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Member Dorothy 'Dot' Shaw '52 describes the College as 'a life-changing event'

Members of The Book Group, which meets across southeastern Connecticut, pride themselves on the focus and depth of their discussions – whether they’re talking about contemporary novels like The Namesake or classics like To Kill a Mockingbird. But recently Christine Hammond led the women a bit off-topic.

Once the members found out that Hammond’s husband, Ulysses, is vice president for administration at the College, others began to chat about their own Connecticut College connections.

Though the group had been meeting since 1965, it was only then that members realized just how many of them are linked to the College.

“The connections are really coincidental,” said Dorothy “Dot” Shaw ’52.

The 12-member, all-women group includes five alumnae – Kay Ferraro Whritner MA’76, Judith Read Tucker ’78, Mary-Zita Flaherty Smith ’53, Sylvia Gundersen Dorsey ’52 and Shaw; Professor Emeritus of Economics, Ruby Turner Morris; and other women who have either worked at the College or are tied to it through family.

Over the years, Connecticut College has often been at the center of member recruitment. Morris became a member in the 1980s at the recommendation of Sandy Austin, a former College employee who taught her how to use computers. And Shaw joined the group at the recommendation of her classmate, Dorsey. Both women credit professors like F. Edward Cranz and Chester McArthur Destler for teaching them to read critically.

 “I have frequently described Connecticut College as a life-changing event,” said Shaw.

“We were very lucky to have such wonderful professors,” added Dorsey.

The Book Group discusses everything from classics like The Great Gatsby and 1984 to recent novels like The Kite Runner and Atonement.

Over the years, the books have served as a timeline for the group. While members don’t always remember the year they joined, they do remember the first book they read and the first time they led a discussion. Meanwhile, Paula Gorman, who co-founded the group with Carolyn Sosnoski, keeps track of each of the over 500 book titles.

Their story brings to mind And Ladies of the Club, Helen Hooven Santmyer’s 1982 classic about the intertwining lives of the women in a small-town Ohio book club.

Many of the Connecticut group’s early members initially used the group as a break from motherhood.

“I remember looking out from a pile of diapers and thinking I wanted to do something more,” said Gorman. Incidentally, Gorman’s sister, Joan King, was an associate dean and instructor of French at the College. Though she wasn’t officially a member, she did lead a discussion once a year.

Other members like Whritner joined the group after trying out other book clubs that were less organized.

“Here, we really focus on a book,” she said. “The group is very well-run and everyone comes in prepared.”

January 13, 2009