SCHOLARSHIPS EDUCATION CAMARADERIE NETWORKING
The Women’s College Club of Princeton, New Jersey (WCCPNJ), the second oldest women’s organization in Princeton, was founded in 1916, four years before the nineteenth amendment gave women the vote. There were then 97 women, a number of them Princeton University faculty wives, who held college degrees in Princeton, a town of little over 7,000 residents. About two-thirds of them became charter members of the club that year. In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the club’s founding, membership numbered over 400 and represented more than 100 colleges and universities in this country and abroad. Although the club cannot claim that impressive number of members today, it is still a vital organization dedicated to the mission of its founding members.
In 1916, the club’s purposes were threefold: to collect data concerning colleges open to women; to raise a fund for the benefit of Princeton senior girls unable otherwise to continue their studies; and to foster fellowship among college women in Princeton. The club still holds to the last two purposes. The first purpose was a necessity in a time when the majority of women knew little about the options in higher education and did not expect to earn college degrees and move on to careers.
Since higher education for women was rare in the early years of the 20th century, the WCCPNJ was an elite, and elitist, organization. Most of its members were graduates of the most prestigious colleges and universities open to women. Among the schools represented by the charter members were all of the Seven Sisters as well as such institutions as Chicago, Cornell, Northwestern, Oxford, and Oberlin. But times have changed, and the WCCPNJ now prides itself on its inclusiveness – the welcome it extends to women with a wide variety of academic credentials. Membership in the club is now open to any woman who has attended at least one year of an accredited college or its equivalent.
Throughout its history, the WCCPNJ has helped young women of high scholastic achievement go on to colleges and universities, first, from 1916 to 1928 through interest free loans only, then from 1928 through scholarships as well. The club no longer grants loans. In its early years, the club also gave prizes for excellence in English to students in both the junior high and high schools who had shown “improvement in the use of clear, grammatical English.” Another service offered was college guidance seminars to senior girls at Princeton High School at a time when guidance programs were yet to be started. The community at large was also served by the club. In 1935, before the existence of the Princeton Adult School, the WCCPNJ instituted university extension courses for the community, which included lecture series by Princeton University professors on such diverse topics as modern art and world politics.
Today, the club is still serving the community with lectures and programs, field trips, fund-raiser events, and a variety of activities all open to the public. Through its monthly meetings and programs, club members and guests have the opportunity to socialize and to broaden their knowledge of what is going on in the community and in the world. Among the wide range of subjects addressed are those in the fields of the arts, education, business, medicine, literature, psychology, and entertainment. Some programs have also featured club members with special talents or interests.
The culminating event of the club year, which is for members only, is the Scholarship Tea, held in May, when awards are presented to scholarship recipients, college-bound young women from Princeton secondary schools. The club’s scholarship committee works with guidance counselors from Princeton High School, the Hun School, Stuart Country Day School, and Princeton Day School beginning in January of each year, when schools compile the scholarship data. The committee reviews all paperwork and interviews each candidate. The choices are always difficult: the candidates are outstanding academically and sometimes gifted athletes, musicians, or writers who are also involved in numerous extra-curricular and community activities.
In the early years of the club, members raised money by serving Class luncheons at Princeton reunions and sandwiches and coffee at home games on football Saturdays. In addition, they operated a women’s exchange, sponsored dances in Borough Hall, and held sales in the old 20 Nassau Street building in downtown Princeton. Currently, funds for scholarships come from membership dues, income from investments, proceeds from fund-raisers, and member donations and bequests. Two of the awards given each year are bequests by or in memory of former members Molly B. Updike and Harriet T. Peterson. One special scholarship given every year since 1993 is the Florence Bell Hillier award, presented personally in Mrs. Hillier’s honor by her son J. Robert Hillier, President of J. Robert Hillier, Princeton. There have also been individual memorial donations by families of former club members.
In 1928, the first year it gave scholarships rather than solely interest-free loans, the club awarded a total of $250 in scholarships. In 2014, award recipients were given a total of $25, 000. In 2015, the total awarded was $21,500. Since its 90th anniversary in 2006, the club has given $205,600 in scholarships. Since scholarships were first awarded in 1928, the total amount given is $564, 600.
On the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1966, The Women’s College Club of Princeton was named “Princeton’s Women of the Week” by Town Topics, Princeton’s community newspaper, for “their abiding concern for the well-being and advancement of young women of high talent.” As it approached its centenary in 2016, club president, Kathleen Hutchins pointed with pride to the club’s continuing allegiance to its original purpose in 1916 in the following statement: “In this 100th anniversary year, we continue, as a club, in our mission to celebrate the academic excellence and exceptional personal achievement of the many talented young women of our community. These young women remind us of what challenging opportunities are ahead for them and, indeed, how fortunate we are in being able to bring these opportunities closer to them. It is a privilege to share in their adventure.”