Subject focus: Women's organizations in the University Archives

In honor of Women's History Month, we present some collections from the University Archives demonstrating the parallel histories of two similarly-named organizations representing two different female communities of Wayne State University: the Faculty Women's Club and the Faculty Wives' Club.

Founded in 1925, the Faculty Wives' Club of the College of the City of Detroit actually predated Wayne University by ten years. This group's mission, as stated in its 1953 constitution, was "to promote friendship among the faculty wives of Wayne University, to further the interests of the women of Wayne University, and to engage in such civic activities as are appropriate to the nature of the organization." The Faculty Wives' Club kept a busy schedule: in February 1950 alone, the Club organized a book review meeting, a sewing group meeting, a meeting of the executive board, a silver anniversary celebration, a tour of Detroit Edison, and a meeting welcoming newcomers. In addition to its frequent meetings, receptions, and tours, the Faculty Wives' Club provided small scholarships to female students of Wayne; scholarships were not to exceed $50 per semester, only junior or senior students could receive these funds, and the scholarships were considered loans to be repaid within two years of a student's graduation.

The Faculty Women's Club was founded in 1935, the first year of Wayne University, and its membership was open to any female instructor at Wayne. This organization attempted to fulfill the dual function of providing a social and a professional network for its members, and frequent revisions of its constitution demonstrate a continual struggle between these two aspects of its mission. The organization's constitution initially stated that its purpose was "to promote the interests of all women on the campus and especially to forward the social life and professional interests of the women of the faculty"; later this purpose was changed to read "...the social life and professional interests of the members of the organization." In November of 1951, the Faculty Women's Club hosted a panel discussion on "Women and Service"; in December it hosted, in cooperation with the Faculty Wives' Club, a talk entitled "So You Are Making Yourself a Suit."

In 1960 the Faculty Women's Club became the Association of Faculty Women. The name change was intended to avoid confusion with the Faculty Wives' Club (each group had long been referring to itself as "The FWC"); furthermore, the new name emphasized the professional rather than the social aspects of the organization. Its stated purpose was "to encourage membership of qualified faculty women to appointive and elective positions and responsibilities in the University and in the community; to promote the educational and professional welfare of all women, both staff and students, on the University Campus; and to enrich the educational and professional interests of faculty women." The Association of Faculty Women represented the female faculty and staff of Wayne State University, at the request of University President Clarence Hilberry; while the group's official duties increased, its schedule of events and its membership both diminished rapidly, and in 1971 the Association was superseded by the Wayne State University President's Commission on the Status of Women.

The Faculty Wives' Club, in the meantime, suffered a different sort of decline. This organization had always been composed primarily of homemakers, and there was a sharp reduction in the number of new members joining the club (although the club's records show no sharp increase in the number of existing members letting their memberships lapse). In 1979, five women joined the group; they were greatly outnumbered by the number who died, moved out of state, or were unable to attend meetings due to health problems. In 1995, the Faculty Wives Club of Wayne State University officially disbanded.

The Reuther Library holds the organizational records of the Faculty Wives' Club (1925-1995), the Faculty Women's Club (1935-1960), the Association of Faculty Women (1960-1971), and the President's Commission on the Status of Women (1971-present); these collections are open for interested researchers.

Casey Westerman is the Wayne State University Archivist.