College Key History
The College Key
On June 5, 1992, the College Club, an alumni service group, and the Bates Key, an honorary alumnae organization, dissolved to form a new joint association. The decision to merge resulted from several years of careful thought on the part of both groups. Members of the College Club and Bates Key agreed that Bates’s spirit of inclusiveness, as well as their shared goal – support for the College – would be best served by a common association. The two groups met separately and voted to come together. Joining names, the College Club and the Bates Key became the College Key. A transition committee, consisting of members of both original groups, was appointed to draft the bylaws, reassess membership dues, and ensure that the original mission of each group would be preserved within the new whole.
Membership to the College Key is awarded to juniors and seniors who distinguish themselves in academic performance, athletic or extra-curricular pursuits, service to the community, and strength of character. Nominations are secured from faculty and staff, and each year a group of students comprising less than ten percent of the graduating class is inducted. New members from the alumni body are also recommended by a committee on alumni nominations.
The College Key’s official meeting is held each year during Reunion Weekend. Reports on the progress of the special and standing committees are given, and goals for the upcoming year are determined. The annual meeting also serves as special time to recognize new members, to socialize, and to reconnect with friends, classmates, and the College.
The College Club, 1891 – 1992
The College Club was organized on June 26, 1891, by a group of young Bates alumni who had been outstanding in loyalty and constructive campus leadership. Originally conceived of as a “Service Group of Bates Men,” the objectives of the College Club as stated by the founders were, “To take an active interest in the current affairs at Bates College; to encourage and stimulate work in literary and athletic lines; and to promote in any way that may seem desirable the general welfare of the institution.”
In a class letter written in 1891, William F. Garcelon, a member of the Bates class of 1890 and the College Club’s founding secretary, implored each of his classmates to donate $1.00 for “a prize for some oratorical or other contest or as the nucleus of a library building.” He explained, “By contributing our mite for several years, we might see great things come of it.” Mr. Garcelon’s words exemplify the philosophy of the Club, which is based on a sense of collective contribution and motivated by a concern for Bates that is both expansive and forward-reaching.
Celebrating its centennial in 1991, the College Club updated its programs to better serve the needs of Bates while preserving much of its original vision. Dean of the College James Carignan ’61 stressed the need for the Club to “not only raise priorities for the College, but to bring these into fruition.” Accepting this challenge, the College Club sponsored both national and international debate tours, funded a major endowed scholarship, and established the Career Discovery Internship Program.
The Bates Key, 1936 – 1992
On May 18, 1936, Dean Hazel Clark, Professor Lena Walmsley, Librarian Mabel Eaton ’10, and a group of women students met to discuss the value of forming an honorary society for Bates alumnae comparable to the College Club. Members were to serve as “key people” in organizing activities for graduates and to “influence young women of the best type to come to Bates in the future.”
During the initial meeting, the group agreed that such an organization was both necessary and long overdue. A quick succession of meetings followed, and within one month, the Bates Key was formed, complete with a constitution written by Miss Eaton and Edith Milliken ‘36. The first annual meeting of the Bates Key was held on June 13, 1937, with Miss Eaton presiding. The women decided to meet once a year at Commencement, to send out quarterly letters, and to make scholarship aid their group’s focus.
Twenty years later, Miss Eaton, having continued as president, happily reported that the Key met the goals they established in 1937. In that time period the Key had awarded 47 scholarships totaling $10,250. In the years following, founders Dean Clark and Professor Walmsley retired from service. On the club’s twenty-fifth anniversary, the inimitable Miss Eaton, once described by Edith Milliken as “the wittiest and most charming of leaders,” passed the presidency on to Mrs. Jane Ault Lindholm ’37.
By 1992, the Key had grown from eight charter members to more than 800 alumnae located throughout the United States, Canada, and in several other countries. In a 1992 letter addressed to members, President Rebecca Swanson Conrad ‘82 described the entire membership of the Bates Key, while commending the distinct and independent characteristics of the women who comprised it.
Our membership lives throughout the world. Many of us work outside the home; all of us, I am sure, work inside the home. We are represented on all parts of the economic, political, religious, and professional spectra, and what all of us have accomplished in our lives has been in a small or large part due to our years spent at Bates. It is, after all, Bates College that makes us who we are, “The Bates Key.” What we have brought into our community, in a sense, what has made us “key” members of our communities is the common thread among us — Bates.
The College Club and Bates Key: A Brief History in Letters
In the early days of the College Club and the Bates Key (before such easy access to telephone, fax, and electronic mail), letters and updates were awaited eagerly by both groups’ members. So beloved were the letters of Brooks Quimby ’18 that demand for them spread outside of the Club’s membership. To satisfy the curiosity of entire campus, his letters were republished in the Bates Alumnus.
Equally interesting were the quarterly Key letters written by Mabel Eaton ’10. In addition to being warmly received, these epistles also arrived with stunning regularity. In any given year, she was known to handwrite more than 100 letters to Key members.
The letters of the College Club and Bates Key accurately display the organizations’ warmth for the College, as well as the camaraderie that individuals felt within the organizations, in a way that historical accounts of events and names cannot reflect. Beyond that, the letters offer a telling glimpse into the College’s development over the better part of this century.
The letters of the College Club from 1935 on can be found in Special Collections in the George and Helen Ladd Library. Letters from the Bates Key, beginning with its formation, can also be found there.
In a letter to Bates Key in October 1938, Mabel Eaton ’10 glowingly endorses the opening of Wilson House: “Wilson House is finally open and is most attractive in its maple furnishings, and how the girls do love that spinet piano. The whole house is most artistic, and presents a very homelike atmosphere. Miss Lavinia Schaeffer is the fortunate lady to live there.”
In his letter entitled “Campus Chat – A Call To Converse,” Brooks Quimby ’18 addresses the question “Does Bates Meet the Needs of Women?” (January, 1941): “Yes, I think it is doing an ever increasingly good job of it. Practice teaching is a help to the prospective teacher. Professional courses in Physical Education open up a new field of teaching for the women. . . . This year more informal social life is being worked out. And, even better, a ‘charm specialist’ visited campus and had a series of whirlwind interviews with the girls, commenting on such matters as posture, voice, dress, etc.”
Bates Key Secretary Edith Milliken ’36 describes her impressions of the campus during Commencement in June 1941: “It takes a few days after one of our grand Commencements before I get my breath . . . . Once in a while I meet someone who hasn’t been back for ten or fifteen years and hear them say variations on the theme: ‘Is this marvelous campus really Bates? That velvet lawn, the sheltering trees, and flowers, flowers everywhere don’t just happen’ . . . . Honestly I feel sorry for the graduates who come Back-to-Bates only once in a Rip-Van-Winkle. They get a thrill all right, but I like my thrills on the installment plan.”
Lieutenant Allison Wills ‘27, naval medical officer and president of the College Club from 1942-43, sends a Christmas message to Club members from his post overseas (December 1942):
“My thoughts today of necessity are concerned primarily with the war. It is a beautiful clear day here as I sit on the deck of my ship. . . . All of us realize that our men fighting in distant corners of the earth have time to think of home, family, and college days. If any of you have not been writing to these men, do take a minute to drop them a line. May this war soon be over so that they can come home again to their loved ones and a richer, more abundant life.”
An excerpt from “Campus Commentary,” sent to the Club by Harry Rowe ’12 on the last day of 1947: “Administrative Headaches: Please pass the aspirin bottle to President Prexy Phillips. If there is any left, he will pass it on to Bixler of Colby, Stratton of Middlebury, and Bewkes of St. Lawrence. Where are small colleges to get money? Men and women of real wealth are now paying for two World Wars and are trying to bribe Mars so he won’t start another. With the cost of living advanced 50-60% over 1939, what is going to be the end of the rat race between prices and wages? . . . How are campuses to be kept in balance between educational goals and a constantly mounting pressure for more and more activities, diversions, hoopla, roller coasters, and snap the whips?”
Beatrice Burr Sawyer ’18 vividly recounts the activities of Reunion 1948 in her letter to the Bates Key (June 1948): ‘The costumes for the Alumni parade on Saturday morning consisted mostly of gay headgear, parasols, and huge lapel pins, but ’03 did produce gorgeous robes and a shepherd complete with two live sheep. The luncheon in the gym was really good – the caterers most efficiently served a delicious meal and received an ovation when two large bobcats, molded in ice cream, were carried to the head table for dessert.”
In her letter of March 1958, Florence Pennell Gremley ’25 recounts the events of that year’s lively Winter Carnival: “This year the carnival was called Winter Olympics – 1958, and a truly international spirit was gained through costume contests, with the Japanese group winning out over the Dutch, German, and Scandinavian divisions. The ancient Greek custom of lighting a torch to mark the beginning of the festivities was carried out by having Governor Edmund Muskie light a torch and hand it to the first of the relay team, who ran with it, in turn, all the way from Augusta to campus, arriving just as the opening parade was progressing to the front of Hathorn Hall.”
Key President Jane Ault Lindholm ’37 assesses Bates’s reaction to the tragedy at Kent State, where student protestors were fired on by members of the National Guard (May 1970):
“Since you have received a full account of recent Bates activities in a letter from President Reynolds, I need not elaborate on them. Speaking personally, I was proud of the responsible and constructive ways in which our students chose to express concern during a time of crisis on campus. At all times the rights of the whole college community were respected and differing points of view were allowed expression. . . . I would like to think that the quality of their Bates experience contributed, in some measure, to their conduct during a troubled week.”
Rebecca Swanson Conrad ’82 reviews the changes at Bates in her letter of May 1984:
“The anticipation of a new Art Complex is still in the air, and evidence of further change can be seen in the new language labs and classrooms in Hathorn Hall and a complete renovation of Rand dormitory. The gymnasium, dining hall, and Fiske Lounge will be entirely converted to two new floors of living space by this September. The classes of the 1990s will never believe that some of us played basketball or ate dinner in their rooms!”
As December 1989 draws to a close, Allen N. Harvie ’65 remarks on the campus mood and anticipates the beginning of President Harward’s tenure at Bates: “Ed Muskie and his fraternity of former secretaries of state have come and gone; Lindholm House has been dedicated; the Carnegie Science addition is open; our nationally ranked and undefeated women’s volleyball team won the ECAC Championships hosted by Bates. . . . Needless to say, it is a very exciting time to be part of the Bates community, particularly as we welcome Donald W. Harward as our sixth president.”