2012 Elgin Book Circle Meeting Photo. Back Row (from left): Barbara Wincn, Marka Moss, Jean Smith, Lou Apperson, Jane Woods, Pat Grombly.  Middle Row: Elizabeth Chevola, Jan Thayer, Judy Wheeling, Char Brown. Front Row: Rene Prentice, Pat Basinger.  Photo courtesy Elgin Book Circle Archives

In 1921 five Rain Valley and Elgin women – Cora Everhart, Edith Ferris, Katherine Klene, Edith Roath, and Ida Turney – took a picnic supper to the “Northcraft Grove” [also called The Cottonwoods] south of Patagonia to discuss creating an organization that would purchase, share, and discuss books. 

The picnic meeting led to a set of By-Laws and “Precedents” for the Elgin Book Circle. “The Book Circle membership was limited to 17 people; this permitted each member to keep a book for three weeks before passing it on to the next person.” 

At the first Book Circle meeting in early 1922, ten women paid dues of $2.00 each and recommended a book. The books were purchased using the dues money and a schedule for “passing” the books was determined. “It was up to each member to arrange the timely transfer of the book in her possession. If a member lived near the next recipient, the book could be dropped off at her home. For those who lived farther away, a book might be left in the care of the Elgin storekeeper…For many years, the mail carrier was helpful…a book could be placed in the mailbox-‘with a slip of paper’ designating the person to whom it should be delivered, and the carrier would convey the book to that person’s mailbox.” [Wincn, Barbara. The Elgin Book Circle. Pimeria Alta Historical Society (PAHS) Newsletter, Aug/Sept 1993].

Ida Speed Turney was regarded “as the founder of the Book Circle.” [Wincn, 1993]. Born in Kentucky in 1879, she and her parents moved to Texas in 1912 where she taught piano and music. At age 34 she married cowboy Mark Turney and the couple, and her parents, moved to Elgin in about 1913 to operate a small ranch. [Arizona Daily Star, 12/4/1962]. In 1916 Mark Turney was shot and seriously injured by a neighboring rancher, Jackson Ward and his son Bufford. [Arizona Daily Star, 12/16/1916]. Turney survived but his right leg was amputated. Jackson and Bufford Ward served time in prison for the shooting. 

Mark Turney continue ranching until his death in 1951. Ida “successfully assumed the operation of the ranch…after the death of her husband, despite the fact that she neither rode a horse nor drove an auto.” She sold the ranch in 1958 and moved to Tucson. Ida “was instrumental in building the entrance gate…in Black Oak Cemetery at Elgin in memory of her mother and father and late husband who are buried there.” She died in 1962 and is buried at Black Oak Cemetery. [Arizona Daily Star, 12/4/1962].

In its 100-year existence the Elgin Book Circle has unfailingly followed the precedents established by its founders – 17 members circulating books for three-week reading periods. The procedures, however, have changed with the times. Dues charged to purchase the books increased from the initial $2/year to $10 in 1979. In 1980 members agreed to each purchase the book she recommended and reduced dues to 50 cents to cover the cost of postage and supplies for meeting notifications. 

Today no dues are needed as email communication is used. Books are passed directly by nearby neighbors or at a drop-off location such as the Sonoita Post Office, National Bank of Arizona, or the Sonoita Elgin Fire Department. 

Two Book Circle meetings are held each year. At the first, books are selected. At the second meeting, the books read the previous year are discussed. The early members’ “tastes in reading were diverse: fiction, history, biography, and autobiography, philosophy and humor were all represented.” [Wincn, 1993]. Included were national bestsellers such as “Bridge of San Luis Rey,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and “The Good Earth.” Today’s selections mirror those of the early days.

When the books were purchased with dues moneys, a drawing was held “to determine the permanent ownership of each book.” [Wincn, 1993]. Today each member retains her book at the end of the reading year.

Three of the five founders of the Circle remained members over 34 years. The most remarkable membership history belongs to four generations of women from the Bartlett/Collie family. Nellie Bartlett, her daughters Chopeta Collie and Fern Collie, Fern’s daughters Jane Woods and Marka Moss, and Marka’s daughters Gay Moss and Rebecca Smith. Minnie Kunde holds the record for the longest continuous membership—59 years.

Current member Elizabeth Chevola, who joined 25 years ago, reflected that participating in the Book Circle “has been a constant pleasure.” She is always eager to try out the books that 16 other women want to share, as “being hooked by a book is one of the joys of life.”