With a centennial celebration underway, the University Women’s Club has some unconventional plans: the organization will be dissolved after their 100th anniversary.
The club’s membership has gone from 400 members to less than 100. The scope of socialization has changed, and current members are getting older and are unable to keep up with the responsibilities of the club, leading to its dissolution.
“I think it's just a sign of the times,” said Betsy Trent, a member and retired executive director of nonprofit March of Dimes North Central Florida. “Younger people just have other interests, they're working or they can do their social activities in other ways.”
Silver afternoon tea settings, dainty dinner parties and other types of activities that were enjoyable back in the ‘60s and ‘70s are not a form of socialization anymore, she said.
In the meantime, the women who found a community in UWC will be celebrating the years of friendship and service that came from it Oct. 18 in the University Women’s Clubhouse at 324 Woodlawn Drive. The event will take place from 6-9 p.m.
Joan Van Rinsvelt, a UWC member of 55 years, is helping to plan the celebration as one last hurrah.
Van Rinsvelt arrived in Gainesville in 1967 because her husband was hired as a UF professor. Soon, she said, she needed a community of women like her to talk about their families and home lives.
“I used to say when I was young, ‘If you have a group of women like the University Women's Club, you don't need a shrink,’” said Van Rinsvelt.
As a housewife, she found a sense of community in UWC.
Van Rinsvelt, who has held every officer role except for president, said she could always rely on the women she met through UWC to talk about her problems.
University Women’s Club’s first meeting was Oct. 6, 1922, during which the university president at the time, Albert Murphree, suggested a formation of an organization that would promote socialization among women.
The wives of the university’s presidents historically served as advisers and have hosted many UWC activities, according to UF archives.
Meeting locations have varied over time, being held in the Young Men’s Christian Association building, fraternity houses and the Gainesville Women’s Club. Now, the group has moved to a clubhouse located on Woodlawn, between Southwest 2nd Avenue and West University Avenue.
The purpose of the club was to help the spouses of UF employees and faculty become acclimated into the university environment, Trent said.
Trent has had numerous vice presidency roles where she managed events.
Trent organized events such as gourmet dinner groups, in which different houses would host a group of eight to 10 people who would bring dishes according to a set menu.
“We’d share it in a formal way, so people would be dressed, and you would bring your nicer china and silver,” Trent said.
Since its inception, the club provided up to $20,000 in annual scholarships at one point, Trent said. Currently, it rewards five scholarships, each $5,000. The scholarships are open to anyone regardless of gender because members wanted the opportunity for a scholarship to be equal for everyone, Van Rinsvelt said.
Caitlin Bozarth, a 21-year-old UF criminology senior, received a $5,000 scholarship last Spring.
Bozarth found out about the scholarship when she received an email about it from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and applied without expecting to receive the award, she said. The application included an essay that consisted of two questions asking about a memorable experience at UF and how the award would benefit the student.
Bozarth found out May 1 that she received the scholarship.
“I was in disbelief,” Bozarth said. “Having a scholarship from such an established organization is something I’m really proud of.”
From donations and fundraisers over the decades, the club will have about $600,000 when it dissolves. This money will be endowed and rolled into a foundation so scholarships can continue to be awarded by UF Division of Student Affairs under the UWC’s name.
Van Rinsvelt is happy the UWC will continue to have an impact even after the club dissolves, she said.
“We leave something,” Van Rinsvelt said. “That’s a nice feeling.”
Enduring for 100 years, the organization was very successful in providing people in the university with a community and students with opportunities, Trent said.
For both Trent and Van Rinsvelt, the UWC will always be a place where they were provided a network of friends and a way to get involved with new activities.
“We had an evolution,” Van Rinsvelt said. “Still, the friendship is forever.”
Contact Anushka at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @anushkadak.
Anushka Dakshit is a fourth-year journalism and women’s studies major and the general reporter on the University desk of The Alligator. She started out as an arts and culture reporter at The Avenue and hopes to pursue arts and culture reporting and print magazine journalism in her career. Along with The Alligator, she is one of the Print Editorial Directors of Rowdy Magazine. In her free time, she likes to listen to old Bollywood music, read and obsess over other writers’ processes whenever she has no idea what she’s doing (which is often).