International Women’s Club: 50 Years of Welcoming Diversity

By Ashton Shurson

A typical member of Iowa City’s International Women’s Club (IWC) is difficult to define.

With roughly 140 members representing nearly 50 countries, and ranging from young mothers to a woman in her 90s, it’s easy to see why.

The club was founded when local women realized the wives of international UI scholars were arriving in Iowa with no avenue to be engaged in their local surroundings.

For the Americans, the club offers an opportunity to reach out and provide support to women who are making new homes in Iowa as well as a chance to learn about different cultures.

“When people come here from another country, it’s important to find a group you feel comfortable with,” said Joanne Madsen, the club’s treasurer since the early 1970s.

Madsen joined the IWC when she moved to Iowa City with her husband from Los Angeles after he accepted a teaching position in the UI’s department of political science.

Members are often initially interested in the English classes taught twice a week at First Mennonite Church in Iowa City but then become involved in other club activities.

The club meets for potlucks and has specialty areas of interest including a coffee group, cooking group, crafts club, supper club, lunch bunch and the excursion group that travels to local sites.

In May of 2009, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary by meeting at the Coralville Public Library to share stories and photos gathered over the years.

Sophie Charles, an IWC board member and its representative at UI’s International Programs, says that, though the club functions largely independently from the university, IWC provides valuable support and connections for these newly-arrived female students, scholars, and spouses.

“IWC is able to reach out to women new to the Iowa City and UI communities who might otherwise be fairly isolated,” Charles said.

Most women are only in Iowa City for the duration of their involvement at the university. Among international members there is a turnover rate of about two-thirds every year. However, some women have been members for decades.

Though their time here is short, many international women form lasting friendships. Charles knows of a group of Japanese women that met in the club and now occasionally visit one another in Japan.

For Madsen, a friendship she made early on with a Korean woman has continued to this day. The former member now lives in Seattle and Madsen makes a point to visit every time she is in the area.

“It’s a great pleasure to have a friendship that has lasted for decades,” Madsen said.

Charles feels the IWC will continue to flourish and more friendships will form.

“It’s a force of really committed women and volunteers that make this club thrive,” Charles said.

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