AWG History & Interview with Dora

Speech given by Martine M in May 2006, the

twentieth anniversary of AWG



When Dora T came to Montpellier after living 10 years in Asia, her main entertainment was to visit her mother and her friends (75 and +).  After a while she missed the opportunity to meet a lot of people of different cultures and decided to start a club or association. After enquiries at the Prefecture of Montpellier she was told that for a legal association she needed to have three things: a President, a Treasurer and Statute. Dora needed more people, so she put ads in the local newspaper and on the American Library bulletin board. Then she waited for the phone to ring, got several answers, but no one who wanted to take on the responsibility of being Treasurer. One day, somebody by the name of Susan R called to ask what this position would involve and said she was ready to accept. Thanks to Susan, Dora had now a President (herself) and a Treasurer. Thus on April 30, 1986 AWG was founded.


Betsy B was Vice- President but had to leave shortly after that. Soon two more ladies showed up, Peggy F and Peggy R, who held different positions at different times. And the group steadily grew. Lidya A and Martine M signed up as members through the Foire aux Associations held at the Peyrou at that time. The group participated in this event for several years.


Of course as soon as we were a little more numerous we needed a Newsletter. We spent quite some time finding out a proper name.  Finally, since we were living in a wine-growing area, we decided to call it, “The Grapevine”. During these pioneering times the newsletter was printed on an old typewriter and had only one or two pages. Later with the computer it became thicker (14 to 16 pages).  Several of us worked on it together and we had a lot of fun printing gluing, editing and of course chatting.  Still later it became less convivial as one person could do the job.


In 1987, AWG joined FAWCO with Peggy R as our Representative.  She took several positions within FAWCO serving as our faithful and enthusiastic link with the organisation. Members involved with FAWCO went year after year to the FAWCO conventions held all over Europe and the world.


Our meeting room was generously lent to us by the American Library, rue Saint Louis, where we met until it moved to another location. Our “cozy” room was waiting for us every Thursday afternoon. We shared tea and goodies brought by some members. Sometimes we had a member speaker tell us about her skills, sometimes it was an outsider. Often during these talks we were holding a needle or gluing or stuffing to prepare all the hand made items we sold every year at our Holiday Bazaar.  The last one was held in 2004, but with only a few handicrafts, compared to the “old days”.  At that time, the Christmas sale was always a big event and the money collected went to one of our numerous charities.


We were also wracking our brains for fundraising activities such as game nights, dinner parties, musical events, baking sale.


One of our aims was to have activities suitable to every category of members: children’s activities such as the Easter egg hunt, Halloween, theatre.  We also had a weekly morning coffee klatsch, evening talks so that husbands could attend, stitch and bitch, you guess what for, bachelor’s quick lunch. Dora was also in charge of Brush up your French, thus helping many of our American members who spoke little or no French. Then in 1996, Francine F had the wonderful idea of starting up a literacy group called the Alpha Group. It is still in good working shape under Carol M’s supervision. This group teaches French, reading, writing to illiterate women most of whom are North African.  Alpha is always in need of new volunteers.


In 1996 our group organised a conference of other American women’s group in France and from around the Mediterranean with several workshops. To honour our guests a cocktail was offered by the Mairie de Montpellier which shows how well we are integrated and appreciated in the city.


So this is just a part of our history.  We are proud of our accomplishments, thanks to the energy, enthusiasm and help of all the volunteers who have given so freely of their time.


Unfortunately, our Founder Dora is currently in Texas and cannot be here with us today.  But her message to us all is : “Enjoy the celebration!”


AWG:  the early years


Katharine C. spoke to Dora T, founder of the American Women’s Group of Languedoc Roussillon in March 2009.  Katharine asked her what prompted her to begin the club.


Dora had lived abroad, and participated in a club comprising a wonderful group of women.  So on arrival in France she thought, well, why not here?  She thought that children lacked the opportunity in France to celebrate American holidays such as Thanksgiving and July 4th. 


Dora and her husband Morris had decided to move to France, and vacation in the United States.  Dora was spending a lot of time with her mother, and wanted an opportunity to meet women of her own age.   She placed some ads in local newspapers, and Susan Re. responded.  Susan had been a member of a women’s club in Brazil and volunteered to be the Treasurer.  Swiftly following Susan came Betsy Bell as Vice President, and then our two Peggy’s.  


I asked Dora how she managed to get the club organized relative to the bureaucracy and administration required by France’s association laws.  Fortunately, she has good French.  At the time, local papers would put an ad with a few lines in English (now they won’t). 


In its early days, someone remarked that the club would not be sustainable, but in fact there were 20 members after the first year.  It was a time when IBM was active in the area, and 8 member families were on assignment with IBM. 


Dora began the club with board meetings and executive meetings, a protocol that we have maintained. 


When the club began, Dora and her executive team were looking for a location, and her dream was to have a permanent room for the club.  Dora was speaking about AWG one day with Kevin, the assistant to Françoise Vilain, the librarian at the American Library.  She hoped to place an ad for the club within the Library.  She told him that her big concern was having a place to meet; Kevin suggested that the Library would be a perfect location.  Standing beside him was Bill Bratten, and he agreed that the Library would be perfect.  Bill was happy that his mother would have a club to attend – an irony for Dora, since she was attempting to establish friendships of her own age and yet the first potential member was of her mother’s generation. And so it was.  The American Library at the time was located on rue St Louis, and people dropped by all the time, they could sit down over a cup of coffee, there was a place for children.  The Library was a big help in making AWG successful, a place for people to go. 


After the Library moved, AWG no longer had a room of its own. 


I asked Dora what she regarded as AWG’s greatest accomplishment?  Her response was the ability to allow American women, many just newly arrived, many with no French, not to be lost.   It gave her and her early colleagues joy and satisfaction to see these women flourish in a new culture.  She remains grateful to those members who pitched in and worked hard to make the club a success.   She loves reading about current club activities; the club remains her baby. 


To Dora:  salutations and felicitations, and the everlasting thanks of AWG members, past, present and future.   


And to all those founding members – Susan R, Peggy R, Peggy F, Lydia A, Martine M – your constancy is commendable.