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Exert from
A History of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, The First One Hundred Years

by Phillips M. Street (as published in Cassinia No. 63 1988-1989 Centennial Edition)


Article III of the original Constitution stated that the members "shall be persons who are interested in ornithology considered in its widest sense." Women, therefore, were not specifically barred from membership in the early years except by tradition. There is a comment in the scrapbook that in 1891 there was a serious discussion of female membership but "the record shows that the question was apparently 'laid on the table' where it has since remained." And here it remained for some sixty years.

A women's club, the Spencer F. Baird Ornithological Club, was organized in Philadelphia in 1900 with the blessing and support of Stone. He and other D.V.O.C. members were frequent speakers at its meetings, but, after an enthusiastic beginning, interest waned, and the club eventually folded.

An entire meeting was devoted to the question in November 1951. A committee had been appointed for the purpose of proposing a change in the Constitution. After spirited discussion a vote was taken. The stand-patters not only won the day with enough votes to keep the status quo, but succeeded in making it official and not just implied by having the word "male" inserted in Article II so that it read that the members "shall be male persons."

A smoldering fire flares up into flame occasionally, and this was no exception. A flare-up in late 1974 resulted in the appointment of another committee to reconsider the matter. Its report in January 1975 gave the pros and cons and the comments of other clubs, and arguments were heard from many members. A vote by ballot followed, and the results were 14 votes for admitting women, 35 against and 2 abstaining.

A chink in the armor occurred that December when the Linnaean Society sent us Helen Hays as their exchange speaker with a talk on Great Gull Island. It was decided to make this meeting a "Ladies Night." The attendance, 70 persons, was at least one-third greater than normal.

All was relatively quiet until the early 1980s, when the pressure once more became intense. Many able birding couples did not belong to the D.V.O.C. because of the restriction, and other members lost interest because their wives could not accompany them to meetings or on field trips. There was a veiled threat that a new society similar to the D.V.O.C. might be organized which would include both sexes. And there was the undeniable fact, admitted to grudgingly by a few die-hards, that a female birder is just as proficient as a male. After many long and heated discussions, a committee was appointed to propose a change in the Constitution and present it to the membership. This it did on November 4, 1982. The entire meeting was devoted to the debate and vote. The word "male" was deleted from the Constitution by a vote of 57 to 10. The battle was finally won.

At the annual meeting on January 6,1983, Kate Brethwaite, Mary Brokaw, Helen McWilliams, Naomi Murphy and Cynthia Uptegraft became the first women elected, soon to be followed by many more. They have put new enthusiasm into the Club and greatly increased the attendance at meetings andon field trips. Barbara Haas now serves as the Club's treasurer, and Sandra Sherman produces and edits the Philadelphia Larus, our newsletter.

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