Women’s College Club of Princeton supports local women with scholarship awards
By Michele Alperin
Probably the best evidence for the mission and meaning of the Women’s College Club of Princeton — whose primary mission is to award scholarships to outstanding young women in Princeton public and private schools who need tuition assistance — is the joy of one of its scholarship recipients at the opportunity to have a college education.
The Women’s College Club was founded in 1916 by a number of Princeton faculty wives who were highly educated women, which was unusual for their time.
These women were from “a certain social milieu, who had gone to very fine colleges,” said club historian Mary Laity. Their primary goal was “to increase opportunities for local high school girls to go to college,” but they also served as college counselors, letting these girls know which schools might be accessible to them.
When the club first formed, it gave interest free loans, but in 1928 it started awarding scholarships. Before the Princeton Adult School began, the club also offered evening courses, mostly lecturers from the university who were the husbands of club members.
Today the club’s two secondary purposes are to foster education and cultural enrichment and to encourage fellowship among its members.
Even when the club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1966, it had about 400 members and was still fairly elitist. “It was difficult to get in, unless you had the right kind of educational background,” said Laity.
But today the club is very inclusive in its membership policy, with the only requirement being “any woman who has completed at least one year of an accredited college, or its equivalent, and supports the mission of the club.”
Laity suggests that she and the club’s new president, Carole Krauthamer, are a good example of the club’s inclusiveness.
Krauthamer has lived in Princeton for 45 years, earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from Rutgers nearly 50 years ago, and taught for approximately 30 years in the psychology department at The College of New Jersey. Her husband was a professor of cell biology and neuroscience, retired from the medical school at Rutgers, and her parents were business owners.
As to why she joined the club two years ago, Krauthamer said, “My interest is in an egalitarian society; I really really care about equality across the board, for women and for poor people.” The Women’s College Club fits the bill, both in giving scholarships to women who otherwise might not go to college and in changing its membership requirements to be very inclusive.
Laity’s parents were immigrants from Italy, and her family was poor, but she was lucky to live in a New York City neighborhood that had really good public schools. She went to Hunter High School, started at Hunter College, then finished a bachelor of education degree at the University of Miami.
Her husband came to Princeton as an instructor in chemistry, eventually settling at Rutgers. When the youngest of her five children was eight, Laity started a doctoral program in English at Rutgers and completed everything but the dissertation.
Laity taught writing and literature during her four years in graduate school, then she worked for 13 years as proofer and editor at Caliper. She has taught six classes at the Evergreen Forum at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, the latest titled “Confronting Evil in Four Classic Short Novels.”
For Laity joining the Women’s College Club made perfect sense. Having been active in the League of Women’s Voters in the 1960s, she said, “I like joining organizations about intelligent, active women who care about the community and about things that are important to me.”
She was attracted to the Women’s College Club in about 2001 for two reasons. “It had a good purpose, giving scholarships to needy young women who were outstanding young women. Second, I really like the women; I went to the luncheon and thought, ‘This is a group I could really belong to.’”
The club raises money for the approximately $20,000 a year it gives away in scholarships from membership fees and fundraisers, which always include a fashion show/luncheon and a bridge benefit. This year they are also trying something a little different: a piano and cello benefit concert on March 16 at the home of Ginny Mason. For more information on the event, go to wccpnj.org.
One of their scholarships, the Hillier prize in memory of Florence Bell Hillier, is based on merit and character, with no financial considerations, but the other three are for accomplished young women in financial need. In 2013, six scholarships went to Princeton High School graduates, the Hillier prize and a scholarship to Hun School graduates, and two scholarships to Princeton Day School graduates.
“These are not huge scholarships but symbolically they are huge,” Laity said.
She especially appreciates the ceremony where the scholarships are awarded. “It’s so special. It means a lot for the girls and a lot to members of the club — the meeting of two generations. They are such accomplished girls: I’m always so bowled over by their accomplishments; not only are they academically superb, they take part in sports and are accomplished as musicians, artists, and are active in the community.”
One of the “younger” members of the club, endowment committee chair and investment advisor Lynda Woods Cleary had been eyeing the club’s programs in event listings in local papers for probably 10 years, before she finally had time to attend meetings in the middle of the day. Five or six years ago she went to a Presidents Day program by club member Mary Lincoln on her connections with the Lincolns.
Cleary loved the program and was approached that day by chairs of the membership and other committees. Having joined the club initially because of the programs, when she found out about the club’s mission, that cinched the deal. Cleary had worked with other organizations that provide scholarships like the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the United Negro College Fund (for which she has been a volunteer since 1980).
“I’ve been very interested in women’s issues and educating girls and doing whatever is necessary to help women move up the career ladder, whatever their profession is,” she said. “Those have been interests of mine for forever.”
One example of the young women helped by the club is Princeton High School graduate Melissa Urias, the daughter of two Guatemalan immigrants who are both high school graduates but never had the opportunity to go to college. The work they do, she suggests, is out of necessity not choice “because they don’t have a college degree,” she said. Her mom cleans houses and her dad is a custodian.
During high school, Urias was a peer group leader her senior year and was on the cheerleading squad for three years and captain as a senior. She was also a member of the breast cancer club, because a fellow cheerleader’s mother had died of the disease and of the HITOPS club for Hispanic women. And the last two years of high school she worked at Olives in Princeton.
Because her older brother is also in college, Urias knew she needed scholarship money if she also wanted to go to college.
Appreciative of the scholarship from the Women’s College Club and others she has received, Urias is also grateful to Princeton High School, which she said opened up so many scholarship opportunities to her.
“I have cousins in other districts around the area that are in the same situation as me, but they actually couldn’t go to college,” she said. “I was able to get scholarships, and my cousins didn’t even know where to start looking.”
Urias, a freshman at Rutgers University, is currently declared as a public health major and plans to apply to the school of nursing. “Health has always been a big issue in my family,” she said. “My dad has diabetes, and I’ve watched him struggle, and everyone on his side has diabetes.” About her Rutgers experience so far, Urias said, “I absolutely love it here — the friends I’ve made as well as the education.”
For more information on the club or to join, contact Krauthamer at email@example.com.