Twenty UCLA faculty members and their wives waited in a cozy billiards room with closed eyes and bated breath. One woman lifted a plastic toy gun above her head and fired it.
And so began a play reading at the Faculty Center, the building that sits just south of Murphy Hall. The reading is one of many activities that members of the Faculty Women’s Club, a group of faculty and their wives, take part in every month.
When the UCLA Faculty Women’s Club was founded in 1918, it was made up of only female faculty members and wives of professors. But now, men can also attend meetings and events. The club offers scholarships for undergraduate students, a social environment for its members, special guest speakers each month and numerous special sections in which the women may participate, including the play reading group.
“We try to educate and entertain,” said Sonny Harris, former president of the club from 1979 to 1980, and wife of Adrian Harris, emeritus vice chancellor of planning.
The club’s current president, Zorana Ercegovac, who was an adjunct professor at UCLA from 1990 to 1998, is in the process of collecting the older members’ oral histories. A former historian and archivist for the Faculty Women’s Club, Ercegovac said she wanted to learn more about the women who impacted the club throughout their lives, which sparked the idea for the oral history project. Without the project, the stories of these women would largely remain untold, she said.
“We need to ask, ‘Who are we?’” Ercegovac said. “‘What do we cherish? What are we proud of?’”
To compile the oral histories, Ercegovac interviews the members about their experience in the club, and records the interviews for the club’s archives.
During her interview for the oral history, Pat Hardwick, a former president of the UCLA Faculty Women’s Club and UCLA alumna, talked about the activities the club’s members took part in during the 1960s. Hardwick, who majored in music at UCLA, said she enjoyed participating in the ballroom dancing section, which is no longer offered. The section would host an annual ballroom dancing party for members of the community to attend, she said. Hardwick said she remembers sharing a dance with famed actor Andy Griffith one year.
The oral histories are a continuing project, and will eventually be compiled into a scrapbook with audio and visual elements, Ercegovac said.
The Faculty Women’s Club has changed quite a bit over the years, but what has remained constant is the strong connection the women have with each other, said Glorya Dixon, a past club president and current chair for newcomers and visitors.
“The Faculty Women’s Club is like a family,” Dixon said.
Members are supportive of each other through sickness, death and happy occasions, she said. She said when her friends’ spouses passed away, members brought food, shared stories and comforted the ones who were grieving.
The club provides several special interest sections in which the women socialize and learn about topics that interest them. Dixon said one of her favorite clubs is “let’s do lunch,” a section in which members go to different restaurants around Los Angeles. Dixon said she likes clubs that give her opportunities to get to know the other members personally.
Harris said she joined the child development special interest section in 1963 when she had a 4-year-old and another child on the way. She said joining the club helped her transition from being Mrs. Adrian Harris to Sonny Harris – she no longer felt like just her husband’s wife. She was her own person, she said.
Despite changing its programs and creating new opportunities for women at UCLA to get involved, the Faculty Women’s Club is currently struggling to attract new members, said Joy Frank, a new member and the current chair of the club’s scholarship programs.
Many young professionals nowadays also have small children, making it difficult to attend activities during the day, she said. Yet, the club is actively working to make events more lenient to younger women’s schedules. They are allowed to pick and choose which parts of the club they wish to participate in, Frank said.
Still, some members are hopeful about the club’s future and the impact it has on current and future members.
“As long as we can continue to bring in new people and new interests, (the club) will evolve according to the needs of the people,” Harris said.