Science Fiction League
The community of fandom arguably began with the Science Fiction League, probably the single most important fan organization of the 1930s. The SFL was a commercially sponsored club for stf readers, but through it, the first protofans met each other and came into a sense of group self awareness.
Hugo Gernsback promoted the international club as a way to drum up readership for his second pulp prozine, Wonder Stories, and fill its pages without having to pay writers. He announced the club in the May 1934 issue. The idea seems to have come from Charles D. Hornig who had been picked from the readership ranks to become the 17-year-old editor of Wonder Stories.
The club offered fans, via Wonder Stories' pages, chartered membership certificates for SFL local branches, lapel buttons and club stationery, and, ultimately, letter columns in the magazine printed the letter writers’ names and addresses, allowing them to get in contact with each other and create fandom. (The first local club, the Scienceers, got together as a result.)
Interestingly, Gernsback announced the SFL as "a non-commercial membership organization for the furtherance and betterment of the art of science fiction." It was not noticed at the time, but by founding a club devoted to stf, he effectively gave up his idea that sf existed to promote science.
It had an imposing (but powerless) list of “Executive Directors,” prominent fen (meaning, at the time, prolific writers to the prozine letter columns) and pros: Forrest J. Ackerman (“Honorary Member Number One”), Eando Binder, Jack Darrow, Edmond Hamilton, David H. Keller, M.D., P. Schuyler Miller, Clark Ashton Smith, and R. F. Starzl. Hugo Gernsback himself was Executive Secretary, Charles D. Hornig, Assistant Secretary. Members were supposed to propagandize stf and promote it by "personal solicitation" (i.e. a peptalk) whenever they could buttonhole a victim. The SFL department of Wonder Stories reported activities of locals and of fandom in general, announced proposed new locals, listed new members and addresses.
The July 1934 issue announced the first 10 members to sign up, winners of autographed letters and original manuscripts from Dr. David H. Keller, provided they wrote appropriate letters first to the prozine and then to the good doctor:
- George Gordon Clark, Brooklyn, NY
- John Theodore Wiese, New York City, NY
- Robert Hart, Wethersfield, CT
- Kenneth Sterling, New York City, NY
- William H. Dellenback, Chicago, IL
- George Forbes, Arlington, MA
- Jacob K. Taback, New York City, NY
- Stephen R. Tucker, Wallingford, CT
- Frank Phillips, Jr., Pennagrove, NJ
- Harry Boosel, Chicago, IL
That none of them were from west of the Mississippi probably reflects the magazine’s distribution patterns and the speed of the mails rather than lack of interest from western readers.
Enthusiastic readers poured like gnurrs from the voodvork out to join up, and wrote in with their suggestions for the nascent club. Many would become actifen who created the fandom to follow. The November 1934 Wonder Stories SFL department, for example, included letters from David A. Kyle, Member #359, proposing himself as organizer of District Chapters (gently turned down); Milton Rothman, Member #34, offering chapter activity ideas (encouraged); and Forrest J Ackerman, Honorary Member No. One, somewhat self-importantly excusing himself from organizing a San Francisco chapter because “mine are already such busy days with science-fiction and film work, fan magazine, correspondence, reading, reviewing, collecting, science-fiction selling, and .... scientifiction-scientifilm work taking me elsewhere.”
There were plenty of others willing to run chapters, though. That issue alone contained hopeful proposals for the Brooklyn SFL from George Gordon Clark, Los Angeles SFL from E. C. Reynolds, Denver SFL from Olon F. Wiggins, Indianapolis SFL from Henry Hasse, Central Texas SFL from Alvin Earl Perry, Philadelphia SFL from Milton A. Rothman and 13 others, including Liverpool, Shanghai and the Philippines.
And, the magazine’s lettercol that ish featured a hilarious “Report of the 196th Convention” by one “Hoy Ping Pong, SFL Member No. 12345678901,” poking fun at the whole business.
After the ISA-SFL Clash, Gernsback suffered one of his periodic financial crises in 1936, and sold Wonder Stories, passing control of the SFL to Standard Publications, which let it die of neglect. Many chapters severed all ties with the SFL, some collapsed entirely, but two (after renaming themselves) continue to meet regularly to the present day — the ones in Los Angeles (now LASFS) and Philadelphia (now PSFS). In any event, by that point the League was no longer needed — fandom was up and running, self-perpetuating and a thing alive.
The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS) started out as the Los Angeles Science Fiction League (LASFL), one of the chartered clubs under the Gernsback SFL umbrella. Arguably the oldest regularly meeting sf club in the U.S., it was chapter 4 of the League, while the Philadelphia SFL (its only possible rival) was chapter 11. The Philadelphia club withdrew from the League in the 1930s and substituted "Society" for "League" in their name, becoming PSFS. The LASFL substituted "Society" for "League" when the Science Fiction League ceased to be a sponsoring organization and "Fantasy" for "Fiction" to expand their area of appeal.
In an amusing hoax, George Scithers fooled LASFS in 1980 over a refounded SFL. See Scithers SFL Hoax.
- Science Fiction League history by Doc Lowndes in Outworlds 49 (April 1987, p. 1620).
|From Fancyclopedia 2, ca. 1959|
|from SFL Fancyclopedia 2 ca. 1959
The Science Fiction League, launched in 1934 by Gernsback and Hornig, sponsored by Wonder Stories. An imposing (but powerless) board of directors included prominent fen like Ackerman. Members got insignia and stationery 'n stuff blazoned with the group's emblem (illustrated on the Fan-Dango Award); they were supposed to propagandize stf (little stickers were planned for the purpose) and promote it by "personal solicitation" (i.e. a peptalk) whenever they could buttonhole a victim. The SFL department of Wonder Stories reported activities of locals and of fandom in general, announced proposed new locals, listed new members and addresses, and carried the Science-Fiction Tests. Under TWS the League was continued, but more commercialized, and the department was often used to blurb future issues.
In the course of time the League enrolled several thousand readers, tho most of these never did anything more than send in their names, and some were duplicate enrollments or pen-names. It was hoped that the SFL could become the general fan organization, but this was dashed when non-payment of young authors (the fault of a department of the company not under Hornig's control) and natural rivalry brought on the ISA-SFL war and the expulsion of Wollheim, Sykora, and Michel.
The chief importance of the SFL in fandom was in the chapters that were set up, of which the most important were LASFL, QSFL, GNYSFL, Leeds SFL and other locals with different names, like the PSFS. In these titles by "SFL" we understand "chapter of the SFL". By the rules only one chapter could be established in a city, except in cities over 1,000,000. Three members were required for setting up a chapter; most such three-man chapters were short-lived. A rule which soon lapsed made the chapter-member with the lowest serial number Director.
Of other rules there were few; one was that members promise to answer with reasonable promptness all (non-commercial) correspondence addressed to them as members. The organization was moribund before the end of 1941.
|From Fancyclopedia 1, ca. 1944|
from SFL Fancyclopedia 1 ca. 1944 The Science Fiction League, launched in 1934 by Gernsback and Hornig, sponsored by Wonder Stories. An imposing Board of Directors included Ackerman and Darrow, but they had no power. The SFL department of Wonder Stories reported activities of locals and of fandom in general, announced proposed new locals, listed new members and addresses, and carried the B Stf test and results. Under TWS the League was continued, but more commercialized, the department often being used to blurb future issues.
In course of time the League enrolled several thousand members, tho most of these never did anything more than send in their names, and some of the memberships are duplicate enrollments or things like Peggy Gillespie. It was hoped that the SFL could become the general fan organization, but this was dashed when non-payment of young authors (it should be added that this was up to a department of the company not under Hornig's control) and natural rivalry brot on the ISA-SFL war and the expulsion of Wollheim, Sykora, and Michel.
In those cases, "SFL means "chapter of the SFL". Only one chapter can be established in the same city, except in cities over 1,000,000. Three members are required for setting up a chapter; most such three-man organizations are quite short-lived. There is an old rule, no longer observed, that the member with the lowest serial number shall be director.
Of other rules there were few; one was that members promise to answer with reasonable promptness all (non-commercial) correspondence addressed to them as members. The emblem was reproduced on lapel buttons and stationery which were for sale.
|1||Brooklyn SFL||George Gordon Clark||January 1935||See BSFL for more.|
|2||Lewiston (ID) SFL||Stuart Ayers||"|
|3||Erie (PA) SFL||Jack Schaller||February 1935||Formed October 29, 1934.|
|4||Los Angeles SFL (LASFL)||E. C. Reynolds||"||First meeting: October 27, 1934. Later, LASFS, which see.|
|5||Monticello (NY) SFL||William Rothelder||"||Dave Kyle, secretary. Founded November 13, 1934, by Rothleder, Kyle and high-school friends Walter Scheible, Charles Kaufman, Israel Ellenberg and Abraham Wolf. They published a few issues of a clubzine using carbon copies but, Kyle said, "the amateurish efforts quickly vanished without a trace."|
|6||Mayfield (PA) SFL||John Tomccyzk||"||Formed November 15, 1934.|
|10||New York SFL / Manhattan SFL||William S. Sykora|
|11||Philadelphia SFL||Later, PSFS, which see.|
|14||Chicago SFL||Edward E. Chappelow||Highest membership of all chapters. See Chicago SFL for more.|
|17||Leeds SFL||Douglas W. F. Mayer||See Leeds SFL for more.|
|20||Belfast SFL||Hugh Carswell||1935||In 1951, James White happened on a reference to it in a 1935 issue of Wonder Stories and immediately went to the address given. Harry Warner reported in A Wealth of Fable, "He encountered there a frightening woman and a grisly discovery. The woman said that Carswell was away and added that she had just thrown out all his prozines."|
|22||Nuneaton (UK) SFL||Maurice K. Hanson||Located in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, UK. Its clubzine was Novae Terrae and members includes Dennis Jacques and Maurice T. Crowley.|
|27||Sydney SFL||August 1935||It held its first official meeting on August 15, 1935. Members included: Charles La Coste, William E. Hewitt, Thomas M. Mallett, Wallace J. J. Osland.|
|37||Barnsley (UK) SFL||In South Yorkshire.|
|Newark SFL||Robert Bahr||See Newark SFL for more.|
|Lincoln (IL) SFL||P. H. Thompson||1934||It published the Lincoln SFL Doings, but soon faded away.|
|Lebanon (PA) SFL||March 1935|
|Jersey City SFL||"|
|Darien (CT) SFL||Doc Lowndes||Short-lived.|
|ENYSFL||1935||The Eastern New York SFL began as a sub-chapter of the Brooklyn SFL, it eventually grew larger and independent. Fl. 1935–38. It published Arcturus as a clubzine and members included Fred Pohl, Harold W. Kirshenblit, Irving L. Kosow and R. Henry Drucker.|
|Muskogee (OK) SFL||1935|
|Stamford (CT) SFL||Doc Lowndes||June 1935|
|Minneapolis SFL||Oliver Saari||1936||Saari and Douglas Blakely, founders. Authors Donald Wandrei and Carl Jacobi attended the first meeting and presented talks at meetings, but the formal organization collapsed almost immediately. Some members — Saari, Blakely, John L. Chapman, Arden Benson and Robert Madsen — became friends and continued to meet informally over the next several years. When Clifford Simak arrived in town, this group formed the Minneapolis Fantasy Society.|
|Flushing SFL||James V. Taurasi||July 1937||Early members included Richard Wilson, Robert G. Thompson, Abraham Oshinsky, and Jack Gillespie.|
|QSFL / GNYSFL||James V. Taurasi||The Queens SFL (which see) expanded into the Greater New York SFL in 1938 but then retracted again in the Wollheimist-Triumvirs feuds.|
|Kings SFL||A proposed off-shoot of the Queens SFL, this group was officially in Brooklyn (Kings County, NY). It failed to qualify as a chapter of the SFL, so it became ...The Futurians.|
|Bloomington (IL) SFL||Bob Tucker|
|Adelaide SFL||John Devern||1938||Devern published the hektographed Science Fiction Review, a 16-page fanzine, which was the first duplicated fanzine in Australia. The Adelaide SFL did not last long, vanishing with its founder.|
|Washington Heights SFL||This chapter Washington Heights in Manhattan brought Cyril Kornbluth and Chester Fein into fandom.|
|Bronx SFL||Herbert E. Goudket|
|Tri-Cities (TX) SFL||Dale Hart||1938||This chapter had more than a dozen members around Baytown, Pelley and Goose Creek, Texas, just east of Houston. The last fandom heard of this group it was trying to raise enough money to buy a duplicator.|
|Oklahoma City SFL (OCSFL)||Edgar A. Hirdler||1936||Dan McPhail was a founder.|
|Baltimore SFL||It was still going in the early 1940s, with monthly meetings at the home of Frederic Arnold Kummer, Jr., and upwards of 10 members. Members included Virginia Kidd, Henry Andrew Ackermann, and George Wetzel.|
|Glendale (CA) SFL||1936||It did not last long and appears to have withered and been absorbed by LASFS.|
|Melbourne (Australia) SFL|
|Cincinnati SFL||Dale Tarr was one of its charter members and quite active. Fl. late ’30s.|
|Albany SFL||Arthur L. Selikowitz|
|Non-SFL and Latter Day ‘SF Leagues’|
|XSFL||Don Wollheim||1935||A loose club formed by fans expelled from the SFL. Most, or all of them were members of the International Cosmo-Science Club. See Up To Now: The ISA-SFL Clash for more details.|
|ILSF||Don Wollheim||July 1936||An ENYSFL splinter group. See Independent League for Science Fiction.|
|Detroit SFL||George Young||ca. 1950||See Detroit Science Fantasy League.|
|MSFL / MWSFL||ca. 1953||See Mid-West Science Fantasy League.|
|SLI||Lee Anne Tremper||mid-1950s||See STF League of Indiana.|
|Chicago SF League||Rosemary Hickey||1962||See Chicago Science Fiction League (II).|
|BRSFL||1970||See Baton Rouge Science Fiction League.|
|SFLIS||Joe Haldeman||1975||See Science Fiction League of Iowa Students.|
|Coral Springs SFL SDS||Joe Siclari & Edie Stern||mid-1970s||See Coral Springs Science Fiction League Social Drinking Society.|
|Renaissance SFL||1986||See Renaissance Science Fiction League.|
|Milwaukee SF League||Eric Hildeman||2021||See Milwaukee Science Fiction League.|
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