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.