Fortnightly Club fixture in Acadiana’s literary landscape

Decades ago, a group of New Iberia housewives with small children gathered on the front porch of Roberta Burke Voorhies’ house in the center of town. Starved for company, they used the opportunity to discuss literature and other topics.

Soon the meetings became organized, the beginning of the Fortnightly Club of New Iberia, which, as the name suggests, meets every two weeks for companionship and to discuss literature and the issues of the day.

Ninety years later, the club remains a fixture in the Acadiana literary landscape.

The club began with five members — Voorhies, Lillian Voorhies Barrow, Bessie Bauman Kyle, Yvonne Arnandez Patout and Henrietta Russell Courts — plus invited guests.

The format was and continues to be simple: Every member must host one meeting and offer one program, usually a book report or presentation on an author.

The club meets for nine months, following the school year calendar, making adjustments for holidays.

“And we try to meet informally — no meeting, no program — once during the summer because we miss each other,” said Jeanne Veazey, a retired educator who lives in Lafayette.

There are now 11 chapters of the Fortnightly club in New Iberia, plus two in Franklin and one in Abbeville, with approximately 200 female members.

The officers of the clubs helped celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding organization last month.

Each club has a number, signifying its rank in the growth of the organization. The original group, however, doesn’t call itself Fortnightly I.

“We call ourselves the Fortnightly,” Veazey said with a smile.

Each year has a theme. For instance, the 2013-14 theme was “Literary Favorites” and programs included book discussions on Ernest J. Gaines’ “A Lesson Before Dying,” Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” and T.C. Boyle’s “Tortilla Curtain.”

Since its inception in 1924, the original club has worked to remain small, about 12 to 14 members, and mostly invites retired women who are able to meet during the week.

Members such as Theresa Patout carry on a legacy. Her mother was a founder.

Lettie Latiolais, a former New Iberia schoolteacher, is the latest member to join and, at 59, also the youngest,

“She’s our baby,” said Lorraine Dowdell, club secretary and treasurer.

Latiolais must prepare a biography of herself for her first program, Dowdell explained, a tradition since the beginning. These biographies are then kept in a club scrapbook.

“I’ve read everyone’s,” Latiolais said of the member biographies. “They (members) have interesting lives. I found out that everyone started out in families that were hard-working. Every woman in this group had chores to do.”

The theme for the upcoming year for the original chapter is “Mille-Fleur,” meaning many flowers.

Veazey already has planned her assignment, “The Neon Bible” by John Kennedy Toole, who taught at University of Southwestern Louisiana, which is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

She will base her talk on Cory MacLauchlin’s biography of Toole.