Downtown View:The Clover Club

Dear Reader,

I am taking a break from this column since this holiday deadline is earlier than usual. I’ve retrieved a column from December, 2009, that you might enjoy revisiting. I don’t know if women can now join the Clover Club.


Just when you think you know everything about Boston, you discover some hidden secret.

Who knew there was a Clover Club, filled with powerful and prestigious men who gather for dinner, poker, speakers, skits and other guy activities and don’t allow women into their ranks? I checked with a few savvy types, and they didn’t know about it either. It’s been around for 126 years, according to the Boston Globe. [That may be wrong. The club’s April, 2015, filing with the Secretary of State’s office says it was incorporated in 1914.]

The club’s notoriety came about last week when it was reported that Gov. Deval Patrick canceled a talk at a club dinner because women were excluded from membership. Come to think of it, since the Globe described the club as Irish, they might not have allowed Patrick into the group either.

The lack of women seems so 1950s. Even that bastion of women—garden clubs—in downtown Boston include men. Gardens for Charlestown and the Garden Club of the Back Bay have several male members. The Beacon Hill Garden Club had a man in its ranks in its early days. [The Beacon Hill Garden Club in 2015 has two men among its membership.]

But I was so taken with the anachronism of a single-sex group excluding the other group that I wondered if my book club could qualify as a Clover Club. After all, so far we’ve invited only women to join. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t invite a man—a handsome, single, heterosexual, middle-age type is what I have in mind, in case there might be a chance for romance with one of our unattached members. Even as women only, surely we could invite Deval Patrick to speak at one of our meetings. We could read something pertinent to Massachusetts—The Scarlet Letter, perhaps. And I’m sure Patrick would be pleased to come since my book club, with diversity in religion and national origin, is a more inclusive than the Clover Club.

And probably just as powerful, since the list of men I read about who belong to the Clover Club contains no one I can remember who has done much for Massachusetts. For example, the felon Tom Finneran, who was Speaker of the House, was cited by the Globe as a member. [Kevin C. Phelan, a real estate brokerage mogul, is listed as president in the club’s April filing, so maybe it does have powerful members.]

Now I don’t know if the Clover Club would invite Patrick to join, and I doubt if he would. But we know why the Clover Club doesn’t want women around.

It is because women would laugh at them.

There isn’t a funnier sight in the world than a bunch of middle-aged men all dressed up watching skits performed by other middle-aged men, a number of whom are probably in drag.

Some of you may wonder how such clubs can exist in a time when half of all law and medical school classes are women, and a woman, I predict, will become the junior senator from Massachusetts in January. [I was wrong.]

In most cases in Boston, they can’t. Here’s why. In 1987, the Boston Licensing Board, chaired by clever Beacon Hill resident Andrea Gargiulo, made an end-run around single-sex private clubs by adopting a rule that prohibited public liquor licenses for business and professional clubs that discriminated in their membership. At that time many clubs with liquor licenses had separate entrances for women. In one club, the female president of the Boston Bar Association reportedly was shoved into a pantry to eat her lunch while her male colleagues occupied the club’s dining room.

Despite a Boston Globe editorial decrying the licensing board’s action, and the clubs’ lawyers’ threatening to sue, the rule prevailed. Within days such clubs as the Somerset, Tavern and St. Botolph chose drinking over discrimination and opened the membership door to women.

But the Clover Club, which reportedly was founded as a counterpart to the Yankees-only clubs of the time, escaped the end-run. It did not have its own clubhouse and therefore had no liquor license to be taken away.

Now I really don’t care if the Clover Club exists or not. Its prestige is limited, and its power over-rated, and I think it’s fine if people get together to have fun. But in a spirit of generosity I can help them in a small way. The members whose names I read in the newspapers are all at least in their 50s. That means they probably have daughters at least in their 20s. These daughters are probably associates at law firms, young financial gurus, medical residents and budding advertising executives. If these young women’s careers would be enhanced by membership in such a club, the middle-aged dads could start there.

I know it’s scary. But, Clover Club guys, summon the bravery to face your fears. Extending membership to your daughters would mean they could help you take the first step into the terrifying unknown of including women.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.