The Washington Wellesley Club and the1968 Washington DC Riots

A short piece about the Washington Wellesley Club’s actions during the 1968 riots in DC.

Alums and friends of the college may be interested to know something about actions taken by the Washington Wellesley Club during the 1968 Washington DC riots.


Starting in 1961, the Washington Wellesley Club had a special interest group, the Experiment in Mutual Understanding, which brought together foreign students at Washington area college and universities with Wellesley alumnae and friends/spouses for supper provided by the alumnae and a speaker on some topic of national interest, followed by discussion and conversation.  

A History of the Washington Wellesley Club:  One Hundred Years of Dedication, written by the late Alice C. Cole ’42 and published by the club in 1988, describes the group:

In 1961-62 the Club instituted the Experiment in Mutual Understanding, organized and chaired by Eliese Strahl Cutler ’39, WWC president from 1964-1966.  With the assistance of the Foreign Student Advisor’s office at Howard University in Washington, DC,12 students were selected to meet with the Wellesley Club committee once a month for supper together and a discussion of a topic that would enhance the students’ understanding of the U.S. system of government and way of life.  In 1962-63 there were 25 students and the group totaled 67, including spouses.  The program was regarded in Washington as one of the best for foreign students, who came from all over the world, and close associations were established. The Wellesley committee was able to be of real help to a number of the student participants over the years, but for all it was an enriching intercultural experience. (pp. 65-66)

Never was that “real help” more important than during the 1968 riots in Washington.  Linda-Lee Reiss Freeman ’57, one of the leaders of the group at the time, recalls the efforts of the Wellesley members during the turmoil of April 1968 to stay in touch with the foreign student members of the group, meeting their needs and trying to reassure them on an individual basis.  These efforts were made more difficult by curfews and the riots themselves. 

Alice Cole’s history reports on p. 69:  “In April 1968 the Executive Board of the Washington Wellesley Club voted money as an expression of its concern for the Emergency Fund of the Health and Welfare Council of the District to help people affected by the April riots following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, assassination.  In May 1968, Mayor Walter E. Washington, the District’s first black mayor, spoke at a Club meeting…and thanked the Club for its response to inner city needs.”

Rhoda Morss Trooboff ’67, WWC president from 1978-80, notes:  [This chapter in WWC history] is an excellent demonstration of how wonderful the Washington Wellesley community is and how much over the decades it lives up to the College’s directive that we conduct ourselves “non ministrari, sed ministrare.” 

Katherine (Kitsy) Curtis Rigler ’61