Archival Research: RPI Women’s Club

When I first tried to book an appointment at the RPI archives, I used the website. I wasn’t sure whether it went in, so I visited the archivist in person to make sure. She was very nice and scheduled a time for me to use the RPI Women’s Club archives (this time just happened to be the same time Mitch was looking at student protest archives). Since there are so many boxes for the RPI Women’s Club, I asked the archivist to surprise me with a random box. She seemed excited by the idea and gave me the records box when I came in. I spoke to the archivist about what archives are for, and was surprised to learn that it’s against the law to ask librarians for patron records, including who accesses archives. Apparently, the Roebling collection was worth a lot.

I found some really cool stuff in the Women’s Club archive, including newspaper clippings from before electronic alignment for newspapers. I also found out that the RPI Women’s Club Celebration for International Students came before the Office for International Students. All of the first folder in the box was handwritten, which was very interesting as they all had much better handwriting than I do. Folder 2 included the Women’s Club directory, which included not only full names, addresses, and phone numbers but also the names of husbands. Apparently, the club was open to student’s and (sometimes retired) faculty’s wives as well as RPI students, retirees, and faculty. Much of the paraphernalia in the folder was planning or promotional material for tea party receptions for newcomers. Apparently, the swimming pool had women-only hours from 7:30-9:30pm from October to May.

In the meeting minutes for August 17, 1989, the club officers “stressed that the purpose of the Club is to pull the community together socially and that it’s good to have cheap [and free] activities to get more people involved.” The club held meetings in the homes of the board members. According to a newsletter from January 1990, the club even had subgroups, including culinary arts groups and needlework groups. Apparently, they also ran a blood mobile, though I have no idea what that is. The meeting minutes for March 21, 1990 indicated that attendance to the wine and cheese event was low and that they provided magazines for some infirmary’s waiting room. In 1990, the RPI Women’s Club had 127 paying members and ran at a profit.

Included in the box was the President’s Notebook from 1978-1989. This included handwritten event flyers and a record that the club donated $350 to the Church of Rensselaer, and later donated another $100. The handwriting was again beautiful. Letters back and forth between organizations were written by typewriter, and a flyer for a fashion show was written in a flex-nib fountain pen.

I had two favorite finds in the box: the 1979 University Events Calendar and a flower arrangement guide. I had the archivist photocopy the flower arrangement guide so I could bring it to class for show and tell. Apparently, UPAC was operational and showing movies in 1979. Movies or clips they showed included Bugs Bunny, Pink Panther, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Rascals, Casablanca, and Cocoanuts (the Marx Brothers movie). Apparently, the Black Students Association was also up and running at the time. There were no classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My favorite event was the Varsity Hockey vs Vermont hockey game on February 15, 1979. It was Kazoo Night. I am seriously tempted to find a way to bring back Kazoo Night to RPI Hockey.