College Women’s Club of Pasadena recalls 100 years
By Annika Tomlin
The College Women’s Club of Pasadena persevered through The Great Depression, World War II and several other country- and world-defining moments to reach its recent centennial celebration.
“This organization was created by a group of Cal Tech wives of the professors not even one year after women got the right to vote,” says Kathy LaRussa, the club’s publicity and social media chair.
“Their goal was to have a club where they could meet and discuss intelligent topics, educate themselves further and raise a little money so that they could offer scholarships to local young women in local universities and colleges.”
A three-year club member, LaRussa says the scholarships are the “heart and soul” of the organization.
“We, in partnership with Pasadena Community Foundation, have gone from a $100 fund to an over $2 million endowment and we are still dedicated to awarding scholarships to young women,” LaRussa says.
The club initially partnered with Pasadena Community Foundation in 2016.
“That was really a significant event for us because their investment support really kickstarted our financial growth to give us this base,” LaRussa says.
“A $2 million endowment is a solid endowment. At this point, we have given out $1.1 million to 600 recipients since we were founded in 1921.”
During the past century, the organization has seen a slew of political and social changes all while staying true to its cause: encouraging and supporting women’s educational endeavors.
“The organization is still here because the mission has not changed in 100 years,” says Rozanne Child, current club president in a video celebrating the club’s 100 years.
“The women who started the College Women’s Club valued education and they knew how important it was.”
College Women’s Club of Pasadena celebrated its centennial at the Altadena Town and Country Club with more than 90 guests and dignitaries from the surrounding colleges and universities. The celebration included a tea service along with archival photos and documents woven into a 12-minute video.
“We had been working for 18 months on the creation of a video that talks about the club,” LaRussa says.
The club acquired handwritten minutes, documents and photos from the Pasadena Historical Society to create the video.
“We screened that for our members, and they were very thrilled by it and very touched by it,” LaRussa says.
During the video, past club president Ann Kimball said, “When (the club) was started, it was a really noble mission because education was not considered that important. These women decided that women deserve the same advantages that the men have had.
“I think it continues today. It’s not a completely equal society by any means, but the mission of this group is to help women.”
A look back
“In 1923, our president was Greta Millikan,” LaRussa says. “Her husband was the president of Cal Tech and he won a Nobel Prize the same year that she was president.
“That (same year) was when they voted to start the actual $100 amount in the scholarship fund to move forward.”
In celebration of the 100 years, LaRussa says members perused boxes of archival documents.
“December 8, 1941, we held a meeting the morning after Pearl Harbor and we have the minutes from that meeting, which opened by singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’” LaRussa says.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club halted in-person meetings in 2020, and only resumed outdoor or online meetings this year. They struggled to find a location for their meetings because their former location, the Blinn House, was being renovated.
“Another challenge is that we are trying hard to increase our membership because it has dwindled,” LaRussa admits. “Now we also offer to our scholarship winners a year’s free membership into the club.
“We want to get young members to carry on the traditions of over 100 years of supporting women in education. We are trying to grow and change with the times to attract younger members and get our name out there as an organization that helps the community and does good things.”
Membership information is available at the club’s website. The dues are $5 to join and a $60 yearly due that goes directly to the scholarship foundation.
“We have no other requirements, just that they have a good time with us and hopefully come to our meetings and being on the board or volunteering whatever part of the organization they might be interested in,” LaRussa says.
“Our scholarship committee is a very important part of our club. So, we are always looking for volunteers because we have a process that we go through with the Pasadena Community Foundation of a rubric that helps us vet scholarship candidates.”
LaRussa says that during her first meeting, the group awarded scholarships. She found the winners’ stories “mind boggling.”
“We had one winner who has four children, one is a special needs child, is working full time, cares for her own elderly parents and is still going back to school to get her PhD,” LaRussa says. “It just amazes me how important education is that I agree with that philosophy.
“Women just need support from other women at times who’ve been through it. Who knows what it is to take care of a house, take care of kids, work a job and still push forward to grow and to educate yourself and to better yourself. Every one of our scholarship winners has a story just like that at some level.”
LaRussa says she enjoys hearing the other members’ stories, which include working a doughnut dolly in the Vietnam War, being in the Peace Corps, and rallying for political and social change in the 1960s.
“Sometimes as women age as we all age, we stop looking at them as people and we don’t look at who they were and what they contributed to the world,” LaRussa said. “This organization allows us to encourage young women but also appreciate the women in our club for who they are and the differences that they’ve made.”