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Mills hosts “Golden Women Of ’56” reunion

Bruce Cook

The Alumnae Association of Mills College held its “Golden Women of ’56” reunion dinner Sept. 14 night, kicking off a weekend of activities for reuniting Mills alumnae.

Members from classes as far back as 1941 and as recent as 2001 attended the dinner.

Guests nearly filled the Faculty Lounge, where they were surrounded by photographs and sat at marked tables. President Janet Holmgren mingled with guests, shaking hands and exchanging words before addressing the entire lounge. “We are so proud to have you back at Mills,” she said, adding that Mills is still committed to “the education and empowerment of women-that’s what we are about and what we will always be about.”

“Reunion is an opportunity for alumnae to reconnect with the Mills community and college in Oakland. . . Events are geared to engage alumnae and celebrate Mills,” said Thomasina Woida, president of the AAMC and member of the Class of 1980.

Reunion is an annual event for all Mills alumnae, but this year’s focus was the Class of 1956, as this is their 50th anniversary reunion.

“Being a bright female was a handicap [back then],” said Sue McClelland,’56. “I wanted to go into business. There were no women in business back then.” McClelland went on to become the first woman vice president of a private company in Modesto, CA.
She said that Mills women should “enjoy a totally unique educational experience.”

When asked about feminism in the 1950s, McClelland said that “feminism was a dirty word…the issue was empowerment of women, and Mills was definitely ahead of its time.”

“We wore out the professors,” said Ardie Riedel and Pam Webster, ’56, who were the only two Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) majors in their class. Riedel, a self-proclaimed “little country girl” said that the “social experience” and Mills’ ethnic diversity had a big effect on her.

“We sit down and hope everyone has big name tags on, and we have our meals together, but when we start talking, it’s as if no time has passed…I don’t think any of us can believe it’s our 50th,” said Webster.

When asked what they would like to say to current Mills students, Webster expressed disappointment over some of the Mills traditions that have faded over the years, but said that she hoped Mills students would all “go away with wonderful relationships with the faculty.”

The Reunion Committee meets once a month for most of the year to plan activities for Mills alumnae, which include the reunion dinner, tours of the campus, presentation of the Class Gift and other activities.