American Association of University Women

Published 12:37 pm Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Beth Laughridge, Shirley Elliot, Gayle Lane, Lillie McCain, Carolyn Hicks, Becky Collins, Cathy Brettman, Jo Myers and Priscilla Yeager (not pictured: Judy Irving) make up the board of the Tryon Area branch of the American Association of University Women.

Beth Laughridge, Shirley Elliot, Gayle Lane, Lillie McCain, Carolyn Hicks, Becky Collins, Cathy Brettman, Jo Myers and Priscilla Yeager (not pictured: Judy Irving) make up the board of the Tryon Area branch of the American Association of University Women.

Tryon branch nears 30-year milestone

Written and photographed by Michael O’Hearn

When the American Association of University Women convenes for their first annual meeting in the fall of 2017, the organization’s local branch will have a milestone 30-year anniversary to celebrate.

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Founded in 1987, the AAUW Tryon branch’s goal was to send girls from Polk County High School and Landrum High School to a summer college experience at Clemson University. Peggy Woodward, now a resident at Tryon Estates in Columbus, was instrumental in creating the Tryon branch with two of her friends, Patricia Fiol and Mary Huddleston.

“Me and two of my other friends decided we needed a branch down here, as we were driving up to Hendersonville to a larger branch. We had to have 25 members to be sanctioned by the national organization,” Woodward explained. “Tryon and the area have a lot of college-educated women so it wasn’t hard to find 25 members. We used to have 150 members at one point, but now it’s so hard for people to carve out time for another activity.”

The organization’s mission is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research, according to president Priscilla Yeager.

“The national organization was founded in 1881 by a group of like-minded women who wanted to see what they could do to raise the status and plight, I guess, of women and promote equity for women in terms of education and gender equity,” Yeager explained. “We also have scholarships for two girls for a summer camp at Clemson.”

The organization, which is open to both women and men who hold at least an associate degree from a regionally accredited college or university, holds meetings on the fourth Monday of each month in the fellowship hall of Tryon Presbyterian Church, according to Yeager.

Each year, the AAUW holds one fundraiser. This year, the sixth annual “Porcelain, Poetry and Prose Tea” fundraiser at Sunnydale featured authors Michel Stone and Katheryn Quigg. Yeager explained this fundraiser raises the money necessary to sponsor two rising juniors from Polk County High School and Landrum High School to go to Clemson for a week each summer.

“The tea is AAUW’s only fundraiser and supports scholarships for our young women attending the Clemson Summer Scholars program,” Yeager said. “The program offers a challenging academic summer experience for selected gifted rising juniors from our local high schools.”

This year, juniors Grace Valentine, from Landrum High School, and Melanie Metcalf, from Polk County High School, received the Clemson summer experience scholarships. Metcalf talked about her experience in the human oncology program during the AAUW’s first meeting of the year in September.

“I was really interested in the human oncology and genesis program because my father had cancer,” Metcalf said. “It was just something really important to me. My professor there was a cancer survivor of 11 years, and I enjoyed learning about cancer and how to kill cancer cells and various treatment options. I also enjoyed the environment that was there and the friends I made.”

Beth Laughridge, a member of the AAUW, works with the Clemson Scholars program that gave Metcalf and Valentine the opportunity to go to the university for a week of immersion in college life this past July. Laughridge said this program is especially important for rising female juniors to determine what they want to do with their futures.

“We’ve been sending girls down since the 1990s, I think, and we raise the money to send these girls. We used to be able to send more, but the cost has gone up so much that we can only send one girl from each school in each county now,” Laughridge explained. “The purpose was to give young women an opportunity on a college campus to experience not only the campus, the college campus experience, but also be totally immersed. A lot of it used to be mathematical, the science, but it has expanded a little bit more now and you can see all the courses they offer on the Clemson website.”

Laughridge said both schools pick the girls they want as candidates for the program as a scholar. The girls would then register for their courses like a normal college student while the AAUW provides the tuition for a week. Through their annual fundraiser, Laughridge said the Tryon organization branch generates as much as $3,000 for these students.

“The girls who have come back have done amazing things,” Laughridge said. “There were twin girls who went to Wake and were able to do research there as undergraduates and were able to present it. We pay for a week’s study, and it’s total immersion, and in the beginning women weren’t really involved with science but that’s changed now. It certainly gives them the insight to choose their courses, and it’s a very positive program.”

Aside from providing young women with the opportunity to receive education through a university, the AAUW also ensures women of low income have affordable housing. AAUW chairman Judy Irving said the group is looking forward to a presentation from Jim Yamin in November, about ways to help provide affordable housing to women of low income.

“He’s done about 16 or 17 projects so far. He obtains the land and, if he has to do zoning changes he does that as well,” Irving said of Yamin. “He hires the builders, contractors and architects and one thing he told me is that with this affordable housing, there is a disproportionate number of women who rent so it really is an advantage for women of low income or single parent women to have this kind of housing.”

The overarching goal of the AAUW, according to Yeager, lies within ensuring women are given a fair chance.

“Just trying to give women a fair shake through education, philanthropy, advocacy and research is our goal,” Yeager said. “Anyone with a college degree can join, even men. One of the interesting things about the AAUW is that they, in 1921, bought a gram of radium for Marie Curie so that she could continue her research on X-rays. That’s pretty amazing.” •