By Jill Hurd
In the fall of 1978, Peg Hansen placed an ad in the Sept/Oct Rug Hooker’s News & Views, Issue #36: “Peg Hansen would like to hear from readers who are interested in forming an Open Guild of Rug Hooking…” Little did any of us realize how those three lines would impact the future of rug hooking.
Being an avid rug hooker, I answered Peg’s ad in March of 1979. I was in my 30s with two small children and had just moved from Vermont to Indiana. I felt far removed from the rug hookers and resources of New England, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of an “open guild.” I offered to help Peg with the typing, mailing or any newsletter printing that needed to be done. She accepted my offer and we corresponded frequently in those early weeks as she planned the first meeting for April 22, 1979. She laid out the 12 regions throughout the country and asked me to be Regional Representative for Region VI.
Because I was due with my 3rd child, I was not able to travel to the first meeting. But Peg and I had planned that she would send the minutes and her report immediately after the meeting so that our first newsletter could be mailed out to prospective members. Within a few days, I received the minutes from Betty Kelly, secretary for the April 22nd meeting. I waited patiently for Peg’s report to arrive, but she was strangely silent for two weeks. Then her letter arrived telling me that two days after the meeting, she had been hospitalized and was, in fact, still in the hospital. She remained there for
4 weeks. On May 26th, she wrote about her rare disease from her hospital bed, “I guess I was born a little too soon. I expect to have many good days and will continue to do all I can to get our group started.” Peg wasn’t able to get her report to me until late May, which delayed our first newsletter by six weeks.
As the summer progressed, Peg became weaker and was confined to bed. It soon became clear that she lacked the energy to carry out any plans or make decisions. ATHA’s First Annual Meeting was to take place in the fall and a slate of officers needed to be recruited. Peg had also received several letters complaining about the high dues and ATHA’s name. She voiced her frustration in a letter to me: “If only I could find someone in this area that knows most of the hookers to handle the mail for me. If they could just keep in contact with people and do the best they can, maybe we’ll be able to keep this thing going.” Atha’s future looked shaky.
I am convinced that if it weren’t for Betty Kelly, ATHA would have either suffered a serious setback in its momentum or would have folded entirely. In August Betty spent a day with Peg so that she could take over the correspondence and help plan the Annual Meeting set for the fall. ATHA’s direction was back on course once again. (See Betty Kelly article) Read about Betty Kelly’s Day with Peg Hansen. LINK)
ATHA’s First Annual Meeting
Twenty-three members attended ATHA’s first Annual Meeting on October 20, 1979 in West Hartford, Connecticut. Led by Betty Kelly, the membership approved the proposed constitution and by-laws, which were fashioned after the Ontario Hooking Guild and written by Virginia Pioso of Virginia. The slate of officers were voted in by the members: President Doris DeProspo; lst Vice-President Isobel White; 2nd Vice-President Jill Hurd; Corresponding Secretary Celeste Schifino; and Treasurer Betty Kelly.
ATHA Grows…Slowly, but Steadily
Membership growth during 1979 was steady but slow. By October 1979, ATHA had 45 members, mostly concentrated in the New England region. The officers were still working out the organizational details and communication with the members was limited to 3 short newsletters. So why did rughookers join that first year when ATHA had so little to offer them? The answer is simple: They joined because they believed in an “open guild” and wanted to be a part of it. They joined for what ATHA promised to be, not what it was; only the future would determine if ATHA could deliver on its promises.
ATHA’s Milestone Moments
I am convinced that there were three milestones in those early days that launched ATHA into being a credible, viable organization. One, as I mentioned before, was the intervention of Betty Kelly when Peg Hansen could no longer carry on as spokesperson of ATHA.
The second factor was the endorsement of leading rughooking designers, such as Joan Moshimer and Jane Olson, who spread the word to their subscribers about the benefits of ATHA.
In an issue of Ruggers Roundtable, Jane Olson wrote, “Anyone interested in information pertaining to the National Open Rug Hooker’s Guild, contact Peg Hansen. The Guild is
open to anyone wishing to join. No company or individual is singled out as sole authority or director of the group. This is well worth looking into, all you hookers out there in the ‘woolen rags to priceless rugs’ world.”
The Ontario Rug Hookers Guild mentioned ATHA in its newsletter in November 1979. “We extend a welcome and congratulations to the newly formed… Association of Traditional Hooking Artists in the United States. Good Luck and Happy Hooking to you all.”
East Meets West
The third milestone was the merger of ATHA with the Northwest Rug & Tapestry Hooking Guild (NRTHG) in the fall of 1980. Peg Hansen had written: “My concern is getting people from all areas of the country to join. I would not want a National Guild to be controlled by one area.”
The Northwest Rug & Tapestry Hooking Guild was formed in 1977 by Emilie Tisdale in Portland, Oregon. By 1980, its membership totaled 117. I am not certain when our board first discussed the merger idea, but I began corresponding with Fran Henry, president of the Northwest guild, in February, 1980. Although she seemed open to the merger, it was difficult to discuss the subject in letters. When I learned that Fran was making a visit to the Midwest, I asked if she would stop in Indiana so we could meet face to face. She and her husband stayed overnight and we spent the following day working out the details. I later wrote to the Board: “Fran is very enthusiastic about the merger. There really isn’t much to compromise on. They seem to want our plan as is, basically… They want to be recognized as local chapters with regional representatives as we’ve spelled out...We’ve worked out a way that their officers can join our Board as regional representatives or fill the vacant positions on our Board.”
While the ATHA Board was enthusiastically behind the proposal, the Northwest Guild had a difficult decision to make. It seemed incredible that they would be willing to give up their name, disband and become part of a larger organization. Yet Emilie Tisdale, founder, had written Peg Hansen about the idea of eventually merging the two groups. So now we were one organization with members from coast to coast. By October, 1980, our membership totaled 462, with members in 36 states and Canada. Peg Hansen’s vision had come true.
ATHA occupied a big part of my life in those early years— along with diapers and bottles. Like others, I believed in ATHA’s purpose — to form a group of rughookers who would be free to share their creative talents. I have fond memories of those early days and consider my involvement in ATHA a labor of love.