The Southeastern Connecticut Women’s NETWORK
“No thank you, men, we will do this for ourselves.”
The year was 1976 and Millie Divine had a vision for professional businesswomen like herself. As Divine remembers it, “I was a new trust officer at a bank in New London. If my male boss wanted to have lunch with me, we'd have to go to the local ‘greasy spoon’ because he was not allowed to take me to the Thames Club, the men-only organization that was just across State Street.”
In those days the men's clubs, if they even allowed women in the building, usually required them to enter through the back door. Women were not allowed to hang their coats in the main coatroom. Women were also not allowed to join such organizations as Rotary, Lions or Kiwanis. And while women's service organizations were trying to meet the need, most met in the evening, not at breakfast or lunch as did the men's clubs. It just wasn’t as convenient.
Divine remembers that her boss used to tease her about marching in front of the Club for admittance. “One day I said to him, ‘Fred, I don't want IN the Thames Club! What I want is the same thing as, or better than, the Thames Club.’ He said if that’s what I wanted, I’d have to start it myself.” And that is exactly what she did. And the Southeastern Connecticut Women's Network was born.
She started talking with other professional women, meeting for one-hour lunches on a monthly basis with the idea of sharing professional experiences, setbacks, goals and hopes for the future. The group grew quietly and slowly to approximately 40 members in 1978, which is when the members decided to formalize and develop a purpose and goals. After discussions over several months, the membership developed its mission statement:
"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."
Once formalized, the group met for lunch at a restaurant on State Street. “I recall that at some point, the Thames Club invited us to use a room downstairs,” Divine says. “Inviting us to use the ‘downstairs room’ sounded to us like ‘second class citizens’ so we declined graciously and continued on with our own plans.”
As the group grew, it required larger and larger facilities. Today the Network has grown to approximately 180 members from a diverse range of businesses and professions, and offers both women and men an inclusive and supportive forum for networking, knowledge and education.
As profiled on March 11, 2010, GRACE magazine website: www.graceforwomen.com