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Depending on how you look at it, the Wellesley College Club of Los Angeles was either 24 years late or one year early. The club started to celebrate its centennial anniversary in 2020, but soon after the year’s kickoff event, WCLA board member Avanti Prasanna ’17 got curious.
“Someone made a comment saying they weren’t sure when the club even started,” Avanti says. The Alumnae Association put the founding of the club in 1920, but it didn’t have a specific start date. “There was no real concrete evidence, so for some reason, I thought I could Google it,” she laughs. Several searches later, Avanti realized that she was finding references to the club prior to 1920, going all the way back to the late 1800s. She switched to digging into the Wellesley digital repository, and that’s when she found it: a brief mention in The Wellesley Magazine published April 18, 1896. Avanti then emailed the WCLA club president: “I think we’re celebrating the wrong thing.”
Turns out, they were. “A very enthusiastic Wellesley meeting was held in Los Angeles on the afternoon of March 28,” the magazine notice reads. “The coming together of Wellesley people in this far-away land, across the continent from Alma Mater, has proven so enjoyable in the past two or three meetings held, that on this occasion it was decided to form a Southern California Wellesley Club.” The Wellesley Club of Los Angeles, along with clubs from San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Pasadena, has its roots in the Southern California Wellesley Club, which was founded in 1896 … meaning its 125th anniversary would be in 2021.
“We were flummoxed,” says Lori Dreischmeier ’86, then president of WCLA. They had structured 2020 to be a year of celebrating the centennial milestone, which turned out not to be a milestone after all. The club then reached out to the other three clubs with the news and formed the 125th anniversary committee to tackle getting the College to officially change the start date for the club and to make plans to mark the historic year.
“All four clubs have gathered together to honor this, so when we do the 125th, it will be with all four clubs and not just Los Angeles,” Lori says. “It’s really exciting to draw together and feel united in this history.”
The clubs are marking the anniversary in a variety of ways, with the pandemic keeping things still a bit unsettled. Work is already underway for a 125th anniversary magazine that will highlight the “lost years” and include profiles of early club members that Avanti discovered in her research. In addition, “our goal is to have 125 profiles of current alums in Southern California,” Lori says. The publication will be online primarily, although the committee hopes to be able to do a limited print run. They are also producing a commemorative t-shirt, and at the time of publication, still hoped to be able to do some kind of in-person celebration of the anniversary and this historic discovery.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Avanti says. “I’m just glad we could find this now. I’m curious how many other clubs might have their own histories that they don’t know about.”