About Us

Branch History

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The Greater Rochester Area Branch of American Association of University Women dates back to 1897, a time when women were not allowed to vote, and only a few had been given the opportunity to pursue a college degree. Those women who were breaking ground in local colleges needed to make connections, to offer one another support, to find areas in which they could work together to make the world a better place. And so, at the turn of the century, we began our organizational life.

Our official name at that time was the Rochester Branch of the American Association of Collegiate Alumnae, but we were more popularly known as the College Women’s Club or more simply “the Club.” In 1921 our national Association merged with the Southern Association of Collegiate Alumnae to become the AAUW, the American Association of University Women, the name we are known by today.

The original meeting place was in a room at 42 Prince Street on the Prince Street Campus of the University of Rochester. As early as 1937, between two World Wars, the enterprising members, which by 1945 numbered 640, organized fund-raisers, contributed their own money, solicited funds from family and friends, and began the search for a structure which could become a suitable home for their growing numbers.

The home they found was the beautiful East Avenue mansion once owned by Elizabeth and Erikson Perkins. The 12-room house had been a wedding gift presented to the couple by Mrs. Perkins’ parents in 1906, and in 1946, having been widowed some five years earlier, Mrs. Perkins considered the house too large for her needs and made a gift of the mansion to the “women’s club.” She retained life-time residential rights and occupied a second floor apartment until her death in 1950.

Ironically, our benefactress never herself attained a college degree, but she did accept honorary membership in the Rochester Branch of the American Association of University Women. When she handed over the keys at the Branch’s 50th anniversary in 1947, she spoke these words: “The world is so in need of sanity, tolerance, discretion, wisdom, faith, and love.”

She went on to say, “Education should include more of God and love. I wish that this house may send out in years to come, thoughts and actions that are going to count in making this world of ours a far better one than it is today.”

The house itself was designed by the Perkins family with the help of a master builder. It is a modified English Tudor constructed of hollow concrete blocks with brick facing. The house was completed in 1907. On the grounds stood a fountain which the Perkins brought from Italy and a sundial from Wales. Both lie buried under what is now our parking lot.

The Clowns and Ducks needlecraft group raised enough money to pay for all the Oriental carpets, as well as our china, flatware, silver tea service, chairs, drapes, a water heater, and provided enough funds to pay for a variety of plumbing repairs.

When parking on East Avenue was discontinued, our resourceful members raised $7000 to transform the formal gardens into a parking lot.

House History

The AAUW House was originally the home of Elizabeth and Erickson Perkins. The house was a wedding gift to Elizabeth from her parents, the Stephen-Ginnas of Plainfield, New Jersey. Elizabeth Ginna and Erickson Perkins were married in Rochester, New York on June 18, 1902. Construction was begun in 1906.

Erickson Perkins, the son of a prominent Rochester family, was born in Rochester on August 23, 1857. His father was Gilman Hill Perkins, president of Smith, Perkins & Company, a wholesale grocery firm. His mother was Caroline Erickson Perkins, daughter of Aaron Erickson, merchant, banker and publisher of the Rochester Herald. Erickson Perkins was educated at private schools in Rochester and Devaux College. At 21 he joined the banking firm of Erickson, Jennings Company which later became the Union Trust Company,which still later became the Genesee Valley Trust Company. He left the banking business to become a stock broker, first with Slader & Perkins; then in 1901 he opened his own brokerage firm, Erickson Perkins & Company, with offices at 134 Powers Building.

Elizabeth Tompkins Ginna was born in Plainfield, New Jersey on April 23, 1872, the daughter of Stephen and Elizabeth Tompkins Ginna. She was educated at home by an English governess until she was 10, then attended the Seminary in Plainfield and later Miss Master’s School in Dobbs Ferry. She made her debut at her brother’s wedding reception. Elizabeth and Erickson Perkins had one child, Erickson Ginna Perkins, born on November 3, 1903.

In 1906 Mrs. Perkins was active in civic, social and church affairs. She was a charter member of the Century Club, and honorary vice-president of the Civic Music Association and was active in work for the Genesee Hospital and St Paul’s Episcopal Church.

County Court House records show that on September 9, 1905 E. Ginna Perkins was deeded a plot of land on East Avenue, measuring 100 by 356 feet, part of the homestead premises of the late Helen M. Craig Powers’ estate.

Heading the committee Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, with the help of a Master builder, designed the 23 room modified English Tudor brick mansion. Architects were not commonly used on residential buildings in that era. George Hollister was the Master builder and his company, the Hollister Company, started the house in 1906 and finished in 1907. They pioneered a new method of building construction with this house, using hollow concrete blocks with brick facing for the walls. This made a 16 inch thick wall which was both strong and well insulated. During construction the Perkins family resided at 238 East Avenue.

There is a mixture of architectural styles used in the building. The exterior is of the warm red brick of the Tudor style. A modest portico supported by 2 Doric columns graces the main entrance, which is unusual in its placement, being on the driveway side and not the street side of the building. The street facade is dominated by the curved gable typical of Elizabethan style, reflecting the Netherlands influence. This same pleasing treatment is repeated in the curved gable of the carriage house. The facade of the main house is enriched by the profusion of windows set in simple grids of vertical mullions and horizontal transoms with square leaded panes on the first floor and diamond shaped panes in the second and third floor windows.

The interior decorating was done by the Hayden Company of Goodman Street, a nationally renowned company famous for its handcrafted furniture, panels and mantels. They did the decorating and furnishing for many famous homes and institutions including Tiffany’s and the New York Public Library in New York City, the Library of Congress, the National and the Corcoran Galleries in Washington, and in Rochester the Eastman Theater lobby.

In this house the richness and beauty of the craft is very evident in the mouldings, doors, wall panelling, stairway and the artistic mantelpieces. Originally the stairway was open to the third floor. It opened from the impressive reception hallway that extends the full 50 foot width of the house. Another imposing feature of this house is the number and variety of fireplaces. There are 9 fireplaces, each one with a different facade. One very charming one has nursery rhymes in Delft tiles on its facing. A display of photos of the house from this era are on display in the main hall. The people in the photos are Mr. and Mrs. Perkins.

Very few structural changes have been made since its conversion to the AAUW house in 1946. A small elevator has been installed from the first floor to the second. A kitchen on the second floor has been disassembled and is now used for office space. The wide imposing stairway has been enclosed on two levels. This allows for privacy for the third floor, which is where the house caretakers now live. One of Mr.Perkins’ stock market ticker tape machines has been encased in one of the closets. Another change has been the remodeling of a room in the basement into a men’s lounge, called the Mayer Lounge. At this same time a stairway was built from the front vestibule to the basement. Mrs. Charles W. Mayer donated to the AAUW the money for the lounge in memory of her husband. She also gave a beautiful Hamadan rug for the stairway. This room was formally dedicated on March 17, 1949. Mr. Mayer was an inventor and founder of the Mayer Coating Machines Company. His machines were sold internationally and the Mayers traveled widely. It is noted in his biographical sketch that they had made reservations to sail on the Titanic on the 12th of April, 1912 from Southhampton to New York, but for business reasons they had to cancel their reservations abruptly.

A recent improvement to the house was made in the fall of 1999. At that time the house was made handicapped-accessible by a generous donation in the will of member Francie Wilcox. An attractive wooden ramp was added to the back of the house and necessary changes were made to the main restroom on the first floor. A room on the second floor was refurbished and is now the Francie Wilcox Memorial Boardroom. The AAUW Boardroom was dedicated to Francie on Saturday, April 15, 2000.

Mr. Perkins was an ardent gardener and designed the gardens around his home, which were the subjects of numerous articles in national gardening magazines. He shared his hobby with his next door neighbor, Mr. Ellwanger, of the world famed Ellwanger & Barry Nursery family. The Purple Beech tree that majestically shades the broad front lawn was planted by Mr. Perkins. In the garden stood a fountain that Mr. and Mrs. Perkins had bought in Italy and a sundial from Wales. These articles now lay buried under the parking lot.

Heading the committee charged with finding a suitable clubhouse for In 1906 when the Perkins family was starting their house, the College Women’s Club of Rochester (predecessor of the AAUW) was making its first gesture towards owning a clubhouse. Talk continued but it was not until 1917 that a committee was formed to start a fund for a clubhouse. The Branch at that time was known as the Rochester Branch of American Association of Collegiate Alumnae. In 1921 the American Association of Collegiate Alumnae merged with the Southern Association of Collegiate Alumnae and became the American Association of University Women.

One of the first fund-raising events for the purchase of a house was a vaudeville show at Catherine Strong Hall on the University of Rochester Campus. Admission was 25 cents and $40.78 was raised. On the 40th anniversary of the Branch in 1937 the “nest egg” had grown to $1,000.00. There was renewed talk of AAUW owning its own clubhouse. The members were meeting in a room on the University of Rochester campus on Prince Street. In 1945 they rented a larger room in a house on the corner of Prince Street and East Avenue.

the Branch was Nan Knope Glenz and Ida Post. Both of these women were past-presidents of the Branch, Nan Glenz in 1934-1936 and Ida Post 1936- 1942. Nan Glenz, a tireless worker for the Branch, recalls how she had instructed a real estate agent friend to be on the lookout for property that would be suitable for a clubhouse. One day in 1946 he alerted her that Mrs. Perkins’ home on East Avenue was going to be put up for sale. He explained that Mrs. Perkins was alone since her husband had died in 1941 and the house was getting to be too much for her to handle. He suggested that she talk to Mrs. Perkins. She quickly pursued the matter and made an appointment for herself and Ida Post to see Mrs. Perkins.

As Ida Post relates, she and her friend, Nan, were discussing the upcoming meeting at a party at the Oak Hill Country Club. Ida’s husband, Walter William Post, overheard their plans and volunteered to drive them to their appointment. However, he not only drove them to the meeting but accompanied them in to see Mrs. Perkins. Mr. Post was a lawyer with much experience in the field of real estate so they welcomed having him along.

When they arrived at Mrs. Perkins’ home, they were escorted into the solarium where Mrs. Perkins served them tea in front of a cheerful fire. They related to Mrs. Perkins that their mission was to find a suitable house in that vicinity which the Rochester Branch, AAUW could buy for a clubhouse.

Mrs. Post credits her husband as being the one who first suggested to Mrs. Perkins that she give the house to the Branch, saying to her, “Mrs. Perkins, have you ever thought of giving this house to this college women’s group and retaining life time living rights?” He explained to her how such an arrangement could be made, with her retaining an apartment in the house.

She immediately brightened up and asked for more information. The idea seemed to appeal to her, no doubt because it meant she would be able to continue to live in her beloved home. She instructed him to meet with her lawyer and work out the necessary details.

Nan and Ida were walking on clouds as they went back to the Branch with their news, the possibility of a clubhouse as a gift! By September 1946 the tentative arrangements had been worked out. Mrs. Perkins would have an apartment on the second floor. The Branch would have use of the first floor, basement, gardens and the grounds. The Branch would raise a fund of $25,000 to take care of conversion expenses and the reserve fund.

However, before any contracts were signed it was necessary to get approval of the East Avenue Preservation Board. Nan Glenz was in charge of that detail. After repeated and anxious requests for action, she was referred to the City Zoning Board. Nan had to contact all the homeowners in the vicinity of 494 East Avenue with a petition for their signatures stating that they had no objections to the use of the house as a clubhouse. Next, she had to appear before the Zoning Board with the request for variance for changing the use of the house from a one-family home to a clubhouse. On October 11, 1946 it was granted. The arrangement between Mrs.Perkins and the Branch was approved on November 11, 1946. There were 640 AAUW members and 150 associate members at that time and the Board voted to increase the membership dues to $10.00 per year. Fifty-four years later the dues are $100.00.

In the fall of 1946, a committee had been set up to study other AAUW clubhouses around the country relative to maintenance costs, dining room management, budgets etc. The committee discovered that the Rochester house was the only clubhouse that started out without a mortgage. Another distinction the clubhouse enjoys: it has been exclusively owned by women. It was built for and owned by Elizabeth Ginna Perkins on land she purchased, and she maintained ownership of it until she gave it to the Rochester Branch of American Association of University Women.

On December 11, 1946 the deed was signed and the Branch members realized their dream. They finally had their own clubhouse. The official opening was held on Tuesday April 22, 1947, the 50th anniversary of the Branch.

As Mrs.Perkins turned over the keys to Mrs. Herbert Soule, the Branch president, she spoke these prophetic words, “The world is so in need of sanity, tolerance, discretion, wisdom, faith and love. Women need to return to the art of giving tender and loving care in the home and to the community. Education should include more of God and love. I wish for the members of this house a wide future. I wish that this house may send out in the years to come, thoughts and actions that are going to count in making this world of ours a far better one than it is today.” Mrs. Perkins resided on the second floor of the house until her death in 1950.

The Greater Rochester Area Branch believes that Mrs. Perkins would be pleased with how her home is being used, enjoyed and cared for by the members of AAUW, by the people who live and work here, and by the many visitors who attend meetings and events at the house.

Decades of Accomplishments

1897Miss Olive Davis gathers a group of eleven women to found the Association of College Alumnae.
1897-1910The women organize a placement bureau to find positions for women college graduates in fields other than teaching.
1911-1920The members join the National Association of College Alumnae and support the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Ten members serve overseas during World War I.
1920sThe members endorse a bill to amend the New York Education Law to provide a School of Home Economics at Cornell University. The organization becomes the AAUW. The Rochester branch helps in an investigation of U.S. history texts in four area counties.
1930sMrs. Charles H. Snyder of the Rochester Branch is elected president of the State Division of AAUW. In 1933 $2500 is donated by the Branch to the National Fellowship fund. The Branch endorses the Federal Child Labor Amendment. The monthly branch bulletin, The Barker, urges state aid for kindergartens. The members support WPA Aid to nursery schools.
1940sWe pioneer supporting legislation for Social Security benefits for household employees. We support equal pay for equal work. We conduct a study of library services for New York State. In 1946 we begin a nursery school at the Brick Presbyterian Church. In 1946 Mrs. Erickson Perkins gives us her home at 494 East Avenue. In 1949 the nursery school sponsors a radio program for pre-schoolers. We begin a Young Artist Series, recognizing youthful vocal and instrumental performers. We support the Equal Status Jury Bill.
1950sWe support and endorse Educational TV. In 1954 the AAUW Career Information Service is made available to girls in the community. We establish the Rochester Branch Educational Fund. Money is raised to remodel the garage to accommodate an on-site nursery school.
1960sWe establish Friday Table Talks to keep members and the public informed about current state and national legislation. We publish a book listing sources of scholarship aid for women and we distribute it to local high schools. We hold an education symposium held and open it up to the public.
1970sThe Rochester Branch, in conjunction with the National Organization of Women, sponsors a 2-day seminar on the Status of Women. The Branch sponsors forums to introduce the community to nominees to the City School Board.
1980sMembers establish the Legal Advocacy Fund to aid women seeking judicial redress for sex discrimination in higher education. The AAUW Educational Foundation celebrates the centennial of its first fellowship having, since its inception, awarded over 5,000 fellowships world-wide.
1990sA local program, unique to the Rochester Branch, Women Helping Girls With Choices, is created. It receives widespread recognition for making meaningful contributions to girls in Rochester schools. The Branch hosts a conference entitled “Empowering Middle School Girls,” which is attended by educators well beyond our local area.
2000sWe reach out to a delegation of women from Russia who spend two weeks living in our homes, touring our social, legal, and community-based agencies, and exploring ways to promote equity for women in their home country. It is so successful that we begin planning for another similar event.

We are proud members of the
Greater Rochester Area Branch of the American Association of University Women.