Lyceum y Lawn Tennis Club

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Lyceum y Lawn Tennis Club

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The Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club began in Havana as the Lyceum, a women’s society dedicated to promoting cultural understanding, social consciousness and social service, as well as physical fitness and sports. It was founded by fourteen women concerned with social problems as well as the role of women in fostering the intellectual development and expression in Cuba: Berta Arocena, Carmen and Dulce María Castellanos, Carmelina Guanche, Rebeca Gutiérrez, Matilde Martínez Márquez, Lillian Mederos, Reneé and Sarah Méndez Capote, María Teresa Moré, Alicia Santamaría, Ofelia Tomé, and María Josefa Vidaurreta.

This group’s first meeting took place at the home of Berta Arocena, the Lyceum’s first president, on 1 December 1928. Following the model of a similar Spanish association, the Lyceum was officially incorporated on 22 February 1929 at a home at Calzada and A Streets in El Vedado section of Havana.

The first ten years of the Lyceum’s history were mainly a period of consolidation and development as an organization focused on the promotion of cultural awareness and activities. Although social service was not part of the society’s initial agenday, it was among the primary goals of the organization.

On February 22, 1939, at the tenth anniversary of its inauguration, the Lyceum was merged with the “Tennis de Señoritas,” another women’s organization dedicated primarily to women’s sports, whereupon it became known as the Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club. From this point in time, the new club flourished due to an influx of new members and a strengthened focus on its goals. The Lyceum, as it was still commonly known, continued its tradition of promoting cultural awareness, exhibitions and lectures, and increased the emphasis on and the scope of its social service activities. The society moved to a larger location more suited to its needs for space at Calzada and 8 Streets in El Vedado.

The scope of the activities of the Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club was wide, including several “firsts” in Cuba. The Lyceum sponsored many different lectures and conferences on many topics given by some of the most prominent scholars and speakers of the times from across the ideological spectrum. Its facilities were also used for recitals sponsored of other associations such as the Sociedad de Conciertos (Concert Society) and the Sociedad de Música de Cámara (Society of Chamber Music). It even welcomed the famous Pro-Arte Musical when the latter’s auditorium was seized after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

The Lyceum also had a gallery which housed exhibitions of classical and modern art, photography, and folk art of different countries but with a particular focus on Cuban arts. The most famous of these exhibitions was the one that took place every April: the exhibition of flower and plant arrangements which eventually acquired international fame.

There are several other notable accomplishments by the Lyceum. It founded the first free public library in Cuba and the first children’s library on the island. It sponsored various classes at different levels, from the famed flower arrangement classes to literacy classes and vocational training. The popularity of these classes increased after the 1959 Revolution because classes were conducted without the ideological interference of the revolutionary government. Indeed, from its foundation of social service activities dedicated to “works of charity and solving the problems of the destitute,” the Lyceum developed the School of Social Service of the University of Havana.

The Lyceum continued to function until it was closed on 16 March 1968 by the Castro government, with many of its members, including the last president, becoming exiled in the United States and other countries.

In the early 1980s, the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) began a campaign to collect Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club materials from former members in exile, many of whom donated their Club memorabilia and ephemera to the CHC. The materials collected through those efforts comprise this collection. It was voluntarily processed by a former member of the Lyceum and lawyer, Alicia O. Hernández, with the assistance of CHC staff.


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