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Woman of the Year Award Recipients

Millie Devine, NETWORK founder, gave the following
luncheon speech on September 18, 1996, at New London's
Radisson Hotel on the occasion of NETWORK's 20th anniversary:

"Congratulations and Happy 20th Anniversary Southeastern Connecticut Women's NETWORK! WOW! Is it really 20 years? It seems like yesterday or maybe the day before.

A lot has happened in the past 20 years and, yes, we have come a long way since 1976, the Mildred Devine country's 200th anniversary year. In those days there were still men's clubs which if they allowed women in the building, usually required women to enter through the back door or some entrance other than the main entrance or front door. In these clubs men were not allowed to hang the lady's coat with his in the main coat room but the lady was required to take her coat to the lady's coat room. Women were not allowed in Rotary, Lions or Kiwanis and women's service organizations were trying to meet the need but most met in the evening not at breakfast or lunch as did the men's clubs. Does this sound like the "dark ages"? and it was only 20 years ago.

You've heard from my introduction that I've been around for more than a few years and in the early 70s, as a new trust officer, if my male boss wanted to have lunch with me, we'd have to goThames Club to "the greasy spoon" because he was not allowed to take me to the Thames Club across the street (on State St. New London - see photo). He use to tease me about getting my placards together and marching in front of the Club for admittance. Well this teasing had been going on for some time and one day he started teasing again and my response to him was: "Fred, I don't want IN the Thames Club! What I want is the same thing as or better than the Thames Club." His response to me was: "WELL, if that's what you want, then you'd better start it yourself." AND I responded: "GOOD IDEA, I think I will." AND that's what really started the Southeastern Connecticut Women's NETWORK.

I started talking with other professional women including Attorney Suzanne Donnelly Kitchings, who wanted to be here today and sends her best wishes but had a prior commitment, Patricia Brooks, Assistant Vice President Hartford National Bank & Trust Company, Attorney Lois Andrews, Lois Palmer, Nan Crowley, Attorney Barbara Quinn, CPA Susan Ebersole, Dr. Mac Mummert, veterinarian, Marie O'Brien, Ann Grabowy, Barbara Reed Collins and Faye Vathauer, owner of Quality Printers. We started meeting for a one-hour lunch on a monthly basis with the idea of sharing professional experiences, set backs, goals and hopes for the future. We continued inviting other business and professional women to join us and I recall seeing an article in THE DAY announcing that Dr. Barbara Kleeman was opening her chiropractic office and writing to invite her to join us.

When we got started, there weren't very many business and professional women in the area. We started primarily with women working in New London and the idea began to grow slowly. Many of us had commitments which would not allow us to participate in Soroptimist or ZONTA because the meetings were always in the evening. The group grew quietly and slowly to approximately 40 members in 1978 when we began talking about formalizing the informatility and started talking about our real purpose and goals. We also thought that since the men could meet EVERY WEEK for an hour and a half, that we should be able to meet once a month for an hour and a half.

After discussions over several months, the membership decided that:

"The purpose of the 'NETWORK' shall be to provide its members the opportunity to meet other professional and executive women, to communicate and exchange general and career information, to promote personal visibility and to develop a constituency for the purpose of examining and speaking out on issues of concern to the membership."

We also did a survey of our membership to determine ideas for the future of the organization, salary ranges of the membership and began to think in terms of having our own building. Amy Hauss, realtor, was a member and began exploring this idea with us. We looked at ten members providing $10,000 each which would have given us $100,000 to purchase a building as a partnership and explored many other possibilities. It soon became evident that we didn't have a lot of members with an extra $10,000 that they were willing to invest in such a building or plan. Consequently, that idea fell by the wayside. We also learned that there were VERY FEW women in Southeastern Connecticut making more than $20,000, if that, at that time.

Our first officers in the new formalized informal gathering were myself as President, Barbara Quinn, Vice President, Susan Ebersole, Treasurer and Barbara Kleeman, Secretary. Our luncheons were held at the Ship's Wheel on State Street, which was basically within walking distance for us. I recall that at some point, the Thames Club invited us to use the Club on a monthly basis but we would have to use the room downstairs. We really were not familiar with the Club at that time and inviting us to use the "downstairs room" sounded to us like "second class citizens" so we declined graciously and continued lunching at the Ship's Wheel, then Vauxhall Inn, then Holiday Inn. I don't recall the timing of the move to the Radisson Hotel perhaps when it opened approximately 10 years ago.

I DO KNOW that Rotary as a result of a U. S. Supreme Court decision in 1987 opened its membership to women and the Thames Club opened its membership to women in 1992. It was in 1987 when the position of Regional Manager for the Trust Department of Connecticut National Bank in New London opened and I applied for the position, having been assisting the manager for many years. The Bank at that time had a problem with promoting me into that position so they made me Acting Manager for four and a half months before making the official decision. In that four and a half months, senior management interviewed the community leaders to see if the New London community was ready for a woman in that position.

The biggest "hang-up" at the time was the fact that the Thames Club did not admit women and how was I going to interact with the professionals and do my job. Needless to say the community was very supportive and it was at that time that the New London Rotary Club invited me to join them and I remember saying to the head of the Trust Division that that to me was an indication that the male community accepted me. Of course, he had to agree and it wasn't long before the decision was made to promote me into that position, which I held until recently.

The Thames Club, for those of you who don't know about it, is a private social club established 126 years ago and is located on the corner of State and Washington Streets. The Club decided to open its membership to women in 1992 and is a delightful place for lunching with other business and professional people or a place where you can have a private luncheon with clients, etc. It is a very gracious club and I must say that I have learned that the "downstairs room" is a large function room conducive to meetings, whereas the other rooms of the Club are designed with small tables or the members oval table and are not conducive to large luncheon gatherings with speakers.

For the newer members and guests, the NETWORK has come a long way since its humble beginning. In 1986 a $500 scholarship was established in memory of Ellen Sherman, a network member, and the scholarship is presented to an East Lyme High School Senior; NETWORK members have been active participants in the Celebrity Luncheons sponsored by the Leukemia Society; the NETWORK has been one of many cosponsors of The Women and Jobs Conference at Mohegan Community College, now known as Three Rivers Community Technical College; the NETWORK established in November, 1990, an annual $1,000 scholarship for a female continuing student at Mohegan n/k/a Three Rivers; substantial contributions of food have been made to the United Way Labor Division Community Center Food Locker Program; and last but by far from least, is the ongoing support through adoption of the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut.

Memory fails me as to when the NETWORK voted to admit men but admitting men is a welcome addition to the goals and objectives of the NETWORK. At Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays the NETWORK has donated food and gifts for the residents of the battered women's shelter, Genesis House. A number of the NETWORK members sit on the Consortium for Women's Career Development and Training and provide career awareness to regional students. Network Associates n/k/a Network Workshops, an affiliate of this NETWORK, was designed as an opportunity for people to network for purposes of employment, mentoring, career enhancement and professional support.

We continue meeting monthly and continue with our primary goal of becoming acquainted with other professional and business men and women in an informal and congenial atmosphere. It is the way in which we assist each other in "networking" for our professional and personal enrichment."

NETWORK expresses its appreciation to Millie for compiling and contributing the above history to NETWORK's web site. For more information about Millie visit her web site at www.devineplanning.org.

Learn more about the Woman of the Year Award.

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