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MIT Women's League documents its heritage

In celebration of its 80th anniversary--a little late--the MIT Women's League has published an illustrated 63-page account of a rich heritage that began with its founding in 1913 by the wife of then-MIT President Richard C. Maclaurin.

Today Alice Maclaurin's little League (1913 membership: 100) draws its supporters from the several thousand women of the MIT community, from undergraduates to retired members of the faculty and administration and, at one remove, the spouses of the men of the MIT community.

Annually it sponsors two major service projects: English conversation classes for international wives, and a furniture exchange for students (at Harvard, BU and Suffolk as well as MIT) that contributes its profits to a scholarships fund for undergraduate women. Its 1995 contribution was a record $30,000.

The League also offers MIT women a broad range of activities, interest groups, and social events that change from time to time as the interests of women change. This year these include birdwatching, bridge, chorale (a good-sized choir that gave its first concert in 1933), flower arranging, needlework, rhythmic gymnastics, yoga, craft fairs, instructional dinner dances and luncheons.

The new history, "The MIT Women's League: A Rich Heritage," was two years in the making. During that time more than a dozen League supporters distilled eight cartons of League material on deposit in the Institute Archives, interviewed all of MIT's living first ladies, and got in touch with many long-time members for additional anecdotal information.

Grace Hall collected the reseach material and Kitty Weiss and her daughter Ann Cocks wrote the narrative. Eva Roos managed the production. For illustration, Carol Latanision drew a partial view of the Ionic column outside the Emma Rogers Room, named for the wife of MIT's founder and first president and a woman who worked tirelessly to make the Institute a more friendly and congenial place.

The booklet highlights League activities and achievements in a timeline matched to the tenures of the wives of MIT presidents (the League's honorary chairs). Highlights include a "first tea" (1913), establishment of convalescent homes for flu victims (1918), recognition of 43,000 volunteer hours donated to the Red Cross (1946-1949), landscaping at Endicott House (1956), a threatened lawsuit by a male spouse if he was refused membership (1966; the threat became moot when he left town), a $2,000 contribution to the Eastgate Children's Center playground (1982), and inauguration of the Catherine N. Stratton Lecture Fund to underwrite annual lectures on social and political issues (1994).

Throughout these 80-plus years, the League has remained true to Emma Rogers' vision, as captured by this last-page exhortation to the booklet's women readers: "Don't miss the opportunity to be part of a wonderful community of remarkable people."

Copies of "The MIT Women's League: A Rich Heritage" are available at the MIT Women's League office, Rm 10-342; x3-3656 (a $3 donation is requested). Callers will likely reach Sis de Bordenave, administrative coordinator, acknowledged on the opening page of the booklet for her dedication to this project.

(A member of the Women's League board, Paula Cronin is former director of publications at the Sloan School of Management.)

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 25, 1995.

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