An Untold Slice of History, 132 Years Later

Marion Talbot rows a canoe at her New Hampshire home, summer 1928. AAUW archives

Marion Talbot rows a canoe at her New Hampshire home, summer 1928. AAUW archives

November 25, 2013

On November 28, AAUW celebrates our birthday. Can you guess how old we are? 132 years old! How many organizations can say they have lasted for as long as we have? The answer is, not many. We have written about our founding several times before. So, you are probably wondering, what could possibly be new this year?

Marion Talbot at her New Hampshire home with a University of Chicago student, summer 1928. AAUW archives

Marion Talbot at her New Hampshire home with a University of Chicago student, summer 1928. AAUW archives

Let’s back up. Our story always begins in 1881 with Marion Talbot, a then-recent graduate from Boston University, and Ellen Swallow Richards, Talbot’s mentor and also the first woman professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On November 28, 1881, they invited 15 alumnae from eight colleges to a meeting in Boston. Out of this meeting, they created the idea for the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, which would become AAUW. The plan was to join together to help other women attend college and to assist those who had already graduated. On January 14, 1882, a group of 65 college women graduates met and officially formed the Association of Collegiate Alumnae to “unite in practical educational work.” The rest is history, right?

Well, we’ve uncovered some “new” history this year. For years, we thought we know all we could know about our founder, Marion Talbot. We recognized her young face in our photos (she always seemed to be in her cap and gown!) We knew her mother, Emily Talbot, was disappointed at the lack of professional and social opportunities available to women like her daughter. We knew she went on to become dean of women at the University of Chicago and worked to improve educational opportunities for women throughout her life.

Celebrate AAUW’s Birthday:
Empower Women and Girls

On November 28, 1881, 17 women sat down to talk about the issues facing (the very few) women in higher education. Today, we celebrate our founders, as well as the thousands of women who became part of the AAUW community.

If archives are a window to the past, then our room just got a whole light brighter. In May 2013, the AAUW archives received a donation. The gift was a 1928 photo album that once belonged to Miriam Clarke Andrus and was donated by her daughter, Maren Larsen. Andrus was a student at the University of Chicago, and Talbot was her mentor. The photographs were taken at Talbot’s lake house, Pine Tree Cove, in New Hampshire, where she invited students to spend their summer break. The photos show us another side of Marion, as an older mentor and adviser to the younger generation of women college students. We also realize she was a woman working toward the mission of the association that she would create many years prior: ensuring that younger women did not face obstacles because of their gender, as she had in her youth. The photos offer a rare glimpse into Talbot’s life, and how she lived out the AAUW mission. And who knew — we even discovered our beloved founder was a baker, as tucked into the book was a recipe for “Miss Talbot’s Brown Bread”!

Talbot once said, “My hope is that I may live through my influence. I have no desire for any other kind of immortality.” Well, Marion, on AAUW’s 132nd birthday, your wish remains true. At AAUW, your influence lives on every day.


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Suzanne Gould By:   |   November 25, 2013