The Lotos Club is a gentleman’s club devoted to the arts and sciences, founded in 1870 and still in existence today. According to their Web site:
The objectives of this institution shall be to promote and develop literature, art, sculpture, music, architecture, journalism, drama, science, education and the learned professions, and to that end to encourage authors, artists, sculptors, architects, journalists, educators, scientists and members of the musical, dramatic, and learned professions in their work, and for these purposes to provide a place of assembly for them and other persons interested in and sympathetic to them, and their objectives, effort and work.
The unusual spelling of the name comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem "The Lotos-Eaters" and two lines from the poem form the motto of the club. The Lotos Club is given credit for exhibiting contemporary artists and making their work visible to collectors. Mark Twain was one of the original members of the club, and the artists numbered among the club’s members include: Francis Hopkinson Smith, Alexander Laurie, and Alfred Thompson Bricher of the Hudson River School. The club also acquired American paintings in impressive numbers, though the present-day collection in no way does justice to its former glory.
Members emphasized in a letter to The New York Times that the constitution did not permit for control of the club to fall to businessmen, allowing them to make up only half of the membership roster at any given time and represent up to but no more than one-third of the board. Women could not join the club until its constitution was amended in 1976.
The club started off adjacent to the Academy of Music but moved several times in the course of its history. It currently resides in a 1900 clubhouse designed by Richard Howland Hunt at 5 East Sixty-sixth Street and has been at that address since 1947.
On May 21, 1872, a letter appeared in The New York Times, intended to correct several errors from a prior article that reveals tensions between the Lotos Club and a newly created club with similar aspirations known as the Arcadian. Accusations of the club being largely controlled by businessmen, losing membership to the Arcadian, and being in general on its way toward ruin were refuted by the Lotos Club in the letter, providing a glimpse into the politics surrounding even gentlemen’s clubs with artistic foundations and aspirations. Given that the Lotos Club still survives today, the accusations of imminent ruin were at the very least unfounded.
A New York Times correspondent, while comparing British and American clubs in an article on March 20, 1877, commented that “The Lotos is a club in the best sense of the word; small perhaps as regards its house, but large in its aims and perfect in its organization.”