The Century Association Biographical Archive, a project of the Century Association Archives Foundation, was created to support its public mission to make the historical records of the Century Association accessible for scholarly research. The first phase of this resource was published in 2018 with a cutoff date of 1890 for members’ year of election, a date chosen to correspond with the final year the Century occupied its old clubhouse on East 15th Street. In 2020 the database was expanded to include Centurions elected between 1891 and 1922, more than doubling in size to 3,383 individual member profiles and thereby representing about 30 percent of the club’s entire historical membership roster.
As far as possible, information and documents have been drawn from the Century’s own archives. Key collections are described in the finding aid available elsewhere on this website. Additional sources are also identified below.
Most historic Century members were readily identified, although data gaps from the mid-nineteenth century posed numerous interesting challenges. In hundreds of cases, the identification of members required research outside club records: members who resigned were rarely given Century memorials, occupations were not routinely listed for new members until the early 1880s, and street addresses were not printed until 1888. Positive identifications were established through external clues, such as known social or professional relationships between the Century member and his proposers (or members he in turn sponsored). As of August 2020, all members had been identified with certainty.
Genealogical websites such as www.ancestry.com and www.familysearch.org were favored resources in locating or verifying places of birth and death, residences, and occupations. Digitized searchable newspaper collections at www.newspapers.com, www.genealogybank.com, and www.newspaperarchive.com provided hundreds of informative obituaries and news accounts. City directories, university and professional society necrologies, digitized full-text books, and www.jstor.org all were heavily consulted, as were standard reference works such as Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, King’s Notable New Yorkers, Dictionary of American Biography, American National Biography, and Grove Art Online. The New York City Municipal Archives’ birth and death records were viewed on microfilm (with an assist from online indexes at www.italiangen.org). Visits to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Trinity Cemetery in Upper Manhattan, and Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx all yielded birth and death data otherwise not discoverable. The website www.findagrave.com, hyperlinked throughout the site, was generally relied upon only for determining burial locations.
The professions of candidates for membership were identified in the minutes of the Admissions Committee and monthly member meetings beginning only in 1882; all these have been recorded in the database. To fill the void, more than 1,350 surrogate occupational designations were researched by the editor and are searchable here. The site does not differentiate between professions taken from club records and those that were obtained via external research.
Proposers, Dates of Election, and Membership Tenures
Information was gathered almost entirely from Admissions Committee minutes and monthly meeting minutes. Throughout the history of the club, more than 99.5 percent of proposers have been documented. The normal number of sponsors is two (a proposer and a seconder), but in earlier years one sponsor was sometimes sufficient or as many as seven were listed. In many instances only a surname is listed for a sponsor, creating ambiguities whenever there were multiple members by that name. Resignations were not routinely recorded until the 1870s, so the end dates of many members’ tenure are not known except as ranges of years owing to the sporadic publication history of membership rosters. (From the founding in 1847 until 1863, rosters are available only for 1851, 1854, 1855, 1857, and 1860. Additional rosters are known to have been published for the years 1853 and 1862 but have not been located.)
The earliest tributes to deceased members took the form of resolutions passed at monthly meetings. Beginning in the 1860s, the club Secretary prepared a necrology and some descriptive text for the annual meetings held each January; over time these gradually lengthened and became far more informative. Composing the memorials remained the duty of the Secretary until 1950, when the club historian George W. Martin was assigned the task.
The memorials written for members who died between 1945 and 1949 were never published in the Century’s annual yearbook but were recently discovered among the papers of Henry Allen Moe, the Secretary during that period. These have been reproduced by permission of the American Philosophical Society Library & Museum, Philadelphia.
This collection includes slightly modified excerpts from two more contemporary resources, both by permission of their authors. William A. Frosch’s “Our Original Amateurs” (2010), a publication of the club’s Committee on the Archives, contains twenty-three sketches of the founding members who were not professional authors or artists. James Charlton’s capsule biographies for his “Centurions on Stamps” exhibition (2011) cover sixty-six subjects elected before 1923, which are reproduced here as well.
In preparing texts to upload to the website, the earliest memorials were transcribed from manuscript minutes. Later tributes in published book format were scanned on Bookeye 4 equipment, converted via an OCR process to .txt files, then imported into Microsoft Word. A team of volunteer proofreaders checked the files against the originals to ensure accuracy.
The vast majority of the photographs were drawn from several folio albums of member portraits that the Century began compiling in 1862. Several images betray evidence of water or moisture damage (in the most extreme cases, these have been withheld from online publication); some of the album volumes in the Member Photograph Albums Collection have been disassembled and their contents dispersed. The photographs were scanned on a Bookeye 4 and cropped individually and sized in most cases to a uniform 3:2 aspect ratio.
Twelve rare images of various Century founders come from three copies of a book entitled The Sketch Club 1830–1847: Founders of the Century 1847. Each copy is unique, with slightly differing contents and sequence of photographs. One was Daniel Huntington’s personal copy in which he labeled the photos with the names of his Sketch Club and Century friends.
The Frederick Hill Meserve Collection consists of two volumes of portraits in carte-de-visite format that were donated to the club in 1954 by the eminent collector of historical photographs and Lincolniana. A selection of 301 photographs from this collection has been included in the website.
Forms of Citation
For memorials texts, please cite the byline, subject’s name, original print publication, and the CABA website:
Cary, Edward. Memorial of Eastman Johnson. Century Association Yearbook (1907). In Century Association Biographical Archive. Available at www.centuryarchives.org/caba. Accessed on December 5, 2020.
For portraits, please cite the subject name, original location, and the CABA website:
Portrait of Eastman Johnson. Century Association Archives, Member Photograph Albums Collection, Album 2, Leaf 62. In Century Association Biographical Archive. Available at www.centuryarchives.org/caba. Accessed on December 5, 2020.
For all other information, cite as follows:
Century Association Biographical Archive, q.v. “Eastman Johnson.” Available at www.centuryarchives.org/caba. Accessed on December 5, 2020.
Timothy J. DeWerff, Website Concept, Researcher, and Editor
Alexander S. Vastola, Scanning Technician and Proofreader
Nathaniel Granor, Data Engineer and Website Developer
The editor wishes to acknowledge the contributions of scores of predecessors who have chronicled or preserved the Century Association’s history. There are too many to list individually, but Theodore Bolton, Viggo Conradt-Eberlin, Henry S. F. Cooper Jr., William L. Daniel, James H. Duffy, John Durand, Russell A. Flinchum, Sylvia Franklin, Rodman Gilder, John H. Gourlie, Jonathan Harding, Augustus R. Macdonough, Allan Nevins, Elihu Root, and George Templeton Strong merit special mention.
—TJD, December 2018; updated December 2020