My Early Years as a Member of the Bennington Branch

by Gudrun Hutchins

Since our branch is celebrating its 95th birthday this year, I hope to include several articles about earlier projects and achievements of our branch in the next few newsletters. This first article is about my own experiences as a fledgling AAUW member.

I joined the Bennington Branch in 1962 at the age of 24. By that time I had earned an MS in Physics and worked in a laboratory in North Adams with a large number of men. I needed some women friends, and I was ready to learn about something other than science.

My mother had already been a member of the large Bridgeport, Connecticut Branch while I was a teen, and she eventually became its president. She attended the National AAUW Convention in Boston in 1961 and met two members of the Bennington Branch there. She persuaded them to contact me and drag me to a meeting, if necessary. So I attended my first September pot luck in 1962 at the home of Dorothy Pizzano in Pownal. I did not need to be dragged there.

What hooked me? In 1963 our branch started to study modern China as a national AAUW study topic. This was 8 years before Kissinger’s secret trip to China in July 1971! My first branch position was as leader of the China study group. We read British books and papers, met every other week for discussion, and gave a branch program at the end of the year to share what we had learned with other members of the branch.

At that time AAUW had a somewhat different focus and membership than it does today. Although advocacy for education and equity for women and girls have always been important corner stones, there was also an emphasis on the life-long learning and intellectual growth of members. National AAUW prepared materials for three different study topics for each biennium and many AAUW members pursued these topics very seriously in small groups. In fact, approximately 20,000 members resigned nation-wide after the study topics were discontinued and advocacy became the primary preoccupation of national AAUW.

Although I happened to be the youngest member of the branch during my first few years, we had many members in their 30’s or 40’s. Some were professional women interested in networking. Others were stay-at-home moms who were searching for intellectual stimulation after their days of tending their home and children. A number of older women had travelled widely and lived interesting lives. A few of them owned large houses and we could easily meet in their living rooms or libraries.

I particularly enjoyed getting to know Caroline Darlington, a single, somewhat older member (maybe in her late 50’s or early 60’s which seemed “old” to me then). She had travelled all over the world on her own and continued to do so. During the early 1960’s, she was planning a solo trip to New Zealand and could not get much help from the travel offices in Bennington or Williamstown. Undaunted, she travelled to London and went to the theater for eight days while the London travel professionals finalized her travel plans for New Zealand and made all of her reservations.

In 1965 I agreed to accept the position of Corresponding Secretary of the Branch. This was an important position at the time because, among other tasks, this person had to compile the membership and program directory. Before the age of computers, it had to be laid out with a typewriter and was then printed and stapled by a local printer. I accepted on one condition: that members would be listed with their own name. I wanted to be listed as Gudrun Hutchins and not as Mrs. Clinton Hutchins (Gudrun). In my opinion, it was extremely silly for a women’s organization of college graduates to list members by their husband’s name. Since no one else volunteered to take the position, the nominating committee agreed to this condition with some trepidation. If you look at the listing of past branch presidents in past membership booklets and on our website, you can see that a change took place in 1965.

In 1967 my son was born. I reduced many optional activities because my profession and my baby took priority. But I was actively participating again in 1973 and agreed to take the helm as branch president in 1977, with Lou Leamon serving as program chair. Over the years, I have served in many other roles–including newsletter editor and Vermont State AAUW President.

During my sixty years as a member of the Bennington Branch some activities have continued while new ones have been added or changed. We still have a monthly branch meeting that is frequently public. We still enjoy potluck suppers with good food. We have had a book discussion group during many years of my membership, although it ended and restarted multiple times. Our Scribble Sisters group is new and is the inspiration of our current branch president. We have always supported scholarships for women in various ways: through local schools, through National AAUW doctoral dissertation fellowships, or through our own scholarship program. We have supported legislation promoting equity and education for women and girls. Members have researched and shared international issues from my initial China study group, and the program committee is planning to offer a Great Decisions discussion series starting in January 2022 (see future newsletters for information).

From the Archives Menu