D.C. newspaper horns in on local Elks story

January 15, 1999

Hagerstown made the front page of the Washington Post on Tuesday, a story about the impending rebirth of a sleeping-giant industrial town that is about to become a new regional center, hub if you will, of Western Maryland culture, arts, tourism and forward thinking.

Oh wait, that wasn't quite it.

No, what caught the Post's eye was the Hagerstown Elks Club and its kicking-and-screaming decision to allow women to join as full-fledged members and not just as the little ladies responsible for hanging the Christmas decorations and wiping spaghetti sauce off their husbands' chins.

Maybe it's me, but if I could pick one feature of Washington County for an out-of-town newspaper to focus on, one of our fraternal clubs wouldn't be it. Let's be honest, the fraternal clubs aren't the first family member you introduce to the boss at the company picnic.

But now the spotlight of national media attention has again been shined, and like last summer's ABC-TV Little League special, the results aren't pretty.


The Post examines the Elks with the same sort of bemused anthropological detachment with which John Hanning Speke might have treated a new tribe of aboriginal chicken-worshippers he chanced upon during his search for the source of the Nile.

"Men walk right in, and women have to be admitted. Men are allowed beyond the door marked 'Stag' and women are not. Men hold the positions of exalted ruler, leading knight, loyal knight and lecturing knight and women don't."

The Post stops short of cataloging these curious creatures based on the number of limbs they have or the length of the thorax, but not by much.

The most common-sense quote came from Margaret Mobley, who said, "Personally, as a woman, I don't see why anybody who has a husband who's an Elk would want to join. We get all the privileges of an Elk except going to meetings and running for office. Who needs it?"

Exactly. It's just like Puerto Rico. Why subject yourself to the hassles of statehood when you're already getting all the goodies?

The Post said the names of the four women to be inducted weren't known, "but Hagerstown is small enough for rumors, and so there are rumors."

True enough, but what of Monica and the mysterious dress, what of the rumors that swirled around Vince Foster's death, what of who is to be the next Supreme Court Justice, the next owner of the Redskins or the next congressman to be outed by Larry Flynt. The Rumor Capital of the Free World is ribbing us for our rumors? What next, are they going to accuse us of having a colorful ex-mayor?

But give the writer credit. In what may be a journalistic first, the Post quoted Barbara Bowers without including a peep from her husband, Ron.

As for the he-stags themselves, they made it pretty clear they're not thrilled about the decision, made by the national Elks. "They're going to end up cheapening the whole thing," said one.

The Elks need women to boost their membership rolls, which are in serious decline. Females, of course, will recognize this as typical male behavior - ignore the women until you're in deep doo, then run to them to bail you out. I myself have done this a hundred times. There's no real shame in it.

But I've never understood the logic of wanting to ban women from anything. They're a lot more interesting than the men. Heck, I remember the first question in organizing a college party was "Who's going to get the girls?" All right, second question, but girls came right after the beer.

But at least we have one fewer skeleton in the closet. Baseball was outed by the national press, now the Elks. We can only brace for what may come next. I have my money on "Dateline NBC: Cloud seeding - Planet-altering reality, or nutzo notion promoted by a bunch of Hagerstown crazies?"

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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