The Century Association Archives holds over 1,000 recordings (and counting) of events held at the club, dating back to 1955. To ensure their survival and availability to researchers, former Archivist Russell Flinchum worked with an audio preservation specialist to digitize the original reel-to-reel and cassette tapes holding these treasures, saving them from the deterioration inevitable to these vulnerable media. It is a veritable treasure trove of Century history, containing almost all monthly meeting and new member addresses since recording technology was first deployed at the club, as well as other significant events, but its existence is little known.
It is a chief CAAF initiative to better catalog and make available the contents of this extensive audio library for use by researchers. You may direct any inquiries regarding event recording availability to the Archivist. We are also interested in volunteers to contribute to the cataloging and/or transcription clean-up of this collection.
In the meantime, in honor of our anniversary – 25 years of the CAAF preserving 175 years of club life – we have curated a selection of clips related to milestones in the storied history of both the Association and the Foundation.
Co-founder of the CAAF, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. was only 30 years old but already a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian when he joined the Century in, fittingly, its centennial year of 1947. On November 1, 1979 he was invited to be “the official greeter and admonisher to new members“ at the monthly meeting. Schlesinger commences his address, “As a historian I am professionally committed to the proposition that the past may throw some light on the present, so that you may know what you are getting into, let me begin at the beginning…“
Ambassador William vanden Heuvel (member 1981-2021) co-founded the Century Association Archives Foundation alongside Schlesinger, whom in his letter of support for the Ambassador’s candidacy as a member, described him as “a man of uncommon quality.” Among his many accomplishments as a public servant, he served as head of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and was the key figure in the establishment of the Four Freedoms Park on the East River’s Roosevelt Island, overlooking the United Nations. In this address “Roosevelt: A Man of the Century,” at the monthly meeting held April 4, 2002, vanden Heuvel discusses FDR (one of eight Centurions to hold the office of President of the United States) and his relationship to the club.
For the club’s 125th anniversary monthly meeting on November 2, 1972, Walker M. Cain organized an ambitious presentation of “The Seven Ages of Century Man,” an elaborate tapestry on cultural history from the dawn of the club through present day combining seven Centurion narrators (Charles Proffitt, Eric Larabee, Louis Auchincloss, Walter Lord, Ralph Ellison, Alfred De Liagre Jr., and Brendan Gill); seven backdrops designed by artist members; and musical performances by Centurion musicians and special guests including Marie Prentice, the wife of the Chairman of the House Committee. In this excerpt, Ralph Ellison, writer and first African-American elected to membership in the 21st century, speaks extemporaneously on the cakewalk and evolutions in Black music from ragtime through 1930s jazz. (On February 7, 2023, Paul Devlin will deliver a luncheon lecture on Ralph Ellison’s three decades as a Centurion.)
As part of the 145th anniversary celebrations, the Literary Committee hosted an evening of “A Cornucopia of Century Poets” on November 12, 1992. Current members gave readings from the works of Centurions of the past: Henry Adams by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.; Philip Barry by Marian Seldes; William Cullen Bryant by Remak Ramsay; William Dean Howells by Hortense Calisher; Henry James by Louis Auchincloss; Ogden Nash by Betty Comden; Walter Lippmann by Tom Wicker; Wallace Stevens by John Hollander; Booth Tarkington by George Plimpton; John O’Hara by an unidentified Centurion; and Rudyard Kipling by Sam Waterston.
On May 3, 2001, a distinguished panel comprised of Henry S.F. Cooper, Jr., Arthur M. Schlessinger, Jr., William J. Dean, and Ada Louise Huxtable presented on their “Revelations from the Century Archives.” In this excerpt, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Huxtable discusses the design and construction of the West 43rd Street clubhouse by McKim, Mead & White (and also describes the Century archives, recently rescued and revived by the CAAF as “a thing of beauty and a joy to use.”)
On October 27, 2009 the Committee on Archives and the CAAF hosted a celebratory banquet for the twentieth anniversary of women’s admission to to the Century. Several pioneering members were present, including Agnes Gund and Helene Kaplan, both of whom made speeches. Former Century lawyer John Gordan III discussed the legal context that led to the more inclusive membership policy. In this excerpt, long-time president of the American Museum of Natural History Ellen V. Futter, whom became the first woman to deliver a monthly meeting talk on April 5, 1990, delivers a humorous talk on the experience of entering “this august bastion of masculinity.” (Warning: the original recording is low volume due to the placement of the microphone; we have made every effort to make it more audible.)
To inquire about these and other event recordings, contact the Archivist.