The Alumnae of Northwestern University, originally named the Associate Alumnae of Northwestern University, was founded by 30 alumnae in 1916. These 30 alumnae saw an opportunity to help the University grow for all women, and formed to support a plan to erect a Women’s Building on campus—a facility that would include lounges, a grill, offices for student organizations, and clubs and rooms for commuter women to gather.


The first organizing meeting was held April 16, 1916, at Marshall Field's Tea Room in Chicago. Very soon they put down their tea cups and busied themselves with a variety of money-making enterprises—from selling purple pencils and homemade sandwiches, running a women’s employment agency, to issuing a record featuring the University songs, “Go U Northwestern” and the “University Hymn”. 


Though no Women's Building was ever constructed, more than 100 students and faculty would gather each day At the Sign of The Purple Oak at 721 University Place, and soon, the Alumnae opened a gift shop, The Purple Acorn, in the North Shore Hotel.


An official on-campus tea room opened in 1917 in the basement of University Hall by the Women's Building Association, then, in 1924, the group switched its sights to obtaining open dormitories when University President Walter Dill Scott announced plans for an on-campus initiative for a women’s quadrangle of sorority houses. A contribution of $11,000 from the Women's Building Fund laid the foundation for the Rogers and Hobart Houses, and by 1938, the Associate Alumnae coffers held $167,382—a significant contribution to the construction of Scott Hall.


Scott Hall was constructed to offer both women and men students many of the facilities which were a part of the original Women’s Building plan. The architectural designs for the auditorium and many other rooms were, in fact, those originally proposed for the Women’s Building. The Associate Alumnae also financed a room of their own in Scott Hall—the Alumnae Library.

In the years since, the Associate Alumnae have continued to develop projects that contribute to the growth of the University. In 1976, the name changed to The Alumnae of Northwestern University, dropping the “Associate” to reflect the equal status of the group with other alumni groups. Today, members find focus for the future in the words that, for many years, they have used to define the organization: “Dedicated to serving the University and its community through alumnae participation.”