MacDermott Fanhistorical Essay Posted

Who started the first science fiction club? Aubrey MacDermott said he did in his 1987 article Recollections on the Origins of Science Fiction Fandom 1917 to 1948 now posted at Bill Burns’ eFanzines. A PDF of the manuscript (in Andrew Porter’s keeping) is also available for download.

Here’s an excerpt of MacDermott’s narrative:

Raymond A. Palmer, later editor of AMAZING, told me some years later that after I had organized the Eastbay Club in April 1928 Aubrey Clements in Georgia and Walter Dennis, Paul McDermott and Sid Gerson in Chicago had also formed fan clubs, and Richard Leary formed one in Boston. Ray was the eighth member of Clements’ club.

The Christmas of 1928 I received a Christmas card from Peter Schuyler Miller and a letter about the trouble he was having with a story about Mars, “The Titan”. I also received a Christmas card and autographed photo from Edgar Rice Burroughs which I proudly showed to the club members, an enlargement of which is now on my library wall.

In the spring of 1929 Ray Palmer organized the Science Correspondence Club, based on Clements’ and Dennis’ clubs. Later Richard Leary’s Bay State Science Club of Boston joined. But our own club voted not to merge. Clifton, Lester and myself joined immediately. Eventually most of the other club members joined.

At last some signs of life from New York. Allen Glasser formed the “Scienceers Club” on December 11, 1929. He proclaimed that it was “the first real club”, ”real” meaning that it took place in New York City. It soon fell apart. However, Sam Moskowitz in his “Immortal Storm” accepts Allen’s statement at face value Others in their histories of fandom copied Sam’s mistake without checking.

Early club history has been the topic of a couple File 770 posts, with some great discussion in the comments — see “Early Science Fiction Clubs: Your Mileage May Vary” and “The Planet: One Last Landing”.

MacDermott’s essay also has been uploaded to Fancyclopedia 3, which includes many links to names, places and events mentioned in the text.

[Thanks to Bill Burns, Mark Olson and Andrew Porter for the story.]

The Planet: One Last Landing

The delightfully inconclusive debate here on the topic of whether the Scienceers or the Eastbay Science Correspondence Club was the first sf club led to a discovery I am happy to share with you.

From Guy H. Lillian’s The Zine Dump I learned Ned Brooks had scanned a photocopy of first issue of The Planet, published by the Scienceers in July 1930. Ned kindly sent the images to me and I have uploaded them here.

A squib on page 3 says the Scienceers published meeting notices every Friday in the New York Evening World, confirming Allan Glasser’s memory about the weekly meeting schedule. Unfortunately, I was denied the minor pleasure of locating one of those ads because the paper has only been digitized through 1922.

As for Aubrey MacDermott and the Eastbay Science Correspondence Club, Fred Patten wrote in comments about his conversation with Cliff Amsbury, one of the other members: “He said that, yeah, MacDermott and other S.F.-area teenage s-f fans often got together in 1928, so they were first. But those were all one-shot social meetings. They did not hold club meetings.”

MacDermott only claimed they met, not that they met on a regular schedule. Bill Higgins’ jibe, “Which is more fannish?” hits the nail on the head.

The Scienceers had more traits of the prototype sf club. Yet the Eastbay group identified itself as a club and met socially in 1928 more than once. Depending on your preferred criteria, either club could claim to be first. And since 99% of you are already picking the Scienceers, there is your official wisdom-of-crowds answer…

P.S. Read The Planet’s science fiction quiz on page 2. I used to consider myself a trivia master but I scored zero out of 10…

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Early Science Fiction Clubs: Your Mileage May Vary

Several fanwriters celebrated yesterday, December 11, as the anniversary of the first science fiction club meeting. Was it? Probably not.

Eofan Allen Glasser made the claim that his New York club, the Scienceers, was “the first of all science fiction clubs” in an article for First Fandom Magazine #4 (1961):

The exact date on which The Scienceers came into being was Dec. 11, 1929. The founding members, as I recall, were Warren Fitzgerald, Nathan Greenfeld, Philip Rosenblatt, Herbert Smith, Julius Unger, Louis Wentzler, and myself, Allen Glasser. With the exception of Fitzgerald, who was then about thirty, all the members were in their middle teens.

Glasser also reported the intriguing fact that the host and president of this pioneer club was an Afro-American living in Harlem:

During the early months of the Scienceers’ existence — from its start in December 1929 through the spring of 1930 — our president was Warren Fitzgerald. As previously mentioned, Warren was about fifteen years older than the other members. He was a light-skinned Negro — amiable, cultured, and a fine gentleman in every sense of that word. With his gracious, darker-hued wife, Warren made our young members welcome to use his Harlem home for our meetings — an offer we gratefully accepted.

(See Bill Higgins’ writeup about his efforts to track down the location of the meetings and more information about president Fitzgerald.)

When I read that the Scienceers club was founded in 1929 I gave a sardonic little laugh, because I remembered any number of Westercons where I heard another eofan, Aubrey MacDermott, harp about the Oakland club he’d co-founded in 1928. At the time I had the young fan’s tendency to scoff whenever some geezer fussed about fine points of ancient fanhistory. Now I’m no longer a young fan and I have to laugh because Aubrey managed to etch that 1928 date on my memory anyway.

MacDemott also did some of his fussing in a 1980 issue of Asimov’s when he thought Darrell Schweitzer had slighted his contributions to history:

I see by reading Darrell Schweitzer’s article in the December 79 issue of lASFM that I founded an “impure” Science Fiction club in Oakland in June 1928.

We had over twelve “impure” members to start. Among them were Clifton Amsbury, Lester Anderson, A. S. Bernal, Louis C. Smith, Ray and Margaret St. Clair, Fred Anger, Vincent Brown, and later Forrest J Ackerman. We had the imposing name of East Bay Scientific Association until Forrie joined. Then we changed the name to Golden Gate because Forrie lived in San Francisco. Since he was only twelve years old, his mother would not let him take the long trek across the Bay to East Oakland, by street car, ferry, red train and then again a street car. So we on occasion all went over to Forrie’s Staple Street home.

We read, discussed, traded magazines, wrote letters to magazines and authors. We even put out a hectograph sheet each month for the members.

I know only too well that at that time East Coast fans considered any activity more than 100 miles from New York to be non-existent. But surely not today. As a matter of fact Sam Moskowitz in his Immortal Storm mentions Clifton Ansbury, Lester Anderson, and myself.

Moskowitz’ Immortal Storm testifies to both MacDermott and Glasser’s Scienceers“Aubrey McDemott” is mentioned in connection with the Science Correspondence Club – which was in general, as its title states, a club that did all its activity by mail, begging the question of in-person meetings.

Ordinarily I rely on Harry Warner Jr. to referee these disputes. Unfortunately, his book All Our Yesterdays mentions neither Glasser, MacDermott, the Scienceers nor the Eastbay Science Correspondence Club, despite all he has to say about scores of other eofans and their controversies. He only discusses the international Science Correspondence Club. Jack Speer’s early fanhistory Up To Now also is silent about Glasser and MacDermott, though his original Fancyclopedia has a short entry on the Scienceers.

Fortunately, another historian has reconciled the international correspondence club and the in-person meetings of the Oakland chapter. John Cheng’s Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America says:

In 1928 Aubrey Clements of Montgomery, Alabama formed what he called the “Science Correspondence Cloub,” announcing the club in the pages of Amazing and gathering members as responses came in.  In the same year, while corresponding among themselves, Walter Dennis and Sydney Gerson, c/o 4653 Addison, Chicago, Illinois, also set upon the idea of a correspondence club, which they also called the “Science Correspondence Club,” to disseminate “science and scientific thought among the laymen of the world.” They announced their idea in the pages of Amazing Stories Quarterly and by the next year their group claimed two dozen members while Clements’s had twenty-five members. Membership was not mutually exclusive and indeed overlapped. Although he was the founder of one SCC, Dennis was also the sixth person to join the other, where he served as chairman under Clements’s presidency.

…In 1928, Aubrey MacDemott, Clifton Amsbury, Lester Anderson and Louis C. Smith on the Berkeley-Oakland side of San Francisco Bay began meeting monthly as the Eastbay Science Correspondence Club (ESCC). Raymond Palmer, originally a Chicago SCC member, suggested a national merger between the various organizations. By late 1929 the two original SCCs and willing members of the ESCC, which had reorganized as the Eastbay Scientific Association, merged into one club under a constitution drafted by Dennis, Clements, and A.B Maloire of Chealis, Washington.

Both the Scienceers and Eastbay Science Correspondence Club may have leaned more towards science than sf (some of the Scienceers would be drawn away to join an amateur rocket group) but their members were part of the social network of earnest teenaged readers of Gernsbackian magazines, many of whom became inextricably linked to 1930s sf fandom. Glasser and MacDermott each claimed the club they helped found was the first sf club to meet regularly in-person — one in December 1929, the other in June 1928 – and it seems, of the two, MacDermott’s group has the best claim.