Category: 2019/2020 Season
1634 On a ship headed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, religious reformer Anne Hutchinson organizes a female discussion group to examine weekly sermons.
1778 Hannah Mather Crocker organizes a female reading society in Boston to study science and read the belles lettres.
Early 1800s Various groups of women in New England start meeting regularly to discuss poetry, nonfiction, and publications.
1827 The Society of Young Ladies is established in Lynn, Massachusetts, sparking the formation of African-American women’s literary societies throughout the Northeast.
1840 The first known bookstore-sponsored discussion club in the United States, “Conversations,” begins meeting in Margaret Fuller’s Boston shop.
1877 The Woman’s Reading Club of Mattoon is formed in Illinois. Still running today, it is known as the longest-running book club in the country.
1926 Harry Scherman, launched the Book of the Month Club, utilizing a subscription model to deliver volumes directly to people’s homes.
1947 The Great Books Foundation is established by Robert Maynard Hutchins and the Great Books Program is born.
Late 1950s The Great Books movement sweeps the nation and more than 50,000 readers register with the Great Brooks Program.
1980s Discount chain bookstores make it easier to buy books in stores, lessening the need for mail-order book clubs.
1984 Helen Hooven Santmyer’s “...And Ladies of the Club”, a national best-selling novel and Book of the Month Club selection focusing on members of a longstanding book club, inspires the formation of book groups across the country.
1996 Oprah Winfrey launches Oprah’s Book Club, a televised discussion segment on her talk show creating a massive book club boom across the nation that continues today even after the end of her show.
Late 1990s Online book clubs emerge, making participation more accessible to people unable to regularly meet in person.
Early 2000s Book-group activities are increasingly encouraged and mediated by libraries, book retailers, and publishers.
2009 Book club members in the United States reach an estimated five million people. Most clubs have 10 or more members. Between 70 to 80 percent of clubs are all-female.
Today Book clubs have become a trend promoted by celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Emma Watson, and Florence Welch. Monthly book-centric subscription services that mail a monthly book and other themed items are gaining popularity.
—compiled by Caity-Shea Violette, dramaturg