History and Overview
This year the Atlanta Chapter of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College (NAASC) is celebrating a century of sisterhood, service, and scholarship support. This organization began in August 1914, when several recent Spelman graduates met at the home of Mrs. Mary James Wardlaw, who would become the first president. The organization was first called ”The Spelman Alumni Club of Atlanta” and later “The Atlanta Graduate Club.” The colors were white and gold; the flower, a white rose; and the motto, “Lifting as we climb” (Wardlaw).
The Atlanta Club was the first of almost sixty (60) alumnae clubs, now called chapters, which exist today. Over the years, the name of the organization changed from the Atlanta Graduate Club or Spelman Graduates of Atlanta Club to the Atlanta Spelman Club. In 1976, when the national organization became the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College, a 501 (c) (3) organization separate from the College, the Atlanta Spelman Club became the Atlanta Chapter of NAASC and part of the Southeastern Region of NAASC.
The focus on sisterhood is and has been integral to the functioning of the Atlanta Chapter. The annual April meeting of local alumnae with the president of the College is an example of sisters coming together. The emphasis on sisterhood was evident in April 1915, when President Lucy Hale Tapley invited the new club to meet with her at Reynolds Cottage, the president’s home. Similarly, class reunions are part of this tradition of sisterhood. In 1915, the first class reunion observance occurred, with the Atlanta Club assisting the College in hosting this event. The class reunion is an example of a tradition that continues to the present time, and local alumnae play a major role in bringing together sisters from across the generations and around the world. On its website, the Atlanta Chapter asserts, “We are Sisterhood,” affirming the chapter’s commitment to its legacy.
The increase in the size of the graduating classes created a special challenge. In 1973, Spelman graduated the first class with more than 200 students. This meant not only more alumnae, but also a larger number of younger alumnae. In Atlanta, where most alumnae reside, the younger alumnae decided to form a separate organization, YASA—the Young Atlanta Spelman Alumnae. A major objective of YASA was to have more programs that were responsive to the needs and interests of their contemporaries. Membership in YASA was limited to alumnae who had been out of college for fewer than ten years. Although YASA does not exist today, the Atlanta Spelman Club and the NAASC have benefited from lessons learned from this phase in the development of both organizations. One of the major benefits was YASA’s initiation in the 1970s of an annual brunch, which continues today as a scholarship fundraiser.
Like our commitment to sisterhood, giving dedicated service to the College and the community has been central in the work of the Atlanta Chapter. Of course, support for Spelman students and programs has been paramount. An early example of the Atlanta Club’s service to the College occurred in 1923, when the alumnae used their own automobiles to drive faculty to visit notable African American businesses and communities in order to educate faculty about the rich resources in the Atlanta community so that they might identify ways for their students to connect their studies to these resources.
Spelman students have benefited from many acts of loving service by local alumnae. One example is the reception for new students. Before the orientation begins on campus, the Atlanta Chapter hosts a social event for new students from Metropolitan Atlanta to help them get to know local alumnae who are their big sisters and prepare for their Spelman experience.
Service to the community outside Spelman’s gates has long been part of the mission of the Atlanta Chapter. Documents from the early years indicate that the Atlanta Club supported the Associated Charities, the Leonard Street Orphanage, the Y.M.C.A., and other charities. Later, during World War II, alumnae, along with faculty and students, volunteered at USO and Red Cross centers and played a significant role in the Georgia “Food for Victory” campaign.
From the late 1940s through the mid-1950s, the Atlanta Spelman Club, as the organization was known then, took the lead in sponsoring an annual Founders Day broadcast on a major local radio station. The main purpose of the annual broadcast was to inform the radio audience about Spelman, to increase support for the College and also to entertain.
In the 21st century, the Atlanta Chapter has continued to be active in many service projects, including Christmas celebrations at nursing homes, Christmas season adopt-a-family projects, the United Way shoebox project that provides toiletries for homeless women, donations of clothing appropriate for work to homeless women seeking jobs, and donations of school supplies to Atlanta schools, to name just a few such efforts. In addition to supporting local charities, at the annual brunch, the Atlanta Chapter recognizes and honors Atlanta residents for their leadership in the community with the “Outstanding Community Service Award.”
For 100 years, the Atlanta Club has been a generous donor, providing financial support for Spelman College and Spelman students. Prizes awarded by the club in the early days included the Edith V. Brill Prize, Lucy Upton Prize (given from the interest accrued on $214.24), and the Clara Howard Scholarship Fund. The local club also supported other fund-raising efforts initiated by the national body, the Alumnae Association. These efforts included the Library Endowment Fund, which generated money to purchase books for the library. Probably the most significant fund-raising effort of this period was the campaign, initiated by the Alumnae Association and supported by the local club, to raise money for the Grover-Werden Memorial Fountain (dedicated in May 1927).
From the early days of the organization until the present, one of the major ways that the Atlanta Chapter has consistently supported the College has been through the awarding of scholarships to students from Metropolitan Atlanta. Since launching the Annual Scholarship Brunch in 1977, the Atlanta Chapter has awarded more than $275,000 in scholarships to twenty-eight (28) students. Of this number, nine received scholarships for the four years at Spelman. In 1977, the cost of tuition for one year was $1,800; for the current year (2014-2015), the cost of tuition and fees exceeds $25,000.
The Atlanta Chapter is committed to supporting women who by enrolling at Spelman have made “a choice to change the world.” The chapter will continue to provide scholarships through its current program. In addition, the chapter has set a special goal for the 100th anniversary--to raise $100,000 for an endowed scholarship by the end of 2014. This goal is within our grasp. With help from alumnae and friends, we will achieve this goal.