Evelyn Herzog, founding member and “Principal Unprincipled Adventuress» of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes agreed to share with us the history of this group of American female students passionate about the stories of the great detective who, from the late 60’s to the present day, faithful to their motto “gutta cavat lapidem, non vi sed Saepe cadendo” (A drop carves the rock, not by force but by persistence.), managed to move the lines of a Holmesian world ruled by men. When women were finally accepted among the BSI in 1991, adventuresses were among the first to be invested. The ASH also invested four men, who had supported the feminist cause. The dinner, which they organize during the weekend anniversary of Sherlock Holmes, which takes place every year in New York is now a major and incoutournable event
La Gazette du 221B : Can you tell me about the history of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes: When, why and how did the group come to be?
Evelyn Herzog : ASH was initially founded in 1967 at Albertus Magnus College for women in New Haven, Connecticut as an extremely informal small group of students. We all already enjoyed the Holmes stories, and I was able to introduce the others to the world of Sherlockians via Baring-Gould’s biography of Holmes and the Baker Street Journal. We discussed the stories, worked on pastiches and articles, and corresponded with Sherlockian writers, who encouraged us. However, it was dispiriting to learn that the Baker Street Irregulars (then and now the principal group of Holmes enthusiasts in the U.S.) accepted only men as members and that the same was true for many of the scions around the country. Thanks to the kindness of our correspondents, six of us went to New York City in January 1968 to attend the co-ed William Gillette Memorial Luncheon. Secretly, we had also decided to picket that evening’s dinner meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars to protest their unfairness to women Sherlockians. We did picket outside their restaurant and eventually Irregulars John Bennett Shaw and Peter Blau were sent out to make us stop, which they did by agreeing to read a message from us to the BSI. Our message seemed to have no effect – it was 23 years before the BSI admitted women to full membership – but we were satisfied to have made our point. After this one moment of notoriety, we stuck to literary pursuits and, after the graduation of our principal members, the Adventuresses became inactive. Luckily, at the January 1975 birthday weekend in NYC, a few of us met a few other women Sherlockians, went out to a long dinner together while the BSI were at their dinner, and decided to bring the Adventuresses back to life as a society for any and all female Holmes fans. We’ve had tremendous success in adding wonderful people to our group (at first our membership was women only, but finally we became co-ed) and giving them a venue to express their enjoyment of the Canon.
G221B : And can you tell me about the activities of the group?
E.H : The 1970s and 1980s were a period when Sherlock Holmes was very big in popular culture and groups were forming throughout the U.S. – all of them co-ed. It was also a wonderful period for ASH because we met women from all over the country and they joined with us, in person or in print. Our principal members lived in and around NYC and, in addition to the January alternate to the BSI dinner, we had many big and small gatherings throughout the year – at first just for women but later co-ed. We decided to publish a Newsletter, which after two years became our quarterly The Serpentine Muse. Humor and singing are generally a part of our meetings. When the BSI went co-ed in 1991 we gradually transferred the running of the January alternate dinner to committees of volunteers from various groups. ASH maintains spring and autumn meetings, as well as a monthly get-together known as ASH Wednesday with no program. In recent years some members produced and maintain our website ASH-NYC.com, as of course you know.
G221B : How is it like to be a woman in the Sherlockian world? Are there still forms of misogyny or discrimination?
E.H : Overall, it’s always been wonderful to be a woman in the S’ian world, even back when we were an oddity. This hobby has brought me a lifetime of good friends, and a husband as well. Still, it’s an imperfect world. From my first encounters and even in recent years I have known some Sherlockian men who don’t see why things have had to change. But, more and more, I’ve also witnessed groups of women Sherlockians publicly enjoying their independence. By far the majority of the people I interact with are decent folks who behave with natural cooperation. At the risk of sounding naïve, I believe the Sherlockian world is better than society as a whole in recognizing and using everyone’s abilities for everyone’s good.
G221B : Nowadays, Sherlockians clubs are mostly mixed, Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes included. Do you consider your group is “like others” or do you think you have a special place?
E.H : Yes and yes. We are like other groups: The format of ASH’s spring and autumn luncheon meetings is much like that of many other societies: announcements, prescribed toasts, more toasts on a Canonical theme, and a talk (or, if no one volunteers a talk, a few mini-talks on the dinner’s theme), followed by communal singing of S’ian filk songs (“filk” from the words “folk” and “filch” – songs set to popular tunes with new S’ian words). Likewise, The Serpentine Muse is a traditional S’ian literary journal – a mix of news, literary criticism, verse, humor, quizzes, art, and personal reminiscence.
We also have a special place: Historically, the picket raised the question of women’s place in the Holmesian world and, in a sense, our successful society’s activities were an implied protest throughout the years until equality was achieved. By running an alternate birthday dinner, we gave a home to women Sherlockians and, soon, also to men Sherlockians who had not been invited to BSI. That event became an important stepping-stone to the 5-day birthday “weekend” we now enjoy. ASH is the group that runs a Wednesday evening gathering for early-arrivers and a Sunday brunch for late-departers. So in certain ways ASH filled in a few untidy social gaps left by the BSI. Finally, over the last decade or so we’ve been fortunate enough to gain new members and participants of all ages, so that ASH continues to prize the wit, humor, and a certain outrageousness that the oldest of us remember from the 70s and even from our college days.
G221B : Is there, according to you, a female point of view on the Sherlockian universe? Can you explain what makes it special, or give examples.
E.H : I don’t really have an answer to this one. I will say that, back in the 1960s and 1970s when I was first meeting Sherlockians, some of the men who were bewildered by women’s sudden presence among them would ask what it was about the Canon that would appeal to a woman, especially in view of Holmes’ (supposed) misogyny. It seemed odd to them that their rational enjoyment of Holmes’ logic was shared by us, or that our emotional appreciation of Holmes and Watson’s growing friendship was actually the same as theirs (even though Christopher Morley himself used the phrase “A Textbook of Friendship” to refer to the Canon).
G221B : How did you react to the foundation of another all-female group, the “baker street babes”, and what are your relationships with the babes?
E.H : I think the Babes are great, and I appreciate the joie de vivre that they’ve brought to the S’ian world in general and the Birthday Weekend in particular with their yearly “Daintiest Thing” Ball. Were I in my energetic 30s or even 40s, I would be angling for membership in the Babes. Ditto for the members (all women) of the committee who invented and run 221B Con, the large, inventive, multifaceted yearly S’ian conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of the women of both groups are ASH-friends or invested ASH; no doubt there’ll be more.
find the interview in french here