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I think the 21st Century is finally catching up with us, making traditions something of an anomaly. In the U.S. political world, Congress now has its first female Speaker of the House. And in the Sherlockian world, there are two other items of note.

A Woman in the Tower
First in the news is the revelation that the Tower of London has named its first female Beefeater, or Yeoman Warder. This is a landmark development in the 520-year history of the profession. To their credit, the warders had this to say about the candidate:
"There were six candidates - five were male and she was the only female. She was the best candidate for the job."
Of course the Tower of London is mentioned once in the Canon. Bonus points if you name the story in the "comments" section below. In addition, it was a central element in Basil Rathbone's 1939 debut in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as Prof. Moriarty was planning to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower.

Some Male ASH
And the more earth-shattering news comes from the latest issue of Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press and the Winter issue of The Serpentine Muse. Evidently, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH) have made a landmark decision: they will finally admit men as full-fledged members.

The only male members of the ASH that I am aware of to date are those who were granted (I believe) special/honorary status: John Bennett Shaw, William Baring-Gould, Tom Stix and Peter Blau. Even if their membership was full-fledged, they were special exceptions.

The Adventuresses, who made a name for themselves back in the late '60s by protesting the annual all-male dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars, are finally taking a page from their own book. I think it took a lot of courage for Tom Stix (head of the BSI at the time) to take the step of admitting women to the BSI in 1991 - there were still a number of old guard who wished to keep it a men-only club. And the women admitted were noted scholars and influencers in the Sherlockian world; they deserved recognition on their merits alone.

But I have often wondered why the ASH didn't accept men at the same time the BSI started accepting women.

For the record, I have no problem with single-sex societies. In my view, a private organization can do as it wishes; and if a single-sex society exists in a geographical area where a coeducational society of the same status also exists, that should be the end of things. Which is why it seemed odd to me that the Adventuresses - a group that originally organized itself over the inequity inherent in a single-sex society - should employ the very same discriminatory practices they protested those many years.

I congratulate the ASH on this belated move. It will be interesting to see how many men take them up on this and how the ASH - who are no slouches in the scholarship department - set the bar for admission.

2 comments:

Ann Margaret Lewis said... January 9, 2007 at 8:43 AM

I'm a woman, and I, too, have no problem with single-sex societies. I remember when, as a college student, I was told BSI did not admit women (this was in 1987) I was a little disappointed at first. But then I thought - "Well, the Diogenes Club didn't admit women either! Let the guys have their space. We have plenty of women-only organizations. Why can't they have theirs?" I figured if BSI did someday decide to admit women, they'd do it on the merits, which they eventually did. If they did it any other way, membership wouldn't retain its dignity. So I'm glad that BSI stuck to their standards.

As for ASH, I've only attended one of their events, and I still sensed some bitterness...a few snarky comments here and there...about BSI. Maybe it's just that I was younger than a number of them (read: not a Baby Boomer) but I was like "Gee whiz, get over it."

Maybe we all just need to get over it and have a good time. That is what the game is about, isn't it? =)

Jens Byskov Jensen said... January 9, 2007 at 2:10 PM

The Tower of London is mentioned in "The Sign of Four" during the naval hunt for Jonathan Small and Tonga down the Thames.

"While this conversation had been proceeding, we had been shooting the long series of bridges which span the Thames. As we passed the City the last rays of the sun were gilding the cross upon the summit of St. Paul's. It was twilight before we reached the Tower." [Doubleday, p. 137]

 
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