Founders of the Century Association

The concept of the Century Association was proposed during a meeting of the Sketch Club in December 1846, when it was decided to found an association composed of authors, artists, and amateurs of the arts and letters. On 9 January 1847, a group drawn from “upwards of one hundred” prospective members reportedly were invited to attend an organizational meeting to be held on 13 January. This invitation list is unfortunately not extant, but the following forty-two names, as first reported by John H. Gourlie in “The Origin and History of ‘The Century,’” are generally accepted to have been founders of the club:

This may be an imperfect list, however. Several of the names were never printed in club rosters, which may suggest they declined election; on the other hand, complete member rosters in the earliest years are currently available only for 1851, 1854, 1855, 1857, and 1860, and the club has always recognized each of the names as a founding member.

There is also evidence of some errors of omission. Member James Henry Beard was not acknowledged in historic membership rosters until 1940, when his son Daniel Carter Beard donated a copy of his father’s initiation fee receipt dated 11 March 1847. Beard did not go through the admissions process, which suggests he was among the first hundred who were invited to join and thus could justifiably be considered a charter member. Other members who apparently skirted the admissions process include William H. Appleton, George W. Austen, Frederic Diaper, and Henry Lawrence.

The poet Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790–1867), widely celebrated in his day and memorialized with a monument in the Poet’s Walk in Central Park, was said to have been an early Century member in Gourlie’s reminiscences. Halleck had indeed participated in the Sketch Club, but no other club records indicate he was in the initial group of invited Centurions or was subsequently elected. Finally, a letter dated 7 April 1848 in the Margaret Clapp Library of Wellesley College signed by twenty-one individuals identified as members of the Century includes the name of John Neilson Jr. (1799–1851) among twenty other known members. (The letter was an invitation to John G. Chapman to set a date for a going-away dinner at the Century before his departure on a trip to London.) Neilson, a brother-in-law of Hamilton Fish, was an insurance executive and amateur artist who, like Halleck, had attended meetings of the Sketch Club. If further corroborating evidence supporting their membership is someday uncovered, one or both of these names may be officially entered on the rolls.