Stories

California State University, Fresno Women's Assocaition
AKA Faculty Wives

History of Fresno State Faculty Wives
1925 - 1993

or

“Behind Every Good University....”

by Susan Nef, April 22, 1993

Summarized by Carolyn Doyel
November, 2012

Introduction

“In December 1891 one of the great events of his life took place as in December he married Miss Best of Memphis, Missouri. It is not unfair to Mr. McLane to state that through her leadership his greatest achievements have been accomplished.”

When C.L. McLane, Fresno State’s first president, wrote his history he included this quote (above) from Fred P. Hogan’s brief biography of him. This remarkable praise of an early faculty wife is a wonderful example of the influence that many of the Faculty Wives have had in their homes, the community, and at Fresno State. Although Faculty Wives has been primarily a social group, “it is not unfair” to Fresno State to state that with the influence, support, and encouragement of the wives of the Fresno State Faculty–Fresno State has accomplished many great things.”

Origins of Faculty Wives

Fresno in 1925 was a young, busy community. It was still small enough that the Fresno State campus on McKinley and Van Ness ‘extension’ was on the outskirts of town. A brief look at The Fresno Bee in September of 1925 shows stores advertising flapper style clothes, and offering ice at 25 pounds for 10 cents. The society pages still included children’s birthday parties. The state was planning it’s Diamond Jubilee and AAUW’s first meeting of the school year on Saturday, September 26, 1925 was featured news on the Society page.

The commonly accepted date of Faculty Wives’ beginning in 1925 comes from a list of presidents or general chairman that has been handed down and extended year after year. Very little information of the early faculty wives is actually known. Faculty Wives began saving records, pictures and information in the mid 1950’s and has programs from 1947 that describe the years’ activities, lists of honorary members (wives of retired faculty), interest groups and past presidents. Two unsubstantiated reference to the origins of Faculty Wives are found in records kept by the historian. In an article in The Fresno Guide written in 1972 and introducing the new officers, a brief mention is made that Faculty Wives “was founded in 1925 as a sewing circle.” A questionnaire from 1961 and also found in the historian’s scrapbook states, “When Faculty Wives of Fresno State College was organized there were 22 charter members.”

A review of the 1925 Fresno State College Circular shows that there were 28 male faculty and administrators of which some were bachelors. Since membership of the organization has always been limited to wives of faculty and administrators, the wives of these men are probably the first members of the organization. Early members of the organization might have included such familiar names as Mrs. C.L. McLane, Mrs. (Caroline) G.B. Colburn, Mrs. (Charlotte) Huber Phillips, Mrs. (Laura) Emory Ratcliffe, Mrs. (Ina) Frank W. Thomas, Mrs. (Ruth) A.G. Wahlberg, and Mrs. (Ruth) T.T. Waterman. The president in 1925 was Mrs. (Lota) Frank Morris. Stories written about Laura Ratcliffe in the Fresno Bee and in AAUW’s Heritage Fresno, Women and their Contributions credit her with being instrumental in the founding of Faculty Wives. She was its third and seventh president.

WHEN Emory and Laura Ratcliffe (could this be the Ratcliffe of Fresno’s Ratcliffe Stadium?) came to Fresno in the summer of 1915, the arrived at the train station at 2:00 a.m. Hot and dusty, they found the first hotel. The next morning they called President McLane who told them “to get a street car and come straight out.” After traveling “way out into the country” they asked the streetcar driver where Fresno State was. He wasn’t sure but pointed to the temporary buildings that were the beginnings of the ‘new’ campus.

ARRIVING in Fresno was an adjustment for many new faculty. WhenLeo and Betty Hadsell arrived in the dry, hot Fresno from Pennsylvania in the mid 1920’s, Mrs. Hadsell felt so miserable that her husband promised her that they would stay for only one year. Certainly experiences like these prompted the founding of an organization to support each other as pioneers in the building of Fresno State. Faculty Wives gave women from all over the country (all the intellectual equals of their husbands and very capable) a social outlet and a bond to the community.

Goals and Activities

The primary goal of Faculty Wives has been to promote friendliness between it’s members, as shown in the following quote from the 1953 Faculty Handbook:

“The purpose of Faculty Wives; Club is to promote friendliness and acquaintanceship among wives of faculty men and to be of service to Fresno State College. The group meets monthly during the college year, honors new members at a tea; and on alternate years gives a Christmas Party for all faculty and college employees and a tea for the Faculty Women’s Club or a dinner for their husbands. Besides the monthly meetings there are a book section, bridge section, and newcomer’s section (first two-year faculty and wives) which meet regularly.”

Not all of Faculty Wives activities were tea parties. Betty Haak remembers a scholarship fund raising event from the first years that the Haak’s were in Fresno–a Roaring Twenties Party called ’73 Skidoo–that helped to cement the friendships they were to make in Fresno. To enter the party through a false office front, 450 partygoers had to repeat the password “’73 Skidoo.” Organizers awarded prizes for the best costume and Charleston dancer, while 6 professors entertained dressed as flappers dancing the Charleston. The crowd cheered them on with cries of “More, More…” Raising $1500 for the Scholarship Fund was never more fun!

Everything did not always go smoothly. In April 1971 when Marion Tocchio was president, she planned a wine tasting event to raise money for the newly formed scholarship fund. After much preparation, dressed and eager to leave, she gave her hair (remember those 1971 hairdos) a touch of hair spray. To her surprise her hair turned white! She had grabbed a can of bathroom cleaner by mistake. She remedied the situation as best she could and minutes later she dashed off to the party and showed that a sense of humor can carry the day.