The 111-year-old private club’s policies recently came under fire when a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge was reprimanded for being a member. The Tennessean now reports that the club’s most recent newsletter highlights a woman as its newest resident member.
Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville, Tenn. has admitted its first resident female member, reports The Tennessean, after the newspaper obtained a copy of the club’s most recent newsletter. The newsletter highlights Adelaide D. Stevens, owner of a Nashville-based stationery and imprinting company, as Belle Meade’s newest resident member.
Stevens’ admission represents a milestone for the 111-year-old private club. The club’s lack of diversity came to the forefront last year when a federal judicial panel concluded that Belle Meade engages in invidious race and gender discrimination. The federal Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability publicly reprimanded now-retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George C. Paine II over his club membership.
As a resident member, Stevens is entitled to the club’s full benefits, including the ability to hold office and vote on club matters. Stevens, who was recommended for membership earlier this year, did not return a message seeking comment.
Club manager Michael Seabrook told the newspaper on May 1 that the Belle Meade Country Club has had a long-standing policy not to publicly discuss membership issues.
Women married to club members have had access to the benefits of their husbands’ memberships, and unmarried women have had access to cheaper “lady” memberships. Neither, though, allowed women to hold office or vote.
But in recent months, the club has faced criticism over the makeup of its membership, and its current president has vowed to increase racial and gender diversity.
At least three African-Americans have been recommended for full membership, but it is unclear whether that happened.
The club has wanted to prevent an exodus of members, particularly lawyers and judges, worried about the ethical and political fallout from remaining a member.
In the club’s January newsletter, President Timothy J. Douglas wrote that the membership process takes time but “steps are being taken to increase diversity.”
“Most importantly, it will be in the best long-term interest of the club to have a diverse membership,” he wrote. “The future relevance of Belle Meade requires it to be a club our children will want to join.”
Gilbert S. Merritt, a Nashville-based senior judge on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is an honorary member and last year said he would be forced to resign his membership unless the club’s diversity increased.
“When this conflict came up, I said I was going to resign unless these changes were made,” Merritt told The Tennessean on May 1. “I think they have done what is necessary for me to stay. It looked questionable whether a federal judge could be an honorary member or any kind of member for that matter.”
Merritt said clubs such as Belle Meade are often bound by tradition.“Things don’t change until there is a little bit of pressure,” he said. “So, I think this is a positive step.”