From the AAUW Archives:  The Founding and Early History of the Bennington Branch of AAUW

by Gudrun Hutchins

After the establishment of the state-wide Vermont Branch of AAUW in 1920, groups of women in various regions of Vermont considered the desirability of forming local branches of AAUW. Members would be able to meet more frequently and travel only relatively short distances. National AAUW required ten women graduates from colleges or universities accredited by AAUW to form a branch. This was relatively easy in Burlington, the home of the University of Vermont, which had admitted women since the 1870’s, and in Middlebury, home of Middlebury College, which had admitted women since 1883. As a result, the Burlington and Middlebury Branches of AAUW were established and meeting regularly by 1922.

In Bennington, a group of women had been meeting regularly as “The College Club.” Some of these women had four-year college degrees and others had dropped out of their college or university when they married. Thus, only seven of the original members of “The College Club” met the National AAUW criteria. Marion Hardy, the leader of the group, was determined to find three additional college graduates to allow the Bennington group to become a branch. By early 1926 she was successful and the Bennington Branch of AAUW officially obtained its charter in the fall of 1926. According to early minutes stored with the state archives, the new branch stated its goals as follows: “to enable college women to continue their own intellectual growth, to work for the advancement of women, and to take responsibility for sharing the advantages of higher education with others.” Marion Hardy was elected as the first branch president.

From the beginning, our branch supported young women going to college with scholarships. In 1929, only three years after the founding of the branch, the first Bennington AAUW Scholarship of $50 was awarded to a graduating senior girl. To collect this sum, the branch assessed each member $1 and took $25 from the branch treasury. From 1931 to 1937 the branch awarded two $100 scholarships for girls graduating from the two area high schools. In 1938 our branch started a college loan fund with repayment due one year after graduation from college. A scholarship award of $100 sounds miniscule at this time. However, in the 1930’s annual salaries for adults averaged only about $1500 a year. A scholarship for $100 was a substantial award and corresponds to approximately $3,000 in today’s money. Unfortunately, we have no information about how the branch raised this money. The fundraising activities were not reported to state officers and therefore are not in the AAUW archives at the University of Vermont.

There is a gap in branch records starting in 1940. A large box of branch records stored in the attic of a past branch president burned in a fire that destroyed part of her home. Thus I will continue the history of some of the activities of the Bennington Branch from the time I joined in 1962. National AAUW was a very different organization at the time with life-long learning on specific topics being an important element. There were also many face to face meetings on the local, state, and regional level, as well as a national AAUW convention of more than a thousand AAUW members every second year. Look for more stories from the AAUW archives in the September newsletter and help us to celebrate the 95th anniversary of our branch!

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