All Our Yesterdays 11
by Harry Warner Jr.


It would be hard to find a fan organisation with a more turbulent history than the National Fantasy Fan Federation. It has been afflicted from its earliest days with every manner of wild schemes, fizzled prospects, resigning officers, attempts to gain control by cliques, criticism from other sections of fandom, and similar turbulence. The turnover in membership has been so great that barely any present members can remember what went on in the NFFF’s earliest days — Ackerman and Evans are the only people who have really been active in it right straight through, from beginning to the present time.

The NFFF was organised in 1941, and the first year’s issues of its official organ provide rather odd reading matter these days. The official organ was called Bonfire in those days. The word had no significance, but someone adopted it because it had a vague resemblance to the initials in the official title: Bulletin Of The National Fantasy Fan Federation. The third issue included the first constitution of the NFFF. Here’s what the constitution said that a prospective member was required to do before joining the NFFF:

1- Give proof of activity in the fan field, such as literary, artistic, or other journalistic work, attendance of conventions, active membership in fan organisations recognised by the NFFF etc. Further definition of activity shall be left to the discretion of the Advisory Board.

2- Secure the recommendation in writing of three incumbent members, residing in any three states.

3- Pass an examination testing the prospective member’s knowledge of science or fantasy fiction, and fandom. The grading of these tests and determination of the passing mark shall be left to the Advisory Board.

Probably the oddest thing about the early NFFF concepts was the plan to finance the organisation by a tax. It’s the only time to my knowledge in fandom’s history that a tax on activities was proposed. The more active you were, the more you were supposed to pay to the NFFF. Jack Speer, as chairman of the finance committee, explained the method in the fourth issue of Bonfire:

“It should be realised that somebody must pay, and the most active fans are the logical ones to do so. Fans are not in Fandom to help the other fellow: each one gets a great deal out of it personally, and has to pay something for his fun as it is. The Federation merely hikes the ante a bit, and it is supposed that it will in return increase the benefits derived from the hobby... Publishers of fan publications which sell for a price (gratis pubs, including purely FAPA, ones excepted) will each pay a given amount for each issue of their publication, regardless of size or price. Authors (including artists etc.) will pay in proportion to the quantity of fan material by them published within the period, regardless of what fan publication it appeared in (FAPA, subscription, or otherwise).”

Oddly enough, the officers of the NFFF were all opposed to this idea, but the membership itself, had voted for it, rather than a simple dues. Somewhere along the line it got forgotten.

When the organisation was approaching its first birthday, it had acquired a staggering amount of complexities. There must have been three committees for each member, and the job of keeping membership status straight was enough to require nearly the full energies of the organisation. The sixth issue of the official organ lists exactly 13 different membership categories, in each of which, one or more members fell, depending on how much assessment-paying, voting, and other things they had done. Just to keep an eye open for the future, there were also 23 other possible membership categories available for the future.

The NFFF had begun in the form of a brief article by damon knight – “Unite or Fie!” which was printed in Art Widner’s Fanfare. It picked up interest fairly fast. By the time of the second issue of Bonfire, the organisation had 29 members, among them several big names like Ross Rocklynne and E.E. Smith. By the time of that second issue, the organisation was even trying to determine where the next convention should be staged. Somehow or other, 39 votes were cast by the 29 members, and it can’t be said that posterity paid much attention to them. All but five of the votes were in favour of holding the next convention in cities which have never yet had a convention, a decade later – Washington, San Francisco, and Baltimore. The five remaining votes were in favour of a convention in Los Angeles.

Another of the original NFFF plans which has been lost in the shuffle of the years, called for setting up regional organisations, connected more or less loosely with the parent organisation.

When the NFFF was one year old, it had bogged down so completely that E.E. Evans named its new head to be himself, and no one had any particular objections to such an unorthodox procedure. Writing at this time, Evans declared:

“One of the things your President most wishes to see accomplished during the coming year of his administration is the more complete organisation of Fandom, in all its many branches and ramifications...He wants to see more local clubs started all over the country; that all of the states possible be organised into state federations; and the six main sections of the country fully organised into sectional federations. These sections are: The New England (already started in the Boscone); The Western, to be comprised of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and such other adjacent states as may wish to join them; further development of the Dixie and the Mid-West; the Western, which would include the states between the Rockies and the Mississippi, and the Pacific including Washington, Oregon, and California, which might also take in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.”

All during the first month of the NFFF’s life, projects for the future were invented as easily as Gold thinks up new nasty things to say about Campbell. Here are a few samples gleaned at random from the first year’s issue of Bonfire:

Send two copies, free, of all fanzines, to all fans in the armed forces, one for his buddies to read, the other to be sent to his home for collecting purposes. A welcoming committee to study all letters to the editors in the pro-zines, and invite into fandom any letter writers who seem worthy of such high honour. “A concerted effort” to raise the circulation of the prozines. Take charge of all the polls. Form a Reader’s Bureau to tell members which stories they should read in the prozines, and which they should skip. Set up a method of determining the site for the next convention. Compile a history of the future, based on the most frequently occurring predictions in the prozine stories. Establish a psychological research programme to find out why fans do the things they do. Publication of a yearbook of Fandom. Incorporate NFFF.

This last idea was the only one that was deemed too fantastic to be considered. It would have cost $23.

Incidentally, the NFFF may have set an all-time publishing record for mortality among official editors. I published the first issue of Bonfire. Bob Studley did the second. Art Widner produced the third. Harry Jenkins Jr. set a precedent by putting out three issues in a row. E.E. Evans became the publisher with the seventh issue. The seventh issue came out just about ten years ago, but let’s not go into what happened to the NFFF during the ten years that have followed.

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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