The following article appeared in the September, 2006 issue of Washington Woman Magazine.
By Carrie Smoot
Like many newcomers, Jessica Moore of Silver Spring, MD, felt a bit out of place when she attended her first meeting of The Wednesday Morning Group (WMG) four years ago. “It’s just that feeling everyone gets in a new situation where everyone seems to know everyone else,” she remembers. “Fortunately, the awkwardness didn’t last long. Everyone made me feel welcome, and I always enjoyed the speakers - whatever the topic.”
But Moore wanted a way to get to know more of the group. When the treasurer position opened, she volunteered. Moore became chair this past year and started a mentoring program where one longtime member is partnered with a new person to take under his or her wing, making introductions and acclimating the person to the group. “Our members come from D.C., Maryland and Virginia. We have a male member, and several retired women have joined,” says Moore.
As WMG kicks off a new year of lectures on travel, health and fitness, current events, politics and more, the organization is accepting new members. Guests are always welcome.
"You get out of the group what you put into it,” Moore says. “We ask that participants bring snacks at least twice a session and attend at least nine meetings a session. Parents who are part of the baby-sitting co-op volunteer regularly. My oldest daughter always looked forward to what she called ‘snack time.’” Moore has two daughters—Emma, eight, and Kate, four. She’s expecting her third child in October and has returned to work part-time. “Women are given so many choices today in combining work and family,” she says. “That’s fantastic! When your first child is born, you don’t realize at first how hard it’s going to be to do both. There’s always a deep love for your children, and it especially pulls at you when you are away from them.”
Everyone involved with The Wednesday Morning Group finds much value in it. But members are divided on whether a similar group could exist outside Bethesda. A regular meeting place is crucial, then a time commitment and having access to speakers. “All it takes is a few people to get the ball rolling,” says Bonnie Beavers, a lawyer and executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics. When she was involved with The Wednesday Morning Group, she served as newsletter editor.
Since its founding in 1962, The Wednesday Morning Group has been a weekly haven from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. for stay-at-home moms craving adult interaction, friendship and interesting discussion topics. WMG follows the Montgomery County school calendar. While not affiliated with Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, WMG makes an annual donation.
Peg Peterson of Kensington, MD, was a former chair of The Wednesday Morning Group since its formal organization in the fall of 1963. A lot has changed. “At that time, the church had no nursery school for children under three, so we all took turns helping with child care and meeting responsibilities. Together, we all found speakers.” One gardening expert told his wife about the group, and so WMG gained another member.
Today, a WMG speaker attracts an audience of 70 to 80 people. When Peterson was active in it, the audience was 35 people, and they had a speaker one week and then a discussion, which brought everyone closer. She remembers that stay-at-home moms often felt even more isolated though they were very busy.
“Even when you can spend some time during the day with another mom in the neighborhood, as I could, your focus is always on the children,” Peterson says. “The Wednesday Morning Group allowed us a short time to relate to one another as adults. Women have better and more diverse educations today, and a lot more moms are choosing to stay home. In the 1980s, a lot of women felt social pressure to work outside the home,” Peterson says.
“The main purpose of the group was making friends and learning something. They felt it was good for their children, too. So many people have said over and over again that The Wednesday Morning Group kept them going and kept them sane. Some people met their best friends here,” Peterson says. “We truly filled a need."
To ensure that each member gets a chance to participate, members are limited to asking one question of the week’s speaker, without long anecdotes. “Washington has wonderful access to diverse speakers. Our members have excellent contacts and have done a great job in offering suggestions,” says Moore.
A friend of Beatrice Mowry, a Wednesday Morning Group member, invited her to speak at a meeting last spring. Mowry is the Chief of the Exhibits Design Division of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM). “I was intimidated when I saw the past speakers list, which included notable authors, politicians and businesspeople,” Mowry says. “I didn’t think anyone would be interested in hearing about what I do. But my friend reminded me that my audience was simply made up of moms whose kids love the Smithsonian and the National Air and Space Museum in particular. They know it, and they live it, taking their kids there all the time.” With help from a staff photographer who shot completely new material, Mowry gave a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum, reminding people of the NASM’s three facilities—Dulles, VA; Suitland, MD; and Washington, D.C. The questions fl owed.
“These women are very savvy,” says Dr. Esther Brimmer, deputy director and director of research at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at The Johns Hopkins University. Brimmer gave a talk on “Challenges in Transatlantic Relations.” “This was around the time that the Dubai ports situation was in the news, and everyone had lots of questions about NATO, foreign policy and the European Union,” Brimmer remembers. “Many women had worked on these issues in their careers, and were keeping current. They felt connected to these issues for various reasons—a spouse or family member’s work, that of a neighbor, etc.” As a group, Brimmer says she was pleased to have such a large turnout, and that the group was organized, clearly outlining requirements.
“Don’t base your decision to attend a meeting on whether you are interested in the topic,” says Bonnie Beavers. “You may be pleasantly surprised, and learn something new in the process. I particularly enjoyed the political speakers. Everyone was also very moved by a speaker’s account of organ donation within her family. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.” Some issues became dinner-table conversation fodder for her kids, now 11 and 13. Her current work schedule prevents her from attending WMG gatherings.
“I wish that I had known about The Wednesday Morning Group much earlier,” Beavers says. “When my kids were younger, I lived on Capitol Hill and had no support network like The Wednesday Morning Group. I’m trying to build their sense of community into my own family.”
Beavers’ colleague, Terri Silver, has also been involved with The Wednesday Morning Group off and on since her daughters were born. Meetings were within walking distance from her then home. She lives in another part of Bethesda now. “I’ve met a lot of interesting women over the years. Many of us came up through the ranks while raising our children.” Though she still enjoys some speakers, Silver finds that as her daughters have grown, she, too, has outgrown some topics, such as child care. Silver is making the transition from stay-at-home mom to employee.
Carrie Smoot is a Northern Virginia freelance writer.
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