University Women’s Club: connecting Colorado women for nearly 100 years

September 6, 2013

The University Women’s Club at CU-Boulder is not your grandma’s afternoon tea. With 350 current members, these Boulder community women meet for lectures, hiking, French conversation, book groups among other interest group activities.

The Club’s community and education mission is to promote friendship among women and raise scholarship funds for nontraditional students. The group dates to 1918, when 46 faculty wives convened informally to socialize and stay publicly engaged off campus. Mrs. Margaret James Willard was the first president that year, and the first meeting that the Club held was in the Norlin House, home of CU’s fifth president George Norlin. The historical home is still on University Hill at 12th Street and Aurora.

Just like the first meeting place, several of the Club’s traditions, though evolved, are still intact. The Women’s Club Board of Directors plans a calendar of events including lecture luncheons, featuring university speakers and other community experts. Other events include the Spring Opera Brunch and April Scholarship Luncheon.

Scholarship has always been at the core of the Club’s values. It offers an average of four scholarships each year to non-traditional candidates who are at least 24 years old and whose backgrounds make an education harder to achieve. Applications for scholarships are due mid-March and winners are chosen and recognized at the April Scholarship Luncheon.

“It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to keep this club rolling,” Mary Huffman said before a board meeting earlier this week. Huffman is the current president, and has her hands full as another year of planning approaches.

Upcoming luncheons include CU faculty members Deborah Jin, Jeffrey Nytch and Amy Palmer, plus Melanie Warner (a local author) and Mary Lou Acimovic, author of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.

Jin, who will speak on Tuesday, Oct. 8, is a physicist with the National Institute of Technology Standards, adjoint professor in the Physics department and JILA fellow. The research Jin will discuss includes her discovery of ultracold trapped atoms. This breakthrough – cooling down molecules – allows chemical reactions to slow down, which will further advance the scientific knowledge base of molecular interactions.

“The Lecture Luncheons are the top billing for me,” said Joyce Spencer, program chair and president-elect of the Women’s Club. “I’ve learned a lot. I can’t wait for the next one.”

Lectures are held in the University Memorial Center, on the second Tuesday of the month, five months of the year. They are in Room 235 at the UMC, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In addition to the lectures, there are 23 interest groups for members to join. Some women are retired and some are not, but all have a thirst to keep their minds moving. One of the interest group chairs, Pat Thompson, joined the Women’s Club about four years ago after seeing an article in the Daily Camera. Since then, she has chaired both the Opera Brunch and evening book group.

“I liked the idea of having interest groups for women to get together, like me, and the idea of awarding scholarships,” Thompson said.

As a book club organizer, Thompson enjoys putting together a compelling list of fiction and nonfiction, representing a range of tastes from the input provided by book club enthusiasts.

“Everybody loves to discuss, so it’s always very lively,” said Thompson. “You can hardly get a word in edgewise if you want to discuss the book…. These are women who really love to learn, love to keep up, keep themselves healthy both in mind and body.”

Claudine Garby, described by group members as their “historical archive,” can vouch for this mentality. Garby is now 84 years old, joined in 1959 and was President in the late ‘80s.

“My objective as President was to provide interesting functions that would be fun… interesting functions that we could learn from, that would be stimulating… It’s easy getting into thinking of it as a social group. But as an old teacher, I wasn’t about to fall for just that.”

To learn more about scholarships, interest groups, luncheons and membership, visit the University Women’s Club website.

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