Reading group provides space for alumnae and women on campus


Media: Ellen Nelson

Patty Bell and Andrea Chirieleison decorate a Christmas tree at the WOTH Tree Trimming and Ornament Exchange Party.

Women walk past the Dell with books in hand and enter the Boyer Gallery, their usual meeting place. Women on the Hill book group has been around since the 1980s. Named a “book group” instead of “book club” to feel more inclusive, the community started with Winifred O’Shaughnessy, the mother of Senior Master Teacher of the Arts Ellen Nelson and former instructor of the now-defunct reading department, a reading support group that later expanded into an academic support department.  

“After the Women’s Club was no longer an official organization, there was a loss of getting together as a group, and the Book Club just naturally filled the bill. It just grew from a desire to share ideas and thoughts with other women,” O’Shaughnessy stated in an email. 

Nelson also noted that “it was, in the 1980s, a predominantly male environment.”  

“I think my mom just felt like we needed some girl time, but intellectual girl time,” Nelson said. 

This book group is a place where women who work or live at Hill can come together. Nelson first joined the group in 1987 and has since been an avid participant. She enjoys reading nonfiction or historical fiction as they are books where she learns something new, but in a creative way. 

That desire to share thoughts with other women has continued to today, as new members join the Book Group such as Lauren Mellander, Instructor of English. She joined last year, in addition to her first year at Hill. How she joined was by finding out about it in an email.  

“There’s a Woman of The Hill email listserv, which I was added on to even before I started working here and saw the Book Group in one of those emails,” Mellander explained. 

Women on The Hill’s Book Group is for “female identifying faculty, staff, and faculty spouses to get together and meet up once a month if we’re available,” Hobart’s Run Administrative Coordinator Jacqueline Steinman stated. If most are available, then they meet once a month to hold a discussion of the book currently being read. Every spring of the previous year, members gather to choose books to read for the next year.  

“Last year I was the first person ever to suggest a graphic novel for the Book Group,” Steinman stated. 

Darlene Bainbridge, administrative assistant to the dean of students, looks over and approves the book suggestions. She has been a member of the book club since she started working for Hill in 2019.  

“I help organize the list of book choices for the year and decide what dates will hold the book group discussions,” Bainbridge explained.  

The discussions generally last about two hours, taking place mainly in the Boyer Gallery, faculty houses, or even off campus. In December, the tradition is that they read a short story, with a mini gift swap at the end of the discussion. 

The Women on The Hill Book Group recently held a discussion on December 2 about “Rage is a Wolf,” a young adult novel by K.T. Mather, which they just previously finished. Mather used to be an English teacher at Hill.  

The Book Group has also started a book called “The Dressmakers of Auschwitz” by Lucy Adlington, which they will read over the next month.  

When asked what is most enjoyed about being a part of Women on The Hill’s Book Group, Bainbridge added, “I would say how it exposes me to different genres of reading. Part of why I got involved was to branch out and to not continue to read the same type of books.”  

Mellander mentioned that she most enjoys the comradery among the fellow women in the book group.  

“The women in the book group are wonderful, and it has allowed me to spend more time with people from different departments, who serve this community as a whole,” Mellander said.  

Other members feel the same way, echoing Mellander’s sentiments.  

“It really has become sort of a sisterhood, and it is a very special group of women to be a part of,” Bainbridge said.