The Veridames: ‘The Ladies of Truth at Providence College’
By Nikki Gyftopoulos
Until 1971, Providence College was an all-male institution, but many women who were tied to the school through relatives, spouses, or friends wanted to become involved. The Veridames, an all-women group, was created in 1942 to meet this desire. The president of the College at the time, Very Rev. John J. Dillon, O.P., expressed the group’s sole purpose to be “to advance the interest of the College religiously, socially, culturally, and to contribute material aid and cordial support.”
Prior to the establishment of the Veridames, the faculty felt a women’s group would be beneficial to such a male-focused institution. Initially, three sub-groups were established, but each was restrictive in terms of membership requirements. The Aquin Circle met solely for social and recreational reasons, the Guilds were composed of women of similar professions and business interests, and the third was a general group that participated in and aided various groups of male students.
These three sub-groups, however, did not satisfy the need for an all-encompassing women’s group. The president of the alumni club, Edmund Quinn, expressed his desire to unite all of these sub-groups and include other Rhode Island women so that they could assist in the College’s religious, social, and cultural efforts.
Quinn held meetings with the women and faculty members at his home. He received strong support for his vision. At a tea party on March 1, 1942, the Veridames group was formally launched, the executive board was introduced with Regina McPhillips as president, and Rev. Edward McDermott was appointed as the moderator.
Composed of mostly mothers, sisters, and wives of the faculty, students, and alumni, the Veridames were invested in the well-being of the PC community. During their first year as an organization, there were about 200 members, but word spread quickly about their efforts. Dolores Merlino, a 20-year Veridames member, said the group even had international members, noting that the parents of the children who came to PC (from other countries) were sent a letter asking them to join the Veridames. By the end of the first year, the Veridames’ membership had grown to 560, and, at its peak in later years,it reached close to 1,000 members.
The Veridames coordinated and hosted events at the College, including bridge and fashion shows, concerts, guest speakers, luncheons, art shows, Christmas Mass, and tea parties for freshman class mothers. Merlino described their efforts as “whatever we could think of that was healthy for the mind and body and soul.”
The Junior Veridames, a younger group of women who helped with the Veridame’s activities, also was established in the organization’s first year. The Junior Veridames, totaling about 100 members by their fifth year, were required to be at least of college age and sponsored by a Veridame.
One of the crucial aspects of the Veridames was raising money for the College. During the organization’s first year, annual donations totaled $1,900, which would be the equivalent of about $25,000 in 2016 dollars. Before they disbanded in 2000, their total monetary contribution to the College was an impressive $158,400.
Since the Veridames were composed mostly of women with little fundraising experience, members learned how to raise funds through a trial-and-error process. “You just get in and you just do what’s been done in the past. And, of course, as the years go on, you try to improve on them, and you learn,” said Eleanor Giannini, the Veridames president in 1988.
The growth and success that the Veridames experienced can be attributed to the dedication of its members and the support from the community. As the years passed, however, more and more women were entering the workforce and had less and less time to dedicate to the Veridames. Giannini explained, “The big thing was we couldn’t get people to become board members … it was harder and harder because most of the women were working.” Also, Providence College became a co-ed institution in 1971, and many women were focused on becoming students of the College rather than Veridames members.
Consequently, the Veridames submitted their letter of disestablishment on July 12, 2000. Co-Presidents Lucille A. Vucci and Barbara Octeau expressed in the letter, “Closure to this wonderful organization, has been with sadness to many of our loyal and supportive members.”
The Veridames had a great impact on the Providence College community that did not go unnoticed. Their constant support for the cultural, religious, and social aspects of the College was significant to the growth of the institution. Staying true to the motto of Providence College, Veritas, the Veridames represented truth, integrity, and respect throughout their 58 years of service to the college.