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March 28, 2014

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Gwinn Girls

In preparation for the March 1967 retirement of Evelyn Svoboda, Assistant to the Comptroller, the Gwinn Girls was formed. Comprised of women administrators, executive aides, secretaries and other non-academic staff of WRU, the group came together to have fun several times a year, holding their functions at Gwinn Estate in Bratenahl. Thirty-eight women attended the first party. Dinner was $5.00, dinner with cocktails was $6.50. The ladies donated $39.00 for a retirement gift. Hough Caterers did not charge for the bartender or for gratuities for personnel, “consequently , the ‘treasury’ had an unexpected balance” of $39.10.

The original “Volunteer Committee” consisted of Matilda Jameson, Administration Assistant in the President’s Office; Ethel A. Oster, Executive Secretary to the Vice President for Finance; Thya Johnson, Secretary to the Dean of the Graduate School; Rose Psenicka, Secretary to Secretary of the University; and Julia Scofield, Secretary to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The Gwinn Girls quickly held another retirement party in June 1967 and the group was off and running. The women who had worked at Case Institute of Technology were invited to join after Federation. This included women such as Helen Stankard. As women retired they suggested their replacements be invited to join, and sometimes they stayed members themselves. They tried to have every building represented in the membership. A different woman was the hostess for each party and made all the arrangements.

In 1970 they started calling their events “meetings” instead of parties since Gwinn was only to be used for meetings. In 1974 they had a record attendance of 73 and discovered that the limit for dinner at Gwinn was 60 and they had to start capping attendance. Speakers were sometimes invited to address the group. This included our own Ruth Helmuth, University Archivist. (Mrs. Helmuth was also a Gwinn Girl and regularly attended events.)

The significance of such a network should not be overlooked. These women knew who to contact for any situation and had relationships set up across campus. It could only aid in the smooth flow of the day job at the university.

The last documented event the University Archives has of the Gwinn Girls was May 31, 1979. In 1997 Rose Psenicka, one of the founders, visited the Archives and dropped off the Gwinn Girls records with a note: “This is how it all began. Evelyn Svoboda worked for a long time in the Controller’s Office. We had such a success we did it again & again. (That is partied.)”

See other Women's History Month entries from 2011, 2012, and 2013.

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March 24, 2014

Celebrate Women’s History Month: Eva Gertrude May


In 1908 the College for Women held the opening reception for its new gymnasium. Before construction of Mather Gym, the Physical Training Department held its indoor exercises in Clark Hall. In addition to a new building, in 1906 the College welcomed a new Director of Physical Training, Eva Gertrude May. Miss May would remain in that position for thirty years.

A persistent advocate for the value of sports and exercise for young women, Miss May greatly increased the number of students participating in exercise. By the simple expedient of writing to all the physicians who submitted notes asking students to be excused from exercises, asking their reasons and explaining the program, fewer excuse notes were received. Miss May also substituted walking for students unable to participate in gymnasium exercises.

“We have students in college today who had never skipped a rope or handled a ball, or entered into any of the sports and games of childhood.” (Annual Report, 1909/10) Miss May introduced field hockey, croquet, indoor baseball, archery, fencing, and Hy-lo, which was originated at the College.

Securing adequate space and equipment - large and small - for the program was a continuous preoccupation. In her 1910/11 annual report she wrote, “The need of a clock, a telephone, and a good athletic field, spoken of in last year’s report, has not diminished.” Outdoor faciliities were a perennial problem. In 1917 Miss May suggested that, “basket ball and base ball be played on the campus, the health of the grass being sacrificed for the health of the students.” The campus lawns were saved by the offer of a portion of Wade Park behind the Cleveland Museum of Art for field hockey and baseball. An athletic field was constructed in 1927.

Eva Gertrude May was born August 11, 1871. She graduated from the Sargent Normal School of Physical Training in 1894. She was an Instructor in Gymnasium at Vassar College from 1895 to 1906. After serving as Director of Physical Education at Flora Stone Mather College beginning in 1906, Miss May retired in 1936. She died April 3, 1947 in Portland, Oregon.

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Women's physical education, 1911 (left) and 1931 (right)

Other Women’s History Month recollections include Florence Allen, Grazella Puliver Shepherd, Margaret Johnson, Carolyn Neff, Bess Barr LeBedoff, Mary Frances Pinches, and Helen Stankard

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March 07, 2014

Student Traditions - Martha Washington Party

The January 19, 1905 minutes of the College for Women Students’ Association contains the following, “Miss Thomas spoke of a College Party to advance college spirit. Moved, seconded, carried that this party take place on 21st of Feb. Moved, seconded, and carried that a committee of eight be appointed to prepare for the party, 2 from each class.”


Thus began a nearly 35-year tradition at Flora Stone Mather College. Always held in February, on or near George Washington’s birthday, the costume ball was open only to the College’s students and faculty. Prizes were given for creative costuming. Sometimes skits were performed. The centerpiece, referenced in handbook and yearbook descriptions of the party, was the junior class performance of the minuet.

One aspect of this remarkably consistent student event that changed over time was the name. Starting as the College Party, within a few years it became the Washington Birthday Party or the George Washington Birthday Party. In 1914 the February masquerade became the Martha Washington Party, which name continued until 1939, the last reference we have found to the party. The name change preceded the appearance of the students’ Equal Suffrage League by a few years. There is no reason for the name change recorded in the Students’ Association records. But I can’t help but wonder if naming this College tradition for Martha Washington was an indicator of feminist aspirations.

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