by Dale

People today have the internet. When families move to Ann Arbor from another country, they can look up many aspects of life in Ann Arbor before they arrive. Women use the internet to find a house, to learn where to shop, to find a school for their children. They use the internet to connect with family at home and to make new friends in a new city, a new country.

Sixty years ago there was no internet. Last month I wrote about how Esther Dunham offered hospitality to a few women from other countries. In 1958 the newcomers were happy to have friends, and Ann Arbor women organized Tea Groups and later Conversation Groups so the newcomers could practice English. The Ann Arbor women saw themselves as hostesses, and the newcomers were guests. Hostesses wrote letters to invite the women to the meetings and often picked up the guests and their children since most foreign women did not drive. Maps had to be given out or mailed as women met in each others’ homes.

Ingrid Deininger recalled that the women who came in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s had a more difficult situation than they do now. Graduate students, researchers and business men were just beginning to bring their wives and families here, and there was not much support for them. Most of the women didn’t speak English, couldn’t drive, lived in isolation without social contacts or information they needed for living here, far from their families.

In1960 the Special Services Committee was established to help families with special situations. The committee referred pregnant women to the Visiting Nurse Association for free home visits by a public health nurse before and after the baby was born. The committee often provided translators for hospital, school, legal or business matters.

In 1963 a committee of International Neighbors wrote a guidebook called “Living in Ann Arbor” and this was given to all guests. With maps and pictures, it described everything from money and tipping to restaurants and cultural events; from transportation to hostess gifts. In 1968, “Living in Ann Arbor” was translated into Spanish, and it was updated and reprinted annually until it went on-line in 2011. Later it was discontinued because all topics were available on-line without our help.

Shirley Axon was Special Services Chairman from 1964 – 1966. She learned from some of the Guests that nursery schools did not want to enroll foreign students, because the teachers thought children who didn’t speak English would take too much of their time. Shirley went to the new Northside Presbyterian Church near North Campus and requested space for a nursery school. International Neighbors was supportive, and the Friendship International Cooperative Nursery for children of American and foreign students opened in 1966. Soon other nursery schools saw that knowledge of English wasn’t necessary for pre-school, and they started taking foreign students, too.