Cowtown Literati: The Bohemian Club

Before New York City had its Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street with its resident cat and its Round Table of literati headed by Dorothy Parker, Cowtown had its “Nest” on East Belknap Street with its resident cat and its Bohemian Club of literati headed by Henrie Gorman.

Henrie Clay Ligon was born in Alabama in 1845. The Star-Telegram later wrote that she was named for Henry Clay (U.S. senator, speaker of the House, secretary of state), who had been her father’s law partner and her godfather.

Henrie began to write as a child and was first published at age fifteen. By 1870 she was making a name for herself as “a charming writers of tales” among women writers of the South.

Also in 1870 Henrie married Frank Alexander Stephens Gorman of Georgia. He had been named for the man who became vice president of the Confederacy.

In 1877 the Gormans moved to Fort Worth, stepping off a Texas & Pacific passenger train “burdened with three bird cages, a large cat, and holding by their chains three dogs.”

In 1877 Fort Worth did not yet have a public school system. So, Mrs. Gorman opened a private school.

One former student of Mrs. Gorman later recalled: “We went to a little one room white pine shack at the corner of Weatherford and Harding.”

In 1886 Fort Worth did not yet have a public library. So, Mrs. Gorman opened a lending library in her home. By the end of the year her reading room was stocked with six hundred books with four hundred more on order. She soon had 125 subscribers who paid $2.50 for “all privileges of the room.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Gorman continued to write. Among her published books (written under the penname “Clara Le Clerc”) was Uncle Plenty (1892) about plantation life in the antebellum South—as viewed through white eyes.

Eventually Mrs. Gorman would add a room to her home as her library grew to ten thousand books.

After Fort Worth’s Carnegie Public Library opened in 1901 her library lost subscribers, but a few “old-timers” continued to avail themselves of her collection for several years.

As a writer and the proprietor of a lending library, Mrs. Gorman naturally knew most of Fort Worth’s literati. She became friends with several, and they began to meet at her house on East Belknap Street at Harding Street. They called the house, built in 1878, “the Nest.”

On April 21, 1898 members of the group formally organized, calling themselves the “Bohemian Club.”

The motto of the club was “The fruit of my own pen is my offering.”

The club met twice a month at the Nest. There the Bohemians shared food in the dining room and food for thought in the reading room as they discussed the arts, especially literature.

Mrs. Gorman’s fellow Bohemians saw her as the club’s mother figure and called her “Frau.”

Members of the Bohemian Club included Judge C. C. Cummings, Mayor B. B. Paddock, druggst J. P. Brashear, teacher D. S. Landis, physician James L. Cooper, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union press superintendent Fanny Armstrong, business school professor J. T. Brantley, and Brantley’s wife Eva Wilson Brantley.

Every literary club needs a mascot, and Mrs. Gorman’s tomcat Tom filled assumed that august position for the Bohemians.

One objective of the Bohemian Club was the encouragement of southern literature. And what better way to encourage southern literature than to showcase it in a magazine?

In November 1899 the Bohemian Club’s first issue of The Bohemian was published. Mrs. Gorman was editor and proprietor. Mrs. Gorman boasted that The Bohemian was the “first and only literary magazine, not of Texas alone, but of the South.”

The Bohemian was published quarterly, each issue containing about 150 pages. The magazine featured writing by the Bohemians, of course, but also works by other writers across the South. The magazine featured poetry, essays, book reviews, profiles of prominent people, articles on history (especially Fort Worth and Texas), travel, health and medicine, and religion, short stories, children’s stories, and, of course, articles on art, music, drama, and especially literature.

Bohemian Club members contributed to the magazine according to their interests: Judge Cummings, history and law; D. S. Landis, poetry; J. P. Brashear, poetry; Dr. James L. Cooper, medicine and health; Major J. E. Gaskell, music; J. T. Brantley, business.

Mrs. Gorman contributed short stories as “Clara Le Clerc” and children’s stories as “Aunt Clara.”

In the first issue Judge Cummings (who, the Star-Telegram said, had “left his right hand on the field of Gettysburg”) pointed out the historical significance of April 21, the day the Bohemian Club was founded in 1898: On that day Rome was founded in 753 B.C.; the Battle of San Jacinto was fought in 1836; Mr. and Mrs. Gorman were married in 1870; and the Spanish-American War was declared in 1898.

The first issue of The Bohemian included three articles on travel (Paddock on Scotland, Mattie Warren on suburban Washington, D.C., and B. R. Webb on Mexico). Judge Cummings wrote on Texas under nine flags (1492-1899), Fort Worth’s earliest residents, and the World Peace Congress at the Hague. Sarah Larimer wrote on Mormon life. Other articles included “Music Both Ancient and Modern,” “The German and Italian Schools of Music,” “The Mythological Origin of Music,” “The Arguments or Plots of Grand Opera,” Women’s Fraternal Organizations,” and “Elocution and Drama.”

The first issue also included recipes for the dishes that the Bohemians enjoyed “with the greatest gusto” at their meals at the Nest.

The poetry of J. P. Brashear and D. S. Landis appeared frequently in The Bohemian.

Photos in The Bohemian show us what Fort Worth looked like at the turn of the century. These photos of Main Street (note the double streetcar tracks), the T&P passenger depot, and city hall and the Carnegie Public Library (photo taken from atop the 1896 federal building/post office) appeared in The Bohemian.

And these photos show us the home of Bohemian Dr. James L. Cooper, probably on Lipscomb Street. (Note the lawn jockey hitching posts.)

With the first issue in print, Mrs. Gorman anticipated submissions of manuscripts from writers. So, in the second issue she provided guidelines. Typewriters had been in use for at least twenty years, but she assumed that she would receive handwritten manuscripts. (Aside to writers: When was the last time you dotted an i and crossed a t?)

The third issue of The Bohemian contained a curio. A history of Peters Colony and the New Icarie socialist commune included a single sentence about the death of Dr. Adolph Gounah, a member of the commune, in a railroad accident. Judge Cummings supplemented that history by pointing out that Gounah had foreseen his death in a dream and had detailed the dream in his diary.

In August 1902 the Telegram announced the publication of The Bohemian volume 3, number 4.

Reviews of The Bohemian from readers and editors of other publications were favorable, even from the East Coast.

But financing the magazine was always a challenge. Each issue of The Bohemian contained at most only a few ads—some of them for the businesses of club members.

In 1902 friends of The Bohemian held a benefit for the magazine with a trolley ride on the new interurban to Handley.

In recognition of the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 the Bohemians published a special edition with the theme “Texas Past and Present.” It was an ambitious undertaking: 246 pages and six hundred illustrations. Texas Woman’s Press Association said it was “one of the handsomest magazines ever produced in the United States.”

Mrs. Gorman had a “keen sense of humor,” the Star-Telegram later wrote. She needed that sense of humor in 1906 when she slipped on a banana peel—it doesn’t happen only in cartoons—and suffered a fracture that caused her to be confined to a couch for months and to walk thereafter with a cane.

She was unable to publish the magazine for several months.

But The Bohemian reappeared in May 1907. However, it was still nagged by low revenue, and Mrs. Gorman was still physically challenged. The last issue of The Bohemian was printed in November 1907.

Mrs. Gorman called the magazine “the loved child of her heart and brain” and hoped for its eventual revival under the editorship of someone more physically able, but it was not to be.

Fast-forward to 1918. On April 19 Mrs. Gorman’s husband Frank died two days before the big day in their lives: the anniversary of their wedding and the anniversary of the founding of the Bohemian Club. Frank had supported his wife’s literary life and was known as her “silent partner.”

Frank Gorman, born on a plantation in Georgia, had fought for the Confederacy.

Mr. and Mrs. Gorman were among Fort Worth’s first spiritualists. Spiritualists believe that the spirits of the dead exist and have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living.

After her husband’s death, even though she was in failing health at age seventy-three, Henrie Gorman refused to move in with relatives, preferring to live with her beloved books and pets in her “Nest.”

“I love to read and write, and I enjoy being alone,” was her response.

She lived to see one more glorious April 21. Three months later, on July 22, 1919 Henrie Clay Ligon Gorman died among her books and pets in the “Nest” where she had founded Fort Worth’s first lending library and first literary magazine.

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