Sunday, November 17, 2013

Woman’s Club members driving force behind Douglass College

Mabel Smith Douglass (1877-1933) was president of the Woman’s Club in Jersey City when she began lobbying and raising funds to establish a women’s college. So it is not surprising that, as the founding mother of Douglass College, she is revered by Federation members everywhere.

According to New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs (NJSFWC) history, on May 17, 1912, at a district meeting Douglass was prevailed upon to chair a committee to work toward the founding of a college for women.

The stress of three years of campaigning for money, approval and support, coupled with her own poor health and personal tragedies, circumscribed Douglass’ participation over the next three years. So the Federation stepped in and issued a challenge to the federated women to cease whatever other club activity they might be engaged in and turn all their efforts toward carrying on the work started by Douglass.

The women rose to the challenge and at the 1915 convention adopted the issue with the slogan "Wanted: A State College for Women." The necessary funds were laboriously raised, and the New Jersey College for Women, adjacent to the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, opened in September 1918, with a class of 54 and with Douglass as the first dean.

"From the beginning, it was a true college for women, offering a traditional liberal arts program. Now it is the largest women’s college in the nation," said Ann Quinn, past president of the state federation.

Appropriations were finally allocated from the state Legislature for the operation of the college a year after it opened, and in 1956 the name was changed to Douglass College as a tribute to Dean Douglass.

The Federation continued to support the college. Club women raised $25,000 to build a science hall, which was dedicated in June 1922. Their next gift, on the 10th anniversary of the college, was $100,000 for a music studio. Another project, building a student center, was completed during the 1953-56 administration, and within the next six years assisted by the Evening Membership Department and Education Department, a fireplace and furnishings for a library study center were realized.

"The realization of Douglass College, and the importance of our role in its inception, is one of the proudest achievements of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs," Quinn said.

The state federation’s headquarters is located on a corner of the Douglass campus and was built with the money from the sale of S&H Green Stamps. It opened May 1, 1966.

"Three-fourths of the money came from women who sold the Green Stamps that were popular at the time. I think each book was the equivalent of about $2," Quinn said.

Their support of the college continues. In 1972, the clubs contributed $100,000 to the arts center, and between 1978-80, the clubs raised $126,000 for the Douglass Developmental Disability Center to provide education for autistic children, while offering practical field work to 100 college students annually.

From the beginning club members have supported the Federation scholarships given annually to Douglass students.

Douglass Women Today

Although now called Douglass Residential College, women go above and beyond. As a specialized women’s educational community devoted to students’ success, Douglass aims to advance achievement, career preparation and leadership skills. In addition to a strong focus on women in the sciences and on global education, the unique community and programs at Douglass prepare students to excel in college, in their future careers, and as life - long learners.

Douglass women may be enrolled in any of the Rutgers–New Brunswick undergraduate schools and pursue any major of interest. Regardless of major or affiliation with the degree-granting schools, Douglass women benefit from our unique curriculum designed to help them achieve success while at Rutgers and beyond.