Union League Club, 1919

17 February 1919: Much of New York City turned out to see the return of the 15th NY “Harlem Hellfighters” after their recent return from France. Here Union League Club members review the 15th as they pass the clubhouse.

An interesting piece from Curbed NY about long-standing New York City social clubs came through my in-box. This is something I am especially interested in because the Union League Club plays an important part in my manuscript about Civil War New York. The article traces the history of such clubs all the way back to the colonial period where bewigged men socialized in coffee shops. Soon such meeting places were soon privatized to keep out the rabble. Subtly is sometimes the price for brevity. I think the author simplifies the story of the ULC’s creation in 1863. At the risk of further quibbling, I don’t know if such clubs have “fallen” either. Though it is true that some are doing less well than others, it is difficult to imagine these staid institutions going anywhere anytime soon. New ones are even cropping up to meet the needs of twenty-first century New Yorkers.

There is a tendency to snub one’s nose at such institutions but they played, and still play, an important role in the fabric of the city. Just to stay with the Union League Club for a minute, it is difficult to imagine how New York City could have contributed so much to the Civil War effort without the ULC. It was important, albeit to a lesser extent, during the First World War as well. The Union League Club sponsored many of the Negro regiments in the Great War, just as it had fifty years earlier during the Rebellion. Many members themselves also served in uniform from 1917-19.

Today in the twenty-first century the clubs that remain are important cultural centers. They also provide a sense of continuity. You may recall my writing about visiting The Players NYC on the anniversary of Appomattox.

(image/Underwood & Underwood, Photographer (NARA record: 1123804) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)