Women’s Society of Washington University celebrates 50th anniversary

For 50 years, the Women’s Society of Washington University has made a difference in the Washington University in St. Louis community through its dedication to supporting students and strengthening the university’s regional ties.

An organization for women of all ages and from all backgrounds, the Women’s Society impacts students and the larger St. Louis community through full-tuition scholarships, support of student projects, educational events and leadership development opportunities.

“People who interact with the Women’s Society gain a better understanding of Washington University and its people,” said Ida Early, secretary to the Board of Trustees, director of Commencement, and university coordinator of the Women’s Society. “It’s a great resource for the St. Louis community and this entire region.”

Glenda Seldin, vice chair of membership for the Women’s Society, visits with members at the society’s annual luncheon, held April 15 in Anheuser-Busch Hall. (Credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr./WUSTL Photos)

“There’s always more to learn — that’s one of our mottos,” said Carolyn Farrell, president of the Women’s Society. “We love that we are 50 years old; we’re proud of that, and we want to continue what we’re doing and continue growing. I love the diversity of the women who belong, and we continue to welcome everybody.”

Since its establishment in 1965, the Women’s Society has worked to strengthen ties between the university and the community and provide for the needs of students. In its early years, the Women’s Society was highly involved in lecture and scholarship programs, a tradition that continues today. The organization also operated programs such as a furniture exchange and global food market to help international students feel at home in St. Louis.

The offerings have evolved in the last 50 years as the Women’s Society continues to support students. Partnering with the Office of International Students and Scholars, the group now hosts the Be Our Guest program to help match students with American host families.

For the 2014–15 academic year, more than $30,000 will be awarded to 19 different projects based on their educational, cultural and community outreach potential. The requests that are granted funding reflect a wide range of interests such as the African Film Festival, Out of the Blue elementary school literacy program, Medical Brigade trip to Honduras, Relay For Life, Dance Marathon and the university’s 2015 race car team.

“What we look for when looking at those grants are opportunities where our students are learning leadership,” Early said.

In addition, the Women’s Society scholarship endowment, established in 1976, funds the Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholarship, a two-year, full-tuition scholarship awarded to students transferring from St. Louis Community College.

“We want to encourage more and more students to look into coming to Washington University, to consider it as an option,” Early said. “I think that by having the Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholarship, we’re certainly giving a wonderful opportunity to students who transfer to Washington University.”

Scholastic programs and continued learning are also part of the group’s mission. The Women’s Society Lecture Series is designed to showcase distinguished faculty, and the Women’s Society’s annual Adele Chomeau Starbird Lecture features an accomplished woman of national prominence.

Wanda Ware, treasurer of the Women’s Society, holds up a financial statement at the April 15 luncheon celebrating the society’s 50th anniversary. (Credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr./WUSTL Photos)

The “Composing A Life: Women Inspiring Women” annual panel, in its tenth year, gives students the opportunity to hear how five diverse women have defined success in their lives — balancing career, personal life, and other interests beyond graduation. The Harriet K. Switzer Leadership Award recognizes graduating senior women who have made significant contributions to the institution during their undergraduate years, demonstrating immense potential for future leadership.

The Women’s Society also operates the Bear Necessities shop, a thriving nonprofit enterprise that has been a resource to the campus community since its founding in 1966.

“It’s amazing, this little group of committed individuals are so inspiring to me because we have all ages, backgrounds and interests,” Farrell said. “You want to be involved in organizations that challenge you, that make you grow in your mind, in your ideas and perceptions. And the Women’s Society is just that; whatever you put into it, you get ten times out.”

For more information about programs or membership, visit womenssociety.wustl.edu.

“I feel like we can always do more and we will,” Farrell said. “We all need to think more globally and be challenged.

“We’ll stretch and we’ll grow for the future.”