In the fall of 1958, almost 60 years ago, Esther Dunham invited a few women to her home for tea, and that was the beginning of International Neighbors. Esther had a friend, Kathleen Mead, who worked at the International Center, and they knew some women from other countries whose husbands were studying at the University of Michigan. Kathleen Mead worked at UM registration and would call out, “Are you married? Is your wife here with you?” It was amusing, but it was the original method of getting women signed up for International Neighbors. However, International Neighbors has always been an independent organization, not part of the University.
Women enjoyed getting together with the children for garden tours, picnics and drives to see the colorful Fall leaves. More women heard about the gatherings and joined the outings. By November, there were Neighborhood Tea Groups all over town. Some Tea Groups were named after the streets where they met: Red Oak, Sumac, or after neighborhoods like Ann Arbor Hills. Win Pierce had been the wife of a foreign student when her husband studied in France for a year and remembered how isolated she felt. She decided to put her energies into helping the women learn English. She focused on Beginners, but other Conversation Groups started meeting weekly so that the women could learn and practice English. Leaders created curriculum guides and planned lessons…. and friendships grew. That was 1959, and in 1960, the Articles of Association were drawn up and officers were elected.
Also around that time, some women got access to Pound House on Hill Street. Realizing that many foreign families were unprepared for the cold winters and that some families did not have adequate household supplies, the women collected coats, boots, pots and pans, and baby items. The foreign women could come and borrow what they needed. It was called The Exchange. It was very helpful for new arrivals and especially for short-term visitors who would only be here for 6 months or a year.