BY HENRY R. LUSCHER, JR.
It was Thursday night, 8:30 o'clock, the thirteenth of December, 1872; a meeting of the Athelstan Lodge No. 369, Free and Accepted Masons was in session, completing work on the Fellowcraft Degree. The Athelstan Lodge was a new Lodge, having been founded June 27, 1870.
The Worshipful Master, in the East, James M. Williams, instructed the Senior Warden in the West, J. Fleetwood Foster, to call the brothers from work to refreshment. The brothers retired to the refreshment room, and there settling over refreshments and conversation of fellowship, with various conversations covering numerous subjects. One of the brothers, probably James Fleetwood Foster (a forebear of former President of the Athelstan Club, Ernest Fleetwood Ladd II!), brought up a subject that had been discussed at a previous gathering of Lodge - that of forming a men's club with downtown club rooms, where gentlemen could gather to rest, to be refreshed or entertained or engage in other social activities. (One reason may have been that no alcoholic beverages are allowed in a Masonic Lodge.)
This conversation soon consumed all of the brothers' interest and an ad hoc committee took shape by general consensus. Among those assumed to have been active in this group were J. Fleetwood Foster, A.L. Willoughby, J.T. Poe, Price Williams, Jr., A. DuMont, T.S. Fry, Dr. E.P. Gaines, Dr. G.A. Ketchum, John B. Davis, John G. Friend, Jr., and Daniel E. Huger (the first King of Mardi Gras in 1872; New Orleans' Rex did not appear until 1877). It was agreed also by consensus to meet again after the next Lodge meeting Thursday, December the 20th, 1872.
This meeting took place and it was then decided to hold a formal meeting to be known as the organizational meeting and that it be held January 8, 1873, at a time set by the committee and to be held in the office of M.C. McCartney.
After refreshment and a very productive discussion on the proposed Club, the brothers were called back to Lodge, and when all business was completed, the Lodge was closed in due and ancient form.
There is no doubt that the importance of the matter of the proposed men's Social Club was still very much on the minds of the brothers and a number lingered after Lodge to further the discussions. Anyone can plainly see by scanning the list of officers and charter members, these men were the leaders of our city and men of some means.
Printed invitations were mailed to prospective members to attend this organizational meeting of January 8th. The following officers were elected to serve a one year term:
James Fleetwood Foster, President; A.L. Willoughby, Vice-President; and J.T. Poe, Secretary.
It was decided also to organize with limited membership of 100, by application and two endorsers, posting in the Club Room for 10 days and then a vote of the membership as a whole with 1 black ball received on a vote, signifying rejection for membership. A further criteria for membership in the Club was that an applicant must be a member of the Masonic Fraternity.
At the meeting of February 9, 1876, "it was moved, seconded and carried that the bylaws be changed to read that 3 in place of 1 black ball would reject a candidate for membership."
It was further decided that the Club be named after its founding Lodge, hence, The Athelstan Club.
The name Athelstan goes back to the 10th century and the crowning of the first King of England in the year 925. (All previous Monarchs had been Kings of the Anglo-Saxons.) Athelstan was the first grandson of Alfred the Great. A manuscript reported in 1722 and reputedly more than 500 years old, stated that King Athelstan "loved Masons more than his own father ... and the King himself called a General Assembly of all Masons in his realm."
At the organizational meeting an emblem or coat of arms was approved as submitted. This emblem contains both Masonic and Mystic Society association and influence, shared by its several members. The proposed emblem actually appeared on the invitation to this meeting.
It was also decided that a social be held in the private dining room of the Gulf City Hotel at 18 South Royal Street at 8:00 on the night of February 1, 1873, and that this social be known as "OPENING NIGHT." President "Fleet" Foster appointed several committees to serve that night. The program for "opening night" is reproduced on pages 8 and 9. The program lists 74 charter members, so it would appear that with an authorized total membership of only 100 members, the Athelstan Club was off to an auspicious beginning. The requirement of membership in the Masonic Fraternity was dispensed with in 1875. At the annual meeting of November 20,1875, "moved, seconded and carried that the Club be no longer a Masonic Club, but rather a General Men's Club opened to membership by application." The Club now boasts a membership of over 750.