History of the Women's Travel Club

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Palawan, Philippines

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Snow HillIs Island, Antarctica

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El Camino, northern Spain

A Brief History

 

In October 1934, Augusta Batchelder Hartt invited five Boston women friends to discuss forming a women’s travel club modeled on the men-only Harvard Travellers Club where four of their husbands were members. These feisty women wanted their own club and, unlike the Harvard Travellers Club, they wanted to make the presentations themselves—no outside speakers!

 

Our Travel Stories

According to the minutes of one of the early meetings, the founders set a high hurdle for membership: “Unusual traveling, really something worthwhile—no cruisers or casual tourists.” The travel records of all our members are archived in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge. Those earliest records include a road trip from Paris to Istanbul with armed guards on the running boards, archeological digs in China, personal encounters with world leaders such as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and first ascents by women of Mt. McKinley and Mt. Blackburn.

From the beginning, the Club has asked members to give presentations about their travels, preferably with photos. Slides and carousel projectors have been replaced with PowerPoint images, but the tradition of women reflecting on significant travels and

sharing their insights continues. No mere travelogues, our members’ presentations illustrate what they have learned in travels near and far. Botanizing in the forests of Borneo, cooking in Venice with Julia Child, and trekking on the Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan have all come alive at our travel meetings.

 

Travel Club Scholarship Program

When the new members determined in 1935 that they would meet “not for social purposes” but “to provide help to other women travelers”, the idea of a travel scholarship fund was formed. At first, donations came from one or two generous members. Today, all members are asked for contributions to the Women’s Travel Club Scholarship Program. In 1967, the first grant of $1,100 went to a graduate student in Anthropology for her study of migration in the Karst region of Yugoslavia. That amount would not go far in the 21st century so our grants are now in the $5,000 range. We choose our scholars every other year and they come to our May meeting to tell us about their fascinating projects.

Our Meetings

In the early days of the club, we rented meeting rooms in downtown locations. Later, we opted to meet in each other’s homes. While that tradition continues for a few treasured meetings in the large homes of some of our members, today we often meet in public spaces like the Weston and Lincoln Public Libraries and the Manchester Historical Museum. Our members live in Boston, Cambridge, the western suburbs, the North Shore, and Cape Cod. Usually, 30-40 of our members attend our monthly meetings while the remainder are out traveling.

To allow as many people as possible to attend, we schedule our meetings at a variety of times of day. Morning bouillon, noon light lunch, afternoon tea, and early evening wine and cheese feed our bodies as the presentations feed our minds. While many of our members are getting older, their stories thrill us with adventure and remind us of the 20th century world. As new members join, their stories ring with the complexities and challenges of 21st century travel.

A highlight of our year is the Holiday Dinner, which has been held for several years at Wellesley College. We bring partners and guests and wear clothing and accessories from our travels. The presentation is usually chosen for its broad interest to this larger and more diverse gathering. But, as with all our meetings, the presenter is one of us. Recent presentations have included an eye-opening trip to North Korea, a trip to Sri Lanka taken by five members of the Club, and a graphical illustration of how migratory travel has led to skin color difference around the world.

 

Two Full Histories

This brief history borrows heavily from the more comprehensive histories written by Polly Cronin in 2010 and the 1990 history by Martha Lamberg-Karlovsky, both of which were gleaned from research into the minutes archived in the permanent collection of the Women’s Travel Club files at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge.