Just as women students adapted to changes in the social mores and physical structures in Hyde Park, so did a group of women in the University community whose status was increasingly ambiguous: the wives of male faculty members. Perhaps no woman in the University of Chicago community had a more ambiguous status than the faculty wife. They were unofficial philanthropists, caregivers, partners, research assistants, entertainers, muses, and more.
Professors' wives were a varied and visible group within the Hyde Park community. Often, these women had relocated to Chicago to accommodate their husbands' careers, and they formed close friendships with other faculty wives based on this shared experience. In 1935, a small group of faculty wives decided to plan an informal dinner to take place during their husbands' yearly dinner with the Board of Trustees. By the 1960s, the annual women's dinner had grown to include more than 400 professors' wives and a full-scale original theatrical production dramatizing various aspects of life for the faculty wife.
In their shows, faculty wives mixed confident messages about the essential role they played in their husbands' careers with insecurity about women's role within a rapidly changing institution. The 1970 show, a spoof of feminism on campus, ignited a firestorm of controversy among women students, women professors, and the faculty wives. In the 1970s, the faculty wives' dinner show began to seem an outdated relic as the faculty and student body included more women and the feminist movement demanded women's campus inclusion as individuals, rather than as men's companions. The dinner and show ended in 1980, the year the University selected its first woman president.
|4. Faculty Wives' Dinner Invitation, 1947. University of Chicago Faculty Wives' Dinners Records.
For the 1947 faculty wives show, entitled "Cat's Cabaret," faculty wives transformed the Quadrangle Club into the "Feline Club."
|6. Faculty Luncheon at Quad Club, 1958. Archival Photographic Files.
Faculty wives typically accompanied their husbands to departmental functions, which often merged the social and the academic.
|7. Songs, 1938. University of Chicago Faculty Wives' Dinners Records.
Early faculty wives dinners entertainment consisted of songs celebrating friendship and the wives' joy in each others' company.