History of the Club

In the first decade of the Club’s existence, 1930-1939, Hopkins President Joseph Ames, asked Mary Berry, wife of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, Edward Berry, to form an organization of women faculty members and faculty wives for the purpose of promoting social and cultural contacts. Former Club historian, Abigail Kouwenhouven, noted that prior to the establishment of a woman’s club, a sewing group was formed at Homewood during World War I and Louise Barker, wife of historian Charles Barker, formed a knitting group at the Medical School in World War II which included faculty and student wives living near the East Baltimore campus.

The Women’s Faculty Club created by Mary Berry consisted of sections of interest such as literature, music, drama, gardening and languages. Interest groups continue as the backbone of the Club. Some activities started in 1930 became traditional events. The annual fall tea was held in October (now it is a fall coffee). The Garden Section was responsible for the General Faculty Tea held in Levering Hall two weeks before Christmas Day. Cora Bowman, wife of Hopkins President Isaiah Bowman, and Helen Bronk, wife of Hopkins President Detlev Bronk, hosted Spring Teas each year at the President’s home on Oak Place. The first book exchange was formed when President Ames gave Mary Berry surplus books sent to him. The books were circulated among the group. Soon books were purchased from a list (members paid the average cost of the books) and the books circulated. Mary Berry died in May 1939. The Club was renamed the Mary Willard Berry Club of the Johns Hopkins University. At its May 1940 meeting, by-laws were adopted and Mrs Daniel Robinson became the first president.

During World War II (1941-1945) Woman’s Club members contributed to the war effort as volunteers and nurses aides. A Red Cross group formed in 1942 and a productive group stitched dressings for use at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. In the post-war years, the university added faculty to meet the demand of the returning military veterans; there was a corresponding spike in Club membership. The interest groups—music, drama, and the languages—that had gone into hiatus during the war years, came back to life.

In 1951, the Club changed its name to The Woman’s Club of the Johns Hopkins University. It adopted new by-laws and an official Club seal (it is the University seal with the words “founded by Mary Willard Berry” inscribed around the edge). Membership eligibility was expanded to include the women faculty and faculty wives at all Johns Hopkins Institutions. At the time of the Club’s 25th anniversary in 1955, there were 14 interest groups—book, bridge, child study, dance, drama, French, gardening, German, handicraft, music, newcomers, Red Cross, Spanish and sketching—described in one Club president’s report as “the real purpose of the club.”

During the Sixties, the Club published an annual calendar and membership directory. The decade began with a membership of 400. By 1968 there were 444 members and 18 interest groups including five language groups (French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish). Sixty-six percent of the membership participated in an interest group. Allison Gordon, wife of university president Lincoln Gordon, offered the Nichols House as a permanent meeting place for the urban interest group, which consisted of 54 members who “manifest a genuine concern for urban problems,” and her hope was to use the group as a vehicle “for the club efforts to help or participate in solving problems of the community.” The Club’s Executive Board initiated a study in 1969 to evaluate the Club’s service to the university and reported that Club members participated in day care, a girls’ program at Barclay Elementary School and the Mayor’s Task Force  on Nutrition.

The early Seventies were a time of turmoil and change on the university campus. There were several changes in administration and women undergraduates appeared on the Homewood campus in 1971. Club members formed a special committee to research the needs of incoming women students. An investment interest group was popular with members as well as the interest group Business and Professional Women. Dr Georgiana Seeger Jones spoke on the problems of associated dual careers and Margie Muller, wife of President Steven Muller, spoke on mentoring young women entering the business world. A core group of Club members began to volunteer at the Barclay Elementary School Library and provide enrichment programs. In 1976 Club members approved an annual book scholarship of $100 to be awarded in alternate years to a student from the Homewood and medical campuses. Club members also participated in the University’s centenary activities and presented a hanging quilt showing the symbols of the university’s schools (currently displayed on a wall in the Eisenhower Library). At the end of the decade, Club dues were $5 and there were 11 interest groups.

The Woman’s Club held its 50th anniversary reception at Evergreen House on October 5, 1980. One hundred and fifty members, including three charter members, Mrs J. Alvin Bearden, Mrs George Evans, Jr., and Mrs Thomas Hubbard, attended. In the Eighties, the Club’s by-laws were amended to include a historian among the officers. New interest groups included a computer group. The book scholarship increased to $200 per year. By 1998 the scholarship award equaled $1,000 and was distributed annually to a student from one of the university schools based on a schedule.

In the Nineties, the Club’s Executive Board established goals to increase membership in the Club, extend its commitment to service projects, and increase publicity. There was a newsletter. New interest groups included Gourmet and Tour Hopkins. At the Barclay Elementary School, Club members were active in the library, purchasing books and supplies and teaching art in grades 5 and 6.

The twenty-first century brought significant changes to the Woman’s Club. New by-laws were adopted to expand Club membership to include ALL women affiliated with Johns Hopkins. The Club launched its first website. Dues increased to $20 in 2000. Interest groups continued to thrive with the most popular group, Tour Hopkins, providing tours of Greenmount Cemetery, the JHU Press, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the School of Education, and the sculptures around the Homewood campus.

The Woman’s Club of the Johns Hopkins University celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2010.  The membership is open to all Hopkins affiliated women. The Club is the only organization within the university that crosses all schools and Johns Hopkins Medicine entities. It continues to focus on providing scholarships to Johns Hopkins students. Dues remain modest at $30.