Founded in 1965, the Women’s Society of Washington University (WSWU) was established to enhance mutual understanding and interaction between Washington University in St. Louis and the St. Louis community. Today, over 500 members of the society serve as the university’s ambassadors in the community and also provide unique services to students on the Washington University campus.

The society engages women in the life of the university through education, scholarships, student projects and leadership. It carries out its mission through its support of university programs, full-tuition scholarships and lectures.

To forward its mission, in 1966 the Women’s Society initiated several small businesses to serve students, faculty and staff. The Bear Necessities shop, located in Umrath House on the South 40, is now thriving both as a valuable service and as an enterprise that supplies a large portion of the proceeds needed to support scholarships and sponsor student projects.

Outreach in St. Louis

WSWU has also taken many significant steps to solidify the relationship between St. Louis and the university.

In 1976, the Women’s Society established a scholarship endowment, which funds annual two-year, full-tuition scholarships for students transferring from St. Louis Community College. This scholarship was later renamed the Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholarship in honor of Mrs. William H. Danforth’s 24 years of service to the university as first lady.

Connections with the University

Also supported are the Women’s Society Lecture Series, which showcases distinguished Washington University faculty; the annual Adele Chomeau Starbird Lecture, which features an accomplished woman of national prominence; and the Harriet K. Switzer Leadership Award, which recognizes graduating senior women.

The Women’s Society continues to enhance its support of students and programs at Washington University through its funding of many campus projects. In 2021-22, the society granted $18,500 to 10 university projects, including:

  • Activating a Multilingual Family Lending Library 
  • African Film Festival 
  • Bare Mail Program
  • Black Anthology 
  • Catalyst for Change 
  • Chemistry Tournament
  • Civic Engagement Week
  • Made to Model
  • Philanthropy Lab 
  • 31st Annual Washington University Pow Wow 

Many of these projects are open to the public.  We will include details in upcoming newsletters.  In the meantime, you can search for more information about a particular project on the university’s website at

Milestones In Our History

Founded in 1965
1966Opened Bear Necessities Shop, providing funds for scholarships and student projects.
1976Established the Women’s Society Scholarship, an annual two-year full-tuition scholarship, awarded to outstanding St. Louis Community College students (now known as the Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholarship).
1986Initiated the “Town & Gown” Lecture Series for WSWU members, featuring Washington University’s talented faculty (now known as the Women’s Society Lecture Series).
1988Established the Adele Starbird Lecture, featuring a nationally renowned speaker each year in honor of Adele Chomeau Starbird, Washington University’s dean of women from 1931-1959.
1998Initiated the Women’s Society Leadership Award for outstanding senior women (now known as the Harriet K. Switzer Leadership Award).
2004Launched the annual “Composing a Life” panel event for women students.
2007Awarded two full-time Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholarships.
2009Moved Bear Necessities to its new home in Umrath House.
2015Commemorated the founding of the society (in March 1965) by holding three 50th anniversary celebratory events for members and their guests while raising dollars for the scholarship endowment and adding over 120 new members to the organization.