Who Are the Pembroke Center Associates

The Pembroke Center Associates are a group of alumnae, parents, and friends who support the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University.

Membership donations make it possible for the Pembroke Center to support Brown faculty, students, and postdoctoral fellows, the Pembroke Seminar and other research forums, publications, courses, and archives that are the lifeblood of innovative research and teaching excellence. To enhance the work of the Pembroke Center, the Associates undertake a variety of initiatives to support students and faculty, engage alumnae/i, and offer the entire Brown community opportunities to become involved.

Programs – The Associates organize faculty lectures, panel discussions, commencement forums, and events for the Brown community. Events are offered on campus and regionally for students, faculty, parents, alumnae/i and the general public.

Pembroke Center Archives – The Associates support two archives within the Brown University Library. The Christine Dunlap Farnham Archive documents the history of Brown alumnae and the women of Rhode Island. The Feminist Theory Archive features the work of scholars who have brought feminism into the vanguard of academic research. Both archival collections include paper documents, recorded oral histories, digital documents, and physical artifacts that are of great interest to scholars from around the world.

Publications – The Associates produce a variety of materials in print and online, including newsletters, annual reports, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and special projects celebrating Brown women's history.

Research Grants and Prizes – The Associates offer research and internship grants and prizes to support undergraduate and graduate research and reward excellent scholarship.

Early History

The Center’s name was chosen “to honor Pembroke College and to indicate continuity with its long tradition of educational excellence for women.” Shortly after the Center’s founding in the spring of 1981, Christine Dunlap Farnham’48 initiated the effort to develop an active alumnae component to support programs to complement the academic research mission of the Center and to help secure the new Center’s future. Although the Center had received generous funding from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, it was understood that these grants were seed money. In order for the Pembroke Center to grow and endure, it would need strong institutional support for its ambitious fledging research program, its new women’s studies concentration, and programs and projects yet to come.

Pembroke Center Director Joan Wallach Scott and Associate Director Elizabeth Weed agreed with Farnham that alumnae leadership would be essential to success in obtaining this support. Outreach to alumnae began and Nancy L. Buc’65 agreed to co-chair the newly formed Pembroke Center Associates project with Susan Davis ’63. The first meeting of the group took place March 11, 1982. Even before that first meeting, the project had begun to receive gifts from enthusiastic alumnae.

The early Associates were part of an advisory board consisting of alumnae, friends, and scholars involved in women’s research. Their charge was to assist in planning activities and to establish an archives of material related to the history of women at Brown and Pembroke College, and – because Brown women have contributed so much to the local community – of Rhode Island women’s organizations and community activities.
Letter from Nancy L. Buc '65 to Doris Reed '27, asking her to help with fundraising efforts for the new Pembroke Center. Click on image above to see a full-size PDF of the original.

Membership Grows

By the fall of 1982, the Pembroke Center Associates had evolved into an organization chaired by Chris Farnham. By 1983, enough supporters of the Center had joined the Associates to justify the establishment of the Associates Council, to coordinate the activities of the Associates, help publicize the work and resources of the Pembroke Center, and expand the base of the Center’s support.

By the end of October 1983, 283 donors had contributed $10,172.50 in membership gifts to support the Pembroke Center. In addition, a donor stepped forward to make the first contribution of $1,000 to the Pembroke Center endowment fund, although the campaign to raise endowment funds had not yet begun.

Preserving Women’s History through Archives

The original application for funding for the Archives named as goals, “first to preserve and transmit the history of this important institution [Pembroke College] for women’s higher education and second, to involve Brown undergraduates, particularly women, in the process of uncovering and understanding a hidden aspect of their institution’s history.” The project began in September 1982, with Brown students conducting oral histories of alumnae. There were plans also to catalogue archival materials, to publish a guide for researchers and other interested parties and to write and publish a new history of Pembroke College.

In 1984, Chris Farnham died tragically in an automobile accident. A group of her friends and her husband established a committee to raise the funds that would establish what had been the Pembroke Archives as a memorial to Chris. The Christine Dunlap Farnham Archives Fund, with generous help from Martha ’58, PHB’82 hon., LHD’85 hon. P’87, GP’13, GP’14, and Artemis Joukowsky ’55, LLD’85 hon., P’87, GP 13, GP’14 allowed for the employment of an archivist who spent two years researching and cataloging materials relating to women hidden throughout the Brown University Library’s special collections. She devoted another year to adding to the existing collection and compiling a 500-page guide to the Farnham Archives. Items continue to be added to the Archives including oral histories from alumnae from each 25th and 50th reunion class and papers and memorabilia donated by alumnae/i. In recent years, the Associates mounted an exhibit from the Archives in the John Hay Library and raised funds to digitize the Pembroke Record – the student newspaper of Pembroke College in Brown University.

In 2009, the Pembroke Center dedicated the Feminist Theory Archives. This collection features the work of scholars who brought feminism into the vanguard of academic research and transformed their fields. The collection preserves the legacies of prominent feminist thinkers. Its mission is to collect, arrange, describe, preserve, and make accessible the work of leading feminist theorists beginning in the 1960s. The archives now include the papers of fourteen scholars, with more than a hundred scholars committed to donating their papers in the future.


In the fall of 1983, the Center began presenting Alumnae Forums. These programs bring alumnae to campus to discuss their professional experiences with students, faculty, and other alumnae. Programs touched on many professions including the law, publishing, science, medicine, social change, journalism, and business.

Two-day workshops have featured topics such as dual-career families, the mission of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, women’s health, and reproductive rights. The Associates also continue to sponsor regional programs off campus. Past topics include children’s literature, the mass media, women in politics, hip-hop music, and reproductive rights.

In 1991-92, the University celebrated the 100th anniversary of the admission of women to Brown. The Pembroke Center and the Associates were active participants in the commemorative events. The Pembroke Center’s role “in continuing the mission of Pembroke College” was discussed at a forum, “The Pembroke Center: Educating Women Today.” The Center also co-sponsored (with the Brown University Library and a grant from the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities) an exhibit, lecture series, and dramatic revue, “A Matter of Simple Justice: One Hundred Years of Women’s Higher Education in Rhode Island, 1892-1992.” In addition, The Search for Equity: Women at Brown University, 1891-1991, edited by historian Polly Welts Kaufman ’51, a charter member of the Associates Council, was published by the Trustees of the University.

In 2006, the Pembroke Center Associates inaugurated the Leadership for Change through Education Award to recognize women in any field who, nationally and at the grass-roots level, succeed in changing lives by helping others to see the world differently and offering new ways of thinking about seemingly unsolvable problems. National award recipients include: Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund; Margot Stern Strom, Founder and Executive Director, Facing History and Ourselves; and, Wendy Kopp, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Teach For America. Local award recipients include: Sister Mary Reilly, founder of Dorcas Place and Sophia Academy; H. Terri Adelman, Executive Director, Volunteers in Providence Schools; and, Hillary Salmons, Executive Director, Providence After School Alliance.   

The Pembroke Center Associates have a longstanding tradition of presenting commencement forums on some of the most engaging issues of the day. Topics have included: women of the 1950s, myths of gender, healthcare, political correctness, feminism and families, education, religion, sex education, the economy, human trafficking, and the mass media. The Associates also nominate candidates to receive honorary degrees, which are presented during the University’s commencement ceremony.

Philanthropic Support: A Continuing Tradition

From 1982-86, significant grants from the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rockefeller Foundation supported the Center. Recognizing that such grants were not predictable, the Associates decided it was time to build an endowment to ensure the Center’s work in the future.

Although small sums of money had been donated to the Center’s endowment since its founding, the Center needed an endowment large enough to support postdoctoral fellowships, research seminars, lecture series, publications, and other activities vital to the Center’s work. In 1986, the Associates formally launched a campaign to raise $3 million for the Center’s endowment. Marie J. Langlois’63, LLD’92 hon. chaired the Endowment Committee. In 1999, the Pembroke Center surpassed its $3 million endowment goal, an achievement that would not have been possible without the direct philanthropic support and leadership of the Associates.

In 2003, Brown launched the Boldly Brown campaign to support President Ruth J. Simmons’ Plan for Academic Enrichment. The Pembroke Center was formally included in the campaign, with the goal of raising endowment funds to support new research initiatives, student research fellowships, and other critical programs. The Associates played a vital role by making and soliciting Langlois Sherman Award: Liz Sherman'77, P'06, P'09 receives an award from Marie Langlois'63 for her leadership of the Pembroke ChallengeLanglois Sherman Award: Liz Sherman'77, P'06, P'09 receives an award from Marie Langlois'63 for her leadership of the Pembroke Challengegifts, hosting events, and producing special publications on behalf of the Pembroke Center.

In 2010, Elizabeth Munves Sherman ’77 P’06 P’09 and David Sherman ’79 P’06 P’09 launched the Pembroke Challenge to engage the wider Brown community to raise $1,000,000 in support of innovative research initiatives at the Pembroke Center. The endowment will support the Pembroke Center’s efforts to bring together interdisciplinary groups of Brown researchers and colleagues at other institutions to investigate the complexities of social change. Areas of research interest include medicine, science, public policy, reproduction, and the migration of people across borders.   

Although a growing endowment is critical to the Pembroke Center’s future, the membership gifts that the Associates make every year also provide essential support. More than 500 alumnae/i, parents, faculty, and friends are members of the Pembroke Center Associates. Their ongoing support is vital to the Center’s fiscal stability.

Leadership for the Future

The Pembroke Center links Brown’s present, past, and future. The Pembroke Center Associates’ work supports these linkages by advancing its research agenda on social change, supporting students interested in studying gender and difference, and providing alumnae/i with opportunities to remain intellectually engaged with the Center’s work.

Associates from Brown’s alumnae/i body and friends represent the decades from the 1930s to the present. Associates are also Brown parents, students, staff, community members, and friends. They live all across the United States, and around the world. They work in a variety of fields have varied interests. What this diverse group has in common is an interest in issues of concern to women—their education, their professional opportunities, the quality of their lives, and the larger cultural, economic, social, and international issues that affect us all.

Our members share a desire to support the Pembroke Center, the premier program for teaching and research on women at Brown University.

Updated November 30, 2012