We hear folks talk about Lafayette: the luxury of so many wonderful restaurants available; the bountiful art, music and dancing; how our culture is prolific and so rich; how Lafayette’s has gotten so big and bustling — and “oh, that traffic.” When festival time comes, our hearts long to be in Lafayette where our friends and family are, and those of us here love to show off the fun we’re having. (Imagine the bandwidth needed to keep up with Facebook posts alone from Downtown Lafayette during Festival International.)
Lafayette isn’t what it is just because of this last decade of growth to the south, north, west, east, or within the Downtown area. It isn’t the gem of Acadiana because of the beaucoup retail available, whether it’s the latest fad in grocery items or fashionable homeware. All of this is available to us because of the history that’s been preserved in so many incredible ways that span before Johnston Street became even a dirt road. The city’s roots are deeper than even your grandma’s Magnalite pot and richer than her most scrumptious roux.
When Alexandre Mouton took ownership of his family home, built in 1818 by his father, Jean Mouton, he could not know 24 Lafayette women of 1932 would begin a service organization, Les Vingt Quatre, that would develop the first public library amid the nation’s Great Depression. He couldn’t have know that Les Vingt Quatre would become activists in the stewardship of his home in 1954, once The Lafayette Museum, now known as the Alexandre Mouton House.
Alexandre Mouton would never know any of this himself, but the legacy these women inspired needs to continue in a call to action among those of us in the present:
Mrs. J. N. Brown 1932/33 only; 1959/60
Mrs. R. L. Browne 1932/33-1950/51; 1958/59 associate member; 1959/60
Mrs. R. E. Chaplin 1932/33-1951/52
Mrs. R. J. Cornay 1932/33-1946/47
Mrs. J. J. Davidson, Jr. 1932/33-1994/95; associate member
Mrs. Waldo Dugas 1932/33
Mrs. E. G. Feusse 1932/33
Mrs. J. L. Fletcher 1932/33-1963/64; 1973/74-1979/80
Mrs. Vernon Griffin 1932/33-1975/76
Mrs. I. T. Hart 1932/33
Mrs. W. C. Kimbrough 1932/33
Mrs. Donald Labbe 1932/33-1992/93; associate member
Mrs. L. B. Long 1932/33-1988/89; associate member
Mrs. C. T. Montgomery 1933/34-1991/92; associate member
Mrs. E. A. O’Brien 1932/33
Mrs. M. H. Read 1932/33
Miss Clare Roy 1932/33-1935/36
Mrs. J. M. Scot 1932/33-1940/41
Mrs. Emile Soulier, Sr. 1932/33
Mrs. G. J. Tinsley 1932/33
Mrs. Bennet Voorhies, Sr. 1932/33-1984/85; 1985/86; associate member
Mrs. Fred Voorhies 1932/33-1934/35
Miss Alice Voorhies 1933/34
Mrs. T. F. Wilbanks 1932/33
Not only are these original Vingt Quatre responsible for our libraries, but we also recognize many by their families’ names: you see them on street signs, you recognize them in your own name or friends’ names, they’re on the buildings of our incredibly important public UL Lafayette. But their names are just that: names. This seemingly exclusive list of 24 has contributed to the identity of every child in the community who has exited a library door with an armful of books and to so many who have graduated from the university. The Mouton House itself serves as a popular backdrop to weddings and important celebrations that touch lives through more personal tradition. The connections between past and present are very long, very broad, and integral to the identity of the community of Lafayette as it evolves. The present is the harbinger of the future, and it is a responsibility that cannot be ignored.
So, what is the call to action? The Alexandre Mouton House is in need of repair. The current overseers of the museum are promoting a donation campaign that requests $24 or more per supporter in honor of the original Vingt Quatre so preservation can continue. Through this campaign, we all can step up as stewards to Lafayette’s history. Enjoy the short video below by Allison and Peter DeHart of makemade to learn more about the tenacious Vingt Quatre and how to keep paying forward what these women have begun.
"Les Vingt Quatre" Short Documentary from makemade.