In 1883, 25-year old John Rodemeyer of Canaan, Connecticut was smitten with young Jenny Brown. But when she opted to marry the older, established James Bierce instead, Rodemeyer launched the Winstedt Bachelor’s Club. And for the next 30 years, the spirited newspaper editor, poet and humorist kept himself single – though it’s not clear if it was entirely of his own choosing.
But in 1912, Rodemeyer reunited with Jenny; the bachelor’s club – down to just two members – died. With his November 1913 wedding to Jenny (who had been left a widow) on the horizon, Rodemeyer needed a new club – and the idea came right off the top of his head—his balding head: the Bald Head Club of America was born.
Rodemeyer first got the idea of the club when a photographer visited Falls Village, Connecticut. Rodemeyer had recently returned to the area to begin publishing the Connecticut Western News after stints as a newspaper editor in Hartford, New York and New Haven.
The photographer had snapped a photo of six men seated on the steps of the Litchfield County courthouse – all of them completely bald. The novelty photo was turned (probably by Rodemeyer) into a postcard with the caption: The Six Sutherland Brothers. It was a joke playing on the popularity of the Seven Sutherland Sisters – a Victorian era family of young women with extremely long hair.
Rodemeyer, ever the publicity seeker, would boast later that he felt an instant kinship with his balding brethren. A bald pate, he declared, was nothing to be ashamed of. (Nor was it anything to be particularly proud of.) It just was.
The cause of baldness, the Bald Head Club of America concluded, was loss of hair. And its central purpose was to get together once a year, make fun of all the falderal surrounding baldness and have a great time at a banquet. From time to time, the club also made claims for the superiority of the bald man over his haired counterpart.
The club was an instant success. Newspapers across the country publicized it, along with the entry requirements: a bald patch of at least three inches in diameter, good character and payment of a dollar entry fee.
It wasn’t always easy separating fact from fiction when it came to the new club. Especially in its early days Rodemeyer made up stories about rumored meetings and the club establishing itself to generate interest. Eventually, however, the rumors became somewhat true.
People had good reason to suspect Rodemeyer was pulling their leg. He no doubt was, at least in part. One of his early ventures, a newspaper called the Yellow Spasm, featured eligible bachelor ads, satire and valued humor over a faithful recounting of the news.
Over the years, the club claimed thousands of members, with branches springing up here and there across the country. Connecticut governors joined in and the state’s congressmen signed up their fellow legislators from Washington, Rodemeyer said. Rodemeyer even claimed the former president William Howard Taft as a member, despite his wife’s well-established dislike of bald servants in the White House.
At the heart of the club, though, was always the its annual banquet “made up of the happiest, jolliest men in America.” Rodemeyer took every opportunity to lampoon himself and his club and its Knights of the Gleaming Skull.
He convinced the Connecticut legislature, after a light-hearted hearing, to grant the organization a charter so it could expand into new states. And once when asked to write about the club (an invitation that was extended because so many people thought it was pure fiction), Rodemeyer wrote: “The Bald-Head Club of America is dedicated to the proposition that Man, in his highest type, is not, primarily or necessarily, a fur-bearing animal, like the otter, seal, beaver, plush, Welsh rabbit or mock-turtle.”
Rodemeyer ended his career at the Greenwich News and Graphic and passed away in 1943, though the club, or at least tales of the club, lived on after his passing.