as
president for five years, which included World War I,
then again from 1920 to 1922. During the war years
the club rendered various patriotic services to include
participation in Liberty Loan and Red Cross drives.
Also, arrangements were made for the adoption of
several war orphans. In the post World War I years, La Causerie's membership included many "War Brides" from France who were happy to have the opportunity to converse in their native language.
In those early years the club moved frequently,
first to the Hotel Baltimore, then the Kansas City Club,
then Ambassador Hotel, and by 1930, meetings
were at the Hotel Riviera.
From 1923 to 1926, during the presidency of
Mrs. Halbert White (née Harriette Dorn), the founder who hosted that first Friday Tea in 1910, membership rose from 25 to 45 and lectures in French by distinguished guest speakers became more common. Among those who gave presentations to La Causerie during this period was Count Leo Tolstoy. The first
yearbooks (Livrets) were published during this time, and the club
became affiliated with L’Alliance Française. The decision was made to establish a French language lending library, and the books were initially brought to meetings in a suitcase. Eventually a mahogany bookcase was purchased to house the library. This bookcase is now in a class room at Second Presbyterian Church and contains Lacauserie scrapbooks and past livrets.
For the 1931-32 academic year membership
reached a high of 126 actives, 30 associates, and
eight honorary members due to the diligence of the
club president, Mrs. Claude McFarland (née Anne
Rice Brown). Also, the club moved to Rockhill Manor.
But 1931 also had its tragedy in the passing of Mme.
Ayers, the founding spirit of the organization. She
was greatly missed.
One of the measures that Mrs. McFarland
adopted that has continued to the present was the
publication of a monthly bulletin. Mrs. McFarland’s
efforts were noticed, and in 1932 the French
government named her "Officier d’Académie" for
"services rendus à l’influence française". In 1986 Mrs.
W.L. Craine, teacher for La Causerie, received a
similar award, "L’Ordre des Palmes Academiques" in
recognition of her efforts in encouraging the teaching
of French in the Johnson County Public Schools.
The Great Depression proved to be difficult for
the club. The worst problem was a rapid decline in
membership. However, the club managed to survive,
although membership reached a low of 33 actives and
12 associates in 1933. That year classes were
moved from Rockhill Manor to the Brookside Hotel
where it remained for nine years, except the
academic year 1938-1939, when the classes were
held at the Hyde Park Hotel. It is notable that many current classrooms at Second Presbyterian Church afford an excellent view of our former home, the old Brookside Hotel (now the Crestwood Condominiums) located at 54th and Brookside.
As the Depression came
to an end, membership began to rise. It stood at 56
actives, 11 associates, and 10 honorary members by
1941. That year the club supported Franklin
Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin
America by establishing a Spanish Department and
starting Spanish classes. It proved popular, with
more members taking Spanish that year than French.
The first Spanish teacher, Señora Maria Riggs-Miller
from Barcelona, a former opera singer, taught for
eight years before leaving for South America.
The American entry into World War II brought
many problems to the club. There were numerous
other demands on people’s time, causing another
decline in enrollment, but as in the previous war, the
members still found time for patriotic services. They
organized a war relief society, meeting in pnvate
homes, this time to make clothing for those in need
overseas. The club did survive those war years,
although it was difficult to find an adquate but
inexpensive meeting place. In 1942 the club moved
to the Bellerive Hotel, then the next year to the
Kansas City Young Matrons Club, where it remained
until 1958. In 1944 rising costs required an increase
in the dues from $10.00 to $12.50 for those in one
language, and to $15.00 for those in two. Instead of
publishing a Livret annually, for several years
membership rosters were distributed to the members
with instructions to insert them into the previous
years Livret. Membership had declined to 38 active,
12 associate, and six honorary members by 1946.
The decline continued so that by 1950 there were
only 34 actives and 12 associates.
Conditions improved in the 1950's,
so that by 1962 there were 106 active, 10 associate,
and nine honorary members. In 1958 the club moved onto the
campus of the University of Kansas City, meeting for one year at the University House and then for four
years at the Epperson House. During those years a
close relationship was developed with the Foreign
Language Department of the university.
To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of La
Causerie Française in 1963, a special celebration was
held in the Terrace Room of the Ward Parkway
Shopping Center at which time the club president
delivered an interesting address, reviewing the club’s
50 year history. It is not recorded how many
participated in that historic event, but fifteen past
presidents were in attendance. In May of the next
year, a gala dinner and reception were held to bid
adieu to M. Josef Lodewych, the Belgian Consul and
his wife who had been very active in Causerie affairs,
giving numerous lectures during their five years in
Kansas City. Mm.. Lodewyck was listed as an
honorary member that year.
The early 1960’s were also memorable in that
Causerie changed its status as an all ladies club,
by the recruitment of male members, with Mr. Don
Miller being the first in 1961. Now it was not only
multilingual but coeducational, but the change
occurred rather casually. There was no mention of it
in the minutes of any meeting. It was also at this
time, in 1963, that classes were moved to the YMCA
on Wornall Road. Then, in 1969 the club moved
again, to its quarters in the First Lutheran
Church on State Line Road, where it remained for 37 years.
1967 also marked the passing of the last founding member of La Causerie, Harriette White. She suffered a heart attack in Hawaii while returning from a cruise to the South Pacific. She was eighty years old.
For its Diamond Jubilee, a gala dinner was
held at the Indian Hills Country Club on the evening of
May 6,1988. The celebration was well attended with
some participants traveling from great distances, such
as Texas and Kentucky, to attend. To begin its fourth
quarter century the club offered four classes in
Spanish and six in French, while the membership
stood at 68 active and 33 associate members. In the
spring of 1988, the club was incorporated in the State
of Kansas as a not-for-profit institution. This required
a slight change in name. It was changed to the
"Institut de La Causerie Française."
The spring of 1989, the bicentennial year of the
French Revolution, saw the club shatter another
longstanding tradition. The members of the club
elected a male president, Mr. Harold Ellis. Also, in
July of that year, a large contingent of the club
participated in the local celebration of the Bicentennial
by attending the reception given by the Honorary
French Consul at the Pershing Memorial.
In 1996, in its 85th year, the club expanded its
classes with the addition of Beginning Italian.
In the 2007-2008 school year, La Causerie has a new home at the Second Presbyterian Church in Brookside, and we have registered 191 active and 10 associate members, which is the largest membership recorded to date.