I attended the Little Berks Friday and Saturday at Mount Holyoke College. The Little Berks dates back to 1930, starting as an organization for historians who were women. In the 1970s, the group began holding conferences on women’s history, broadly defined. This is the Berkshire Conference; the next will be in June 2011 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Last night, many of the sixty women attending the Little Berks got “dressed” for diner. Most people were wiring skirts, dresses, or nice pants. When I looked at the assembled group in their finery the first thing that came to mind was how similar they were to the women from the University of Chicago who organized and attended the yearly Faculty Wives Dinners.
These dinners began as a response to the male only trustee dinner that the University held every year. The faculty wives wished to have alternative entertainment on that evening and in an eventually very elaborate volunteer effort provided dinner and a skit. These women wanted to have something of their own in a similar fashion to the women who founded the Berks. Those historians desired have a network that would be comparable to the “old-boy network” they observed at meetings of the American Historical Association.
I find the discovery that the two groups of women have much in common very interesting because I am fairly certain that the individual who comprises the two groups would not feel that they are comparable.