NDSU Women's Club to celebrate 100-year anniversary
The group that started with faculty wives has evolved to allow anyone who wants to meet others and support women in education.
FARGO — Ann Braaten gently handled the clothes that would soon be on display for the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the North Dakota State University Women’s Club.
On the rack hung a variety of outfits from each decade, some that were even made by past members of the group.
“Fashion keeps cycling,” Braaten said before pulling out a 1960s dress reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ style.
Braaten is a professor in apparel, retail, merchandising and design, as well as the curator for the Emily P. Reynolds Costume Collection, at NDSU. She also is a member of the Women’s Club who, with others, has been planning the group’s centennial celebration for four years.
That milestone will be celebrated Saturday, Sept. 11, with a luncheon in the Memorial Union Ballroom.
“Having something last 100 years, that’s a milestone,” Braaten said.
Women who campaigned for suffrage started the club in 1920, so the 100-year anniversary was actually last year. The coronavirus pandemic forced the group to postpone the event until this year.
With 68 members, the club still is relevant, even 101 years later, Braaten said. There are always new people coming into the community who need connections.
“And women always like to get together for the fellowship, especially after the pandemic,” fellow member Darlene Rogers said.
When the group was first founded, it was called the Faculty Wives Club. It began as a white-gloved affair for socializing and supporting education, according to one brochure published by the organization.
Rizpah Sprogle Ladd, who was married to university President Edwin Ladd, was the club’s first president, according to another brochure.
The club was used to help faculty wives who were new to the campus meet other faculty wives, Braaten said. The wife of NDSU’s president has always been involved in some way, she added.
Women needed an invitation to join. That changed in 1955 as more women took on faculty positions and attended NDSU as students, Braaten said.
“What they were finding is that there were women who were faculty who weren’t eligible because they didn’t have the Mrs.,” she said.
It was also about 30 years after the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote, Braaten noted. She said there was probably some reflection on that milestone that made the women think things needed to change.
The club evolved to include female faculty and staff, then to all university-related women, including graduate students, in 1977. Today, anyone can join without an invitation. People from other area colleges, the Fargo-Moorhead community and even men are allowed, Braaten said.
“I don’t know if we’ve had any men join,” she said. “They attend at times."
Another change was how women referred to each other. Most women were called by their husbands’ names, which would have been a common practice in society when the club was founded.
For example, Rizpah Sprogle Ladd is listed in a brochure noting past presidents as Mrs. E. F. Ladd.
Former North Dakota Sen. Carolyn Nelson, who represented Fargo in the state Senate from 1995 to 2018, is one of two club presidents before 1995 who has their name listed in the brochure instead of their husband’s name. She served as president from 1975-76.
“I had to fight close to 10 years to be listed as me,” she said, noting it was protocol to be called by a husband’s name even in the 1970s. “We kind of jumped out and became ourselves.”
Braaten recalled being asked in the 1980s to set up a program. Women in the group were discussing issues impacting the club, she said.
“One of the things that they were asked to do is to look at their name and their membership to see if it really fit their mission and if they could broaden things out to be more inclusive,” she said.
Supporting other women
The club was a release from the house and a way to socialize with other women once a month, Nelson said. She noted the group has evolved since the '70s.
“There’s still a lot of people who like to get together in small groups,” she said, noting it's an opportunity to gather and learn from others.
Throughout the years, different branches were added to what started as one large social club. Women would gather in different groups that included sewing, singing, playing bridge, bowling and discussing hospitality.
The organization now oversees six interest groups: book, film, poetry, international women, midday meetup and valley gardeners. Women also can sign up for volunteer work.
Darlene Rogers recalled how she joined the club. As a faculty wife, two club members introduced her to the International Women branch of the organization in 1980.
“I’ve been a member ever since,” she said.
The group offers up to three $1,000 scholarships a year for female students. It started as a loan fund in 1923 but morphed into a scholarship.
Helping with the program in the 1980s introduced Braaten to the group, she said. She thought it was a worthy effort that supported women studying at the university, she added.
“One of the things I find so interesting about the Faculty Wives Club, or the NDSU Women’s Club, is how it provides a space for women who are new to the community or women who have been here a long time,” Braaten said.
The luncheon will include a pianist who will play music from different decades of the last 100 years and a poetry reading about the club. Braaten’s presentation will illustrate the history of the club and changing roles of women through fashion.
To join the celebration, call 701-261-0330 or email email@example.com . The celebration is open to the public, but reservations need to be made at a cost of $12 per seat.
To find out more about the club, email firstname.lastname@example.org.