Local News

Lifelong learners: Local Women’s group celebrates over 140 years of scholarly pursuits

Friends in Council meets weekly to discuss world events

During a time when women didn’t work and scholars were mainly thought to be men, a group of women, dedicated to education and edification, formed a study group to increase their knowledge and understanding of the world. One hundred and forty one years later, 25 such women still meet weekly in Princeton.

Known as The Friends in Council, the women meet every Thursday morning for an hour and a half to discuss current events, then hear a presentation on a topic selected in advance by the group’s program director.

According to group literature, The Friends in Council was organized on July 28, 1880 with 12 women meeting at Mrs. Volney S. Cooper’s home.

Established for the mutual improvement of women by means of reading and studying, the group limited membership to 24 women (later changed to 25) of mature age willing to work and study.

The group met at Cooper’s house for eight years with each bringing their own chair. They then moved to the Methodist Church, to members’ homes, to the Del Monte Club 1 rooms, and finally, to the library.

Mrs. Whipple served as the first president with Mrs. Chamberlain as vice president and Mrs. Ford as secretary.

Originally, the organization met on Friday mornings from 9- 11 a.m. , but since Friday was sweeping day, they switched to Thursdays in 1882.

In 1905 the club chose the rose as the group’s symbol. Over the years, annual topics of discussion and research have included European history, religion, music, wars, law and the history of many countries.

Each woman presented at least one paper on a chosen topic within the broader subject. A unique sort of women’s organization, the Friends in Council not only serves a social function, but also educates and broadens the knowledge of its members.

Current members vary widely in age, interests and experiences, but one thing is unchanging; they must have a dedication and passion for lifelong learning and a boundless energy for sharing their knowledge.

Each year, the group’s program director announces the broad topic for discussion, this year is Passport to the World; The Study of Countries and Cultures.

The group then assigns an individual and specific area of study to each member who is then responsible for a 45 to 60 minute presentation on her topic.

Since 1880, topics have included such varying interests as European History, The Stuart Dynasty, Mornings with the Jewish Nation, The rise of Democracy to Global Trends, Who’s Who of Our Time, Books of Today and Tomorrow, The Novelist, Women Past and Present and The Hydrology of Earth and The Web of Life.

Jessica Gray has been a member since 2014, having heard about it from a friend who introduced her into the group.

“I had heard about the group but didn’t know how to join, " Gray said. “I love the ability, the offer of studying. I’m enamored with the idea of someone telling me everything they know about a topic.”

The group isn’t closed exactly, but they are limited to 25 members at any given time. Members go through a rigorous vetting to ensure prospective members are committed to weekly meetings from October to April (to roughly coincide with the school year).

“There is a staggering intelligence and worldly knowledge in this group,” Gray said. “You need to be on top of your game with the women in this room, they are such a unique group.”

As much as the group is focussed on learning, the members often enjoy the social aspect just as much. Member Carolyn Schafer said she too likes the challenge and how each topic unfolds.

“It’s a great chance to meet with people who wouldn’t otherwise come in contact due to different ages and backgrounds,” Schafer said.

Longtime member Carolyn Workman recalled her early days in the group, saying back in the 1970′s members had to go to the library, order magazines, books and other resources and hand write or type presentations. A far cry from the vast information available on the internet today.

“It’s amazing to think how women obtained all the information they needed to learn their topic when the resources were fewer and harder to obtain.”

Today, the group still abides by a charter, with slight updates and modifications set by original members in the 1880s.

Members rotate through each of the groups offices and take a slot as program director for a year to assign topics.

Once a member has reached 25 years of membership or reaches age 75, they become an honorary member, able to enjoy the programs without presenting one of their own

Several of the women, such as Laura Kann and her mother Lucille “Muzzy” Kann are multi-generational members. Others, including former members Grace Norris, Mary Winn Norris, Doris Leonard and Mary Williams are well known to local historians.

“This is a wonderful, eclectic group of people who broaden our knowledge and horizons,” Shafer said.