Celebrating UWC’s Rich 70-year History
By Linda Haac, UWC Historian
We welcome all women who have an interest in joining
and sharing opportunities for friendship, social activities, intellectual stimulation, and service.
One of the oldest woman’s groups in our area celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2019. Those years trace not only how the University Woman’s Club (UWC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has changed, but also how a woman’s place in our world has changed.
“This is a milestone year for our organization,” said Patty Courtright, former UWC president and retired editor of UNC’s faculty-staff newspaper. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate the camaraderie and connection that have been vital in sustaining the UWC for 70 years.”
Past UWC president Barbara Day, and formerly a long-time professor in Carolina’s School of Education, added, “While many women’s organizations are declining these days, this group has remained strong.”
Day did admit, though, that more than a few female UNC faculty and staff members have yet to join, many focusing, instead, on other women’s organizations directly aligned with their professions.
Photographer Barbara Bell pointed to why so many women have joined over the years and continue to join and stay within the club. “I think what this club is really about is a sense of community,” she offered.
Building community through social contacts and activities is one UWC purpose. The other is to fund and award two scholarships of $3,000 each for tuition and fees to young women from the area who demonstrate academic achievement, potential and need.
The scholarships had their start in 2001 and are overseen by UNC’s Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, which also selects recipients. Funds are provided through the club’s endowment, begun in 2008, as well as UWC’s yearly budget (based on members’ dues), along with donations and an annual Valentine’s Day fundraising event. When first lady of the UNC consolidated system Ida Friday died in 2017, the scholarships were named after her in honor of her leadership and deep commitment to the organization.
Building Community Over the Years
UWC traces its history even farther back than its founding in 1949. Ten years before, the University saw the formation of the Newcomers’ Club to welcome wives of new faculty members. Faculty at the time were almost exclusively male, as were almost all students. By 1948, the Newcomers’ organization had become well established, with officers and a constitution. Membership had been expanded to include new female faculty as well as faculty wives, but a member’s time was limited to the first three years in Chapel Hill, given the club’s purpose.
With the end of World War II, Carolina began to expand rapidly, bringing ex-service men to campus under the G.I. Bill. The town of Chapel Hill also began to grow. Making, as well as maintaining, social contacts was no longer as easy as it once had been. As a result, then Newcomers’ president, Phyllis Barrett, wife of Gerald Barrett of the Business School, felt a need during the academic year 1948-1949 to form a club for women who had been in town more than the three years allowed under the Newcomers’ Club’s constitution. She and two other members approached Marian Graham, whose husband, Frank Porter Graham, was president of UNC’s Consolidated University, and he referred the matter to Harriet “Hattie” House, whose husband, Robert House, was Carolina’s Chancellor.
Consequently, on January 29, 1949, Mrs. House called a meeting of several Newcomers’ officers, plus a number of long-time faculty wives as well as wives of administrators, proposing that some of those gathered serve as a slate of officers for a new club, which would become the University Woman’s Club. The gathering agreed the club would be primarily social in nature as a way to build relationships among members and assist the University when needed. Frowned upon were programs, except for light entertainment, that involved significant projects and money raising. Membership was limited to faculty wives and widows of faculty on the University’s “Official Call List.”
As for why the need for such a club existed at the time, said long-time member and former UWC President Anne Montgomery, formerly an administrator with the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s executive-education program: “People coming here from other areas often commented that this was a godforsaken wilderness in many ways. No place to shop. No place even to grocery shop. I’m sure that was part of the motivation for creating an organization that fostered much-needed social interaction.”
The Newcomers Club did not disband, however. Its president also served on the new UWC Board. The first president of UWC became Norma Berryhill, whose husband, Reece Berryhill, was dean of the Medical School. In May 1949, the newly formed club launched a membership drive with a large tea, and hostesses came from the English Department, serving orange punch, cookies, nuts and mints. Dues were set at $1 annually and continued at that rate through 1957. Today, dues are $35.
As the years went by, UWC was known to sponsor teas, dinners, tours and excursions. According to Montgomery, women attending those teas wore hats and white gloves. Worn to some functions, it’s been reported, were long dresses and corsages. For a while, a dress code covered when hats were to be worn, but the code, eventually, disappeared.
Soon, a pattern was set whereby UWC sponsored three afternoon teas a year, along with a spring luncheon with entertainment and time for business matters. During some summers, a fifth event was added for Summer-School faculty wives. Seldom did the $1 dues cover all expenses and sponsoring hostesses were frequently forced to contribute finger food. The wives of Botany Department faculty used wild flowers for decorations and favors while the wives of the Music and Dramatic Art department faculty furnished entertainment.
With UWC’s contributions to the University community, Chancellor William Aycock, who headed the University from 1957 until 1964, began to provide a small subsidy to the group. The Chancellor’s Office has continued to offer a stipend through the years.
Opening UWC’s Membership Rolls
During the 1950s and early into the 1960s, some friction developed between the Newcomers’ Club and UWC with competition over programs and limited monies. The Newcomers’ Club held a spring luncheon and fashion show, so popular that attendance had to be limited. Several popular interest groups, including bridge and golf, also had begun, but they too were limited to members. Newcomers’ members, meanwhile, felt their club was being pressed financially.
To address the situation, in 1961 the Newcomers’ Club became a division of UWC, although each group continued to have separate officers, membership rolls and dues, even though they met together. Interest groups and social functions, such as the fashion show, were now open to both groups’ members. That same year for the first time, UWC entertained the wives of N.C. legislators and the N.C. Council of State, known as the Sir Walter Cabinet. Finances continued to be a thorny issue, but during the two years from 1986 to 1988, the two clubs merged once and for all.
From the beginning, rules concerning UWC membership offered limitations. Even with the women’s movement of the 1970s, faculty were still predominantly male, although a few women began to join the ranks, a bit of an issue for a club originally devoted to wives. It wasn’t until the early 1970s, for instance, that the UNC Medical School had one of its first female hires, Nadia Malouf Anderson. So male-oriented was the University then that, reportedly, when Anderson arrived and went to use the restroom marked “Faculty,” she discovered a men’s room. “They had to change the signs,” Nye said.
Beginning in the 1980s, membership still hadn’t expanded beyond faculty wives and a few female faculty. “When I wanted to join,” Montgomery explained, “I was told I could because my husband was on the faculty, but I said, ‘I work for the University.’” Yet, by UWC rules, her own professional standing was of little consequence. As for why she wanted to join, she added, “There was an evening bridge group that I was particularly interested in.”
By spring 1990, UWC had appointed a committee to review its membership criteria, which by this time had been extended to female faculty and professional-level staff and their wives. The committee recommended the club include in its membership all permanent female employees, along with employees’ wives.
Nine years later, UWC began to consider opening its doors to all women in the community, and this move was approved in 2000. By this time, UWC was making its members aware of volunteer opportunities throughout UNC, from Carolina’s Victory Village Day-Care Center to the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Today, the club welcomes women throughout Orange, Durham and Chatham counties.
As past UWC president Aida Zukowski noted, “There are many people who are not connected to the University but want to be involved with our purpose.”
Moving Forward Today
Currently, UWC has more than 200 members, and is always looking to bring in even more people from the University and surrounding communities, Courtright said, adding that the Fall Reception is the perfect place for people to see all that UWC offers.
The 2018 Fall Reception will be held on Sunday, Sept. 16, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the FedEx Global Education Center on campus. Sign-up tables will be set up for the club’s many interest groups, including an antiques-and-collectibles group, bridge groups, book-discussion gatherings, lunch groups, a German conversation group, a Mahjongg group, a gourmet-dining gathering, a wine-tasting group and a group that travels monthly to the N.C. Museum of Art. Also on tap will be sign-ups for daytime excursions to nearby places, such as the Duke University Lemur Center, the American Dance Festival studios and the N.C. Symphony.
This fall, UWC will hold three other major events, and with the new year will sponsor its annual Valentine’s Day fundraiser devoted to the UWC scholarships as well as a March program and annual meeting. The culminating event will be the annual spring luncheon next April, when UWC will formally celebrate its 70th anniversary and will be joined by members of the Sir Walter Cabinet.
To capture the scope of UWC’s history, its newsletter and website (uwc.web.unc.edu) will feature vignettes provided by past presidents and long-time members. Paula Easton, UWC’s email communications’ head, noted when she was president three years ago: “I can’t help think back upon my almost 40 years of membership. I was in my late 20’s with young children, as were a number of the members that participated in the interest groups I joined. We are a very different organization today, one that reflects the changing world we live in. Yet many things remain the same.”