Big chill? Not in this ‘Circle of Estrogen’

‘I feel like I was at my best when I was with you people.’
— Glenn Close as Sarah in The Big Chill.

At some point in his early career, writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, MS ’71, likely encountered the adage “write what you know.”

Seven Michigan females pose on the porch of a rickety Ann Arbor house.

The beginnings of a ‘Big Chill’ gang. (Image courtesy of the Dirty Dozen.)

It’s clear the multiple Hopwood Award-winner wrote what he knew when he conceived The Big Chill, a 1983 film about a small pack of Michigan Wolverines who reunite after one of their own dies by suicide. Known for its brilliant use of music, the film examines the ephemeral nature of “lifelong” bonds forged in those uniquely formative years at university.

The movie’s universal themes of memory, regret, lost love, and wasted potential resonated with audiences and critics at the time — and still do 40 years later. And as the ending credits roll, viewers are left to ponder: “Who’s in my Big Chill gang?”

One pack of Wolverines, a tight-knit group of 12 women from the Class of 1989, has known their unwavering answer since freshman year. Unlike the estranged friends in The Big Chill, members of this self-proclaimed “Dirty Dozen” can count 36 annual retreats (among countless other gatherings) since commencement. It’s awe-inspiring to be part of their evolving history, to sample the vintage of their friendships, and to feel the palpable security borne of “people who knew you when.” It’s a rare and precious alchemy that has kept this group together through weddings and divorces, births and deaths, triumphs, and tragedies.

‘It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough.’
William Hurt as Nick in The Big Chill

Group of females with hairdos circa 1989 prepare for commencement in the big house. They are dressed in caps and gowns. Field in the background.

Commencement ’89: Also known as Big Hair Day in the Big House. (Image courtesy of the Dirty Dozen.)

It began in the fall of 1985 with 12 girls on line at Alice Lloyd Hall (when “on line” literally meant standing on a line) as they prepared to move into the dorm for their first year of college. In the decades since, there have been 15 weddings (two for some) and 32 babies. There have been career successes, financial setbacks, health crises, heartaches and heartbreaks, new loves, unimaginable loss, and everything in between. Today, they finish each other’s sentences, often in their own “secret language.”

Theirs is a true and unmistakable sisterhood embodied in the motto N.E.T. — Never Enough Time. The clock just keeps ticking as these one-time co-eds now find themselves in the “sandwich generation,” parenting children while simultaneously caring for their own aging parents. They share legal advice about elder care, pass along remedies for hot flashes, and come to the rescue when one of the kids needs to find a roommate in a new city.

The group remains deeply supportive of each other, valuing these friendships even more as they grow older. On 9/11, one of the Dirty Dozen lost her husband (a fellow U-M grad from the Class of ’87). Her tribe supported her in every way possible, providing solace amid crippling grief. And they continue to show up for each other. Whether it’s chipping in to pay for a plane ticket to Girls’ Weekend (more about that later) when one is facing financial crisis, surprising one with a Peloton group ride and shout-out the day before her cancer surgery, or flying cross-country to attend a parent’s funeral, the Dirty Dozen message is constant: We love you, we support you, we got you!

“I haven’t met that many happy people in my life. How do they act?”
– Meg Tilly as Chloe in The Big Chill

Circle of women at a pool with ocean and umbrella in the background.

This ‘Circle of Estrogen’ was named during one weekend getaway. (Image courtesy of the Dirty Dozen.)

Not long after graduation, the Dozen planned their first trip away — a night in Atlantic City. They quickly realized one night was not enough time together (N.E.T.) and they committed to an annual get-away, always the first weekend in May, at various locations around the country. (Of course, when the first weekend in May coincided with a Michigan graduation for one of their kids, the Dozen was quick to reschedule.)

It soon became clear the annual Girls’ Weekend was a sacred occasion. Maximizing their precious time together would require strategy. They assigned one member to serve as parliamentarian to track agenda items and ensure all pressing topics were covered during their meetups. One weekend, the Dirty Dozen drew the attention of a random passerby, resulting in yet another enduring catchphrase. As they sat on the pool deck of a Ft. Lauderdale hotel, the fellow asked: ‘How does someone get into this Circle of Estrogen?’ The group’s collective response: ‘You don’t!’

A group of college girls in the late 80s with big hair.

Reunions are like time machines. (Image courtesy of the Dirty Dozen.)

Beyond agenda items submitted in advance or on-site, there is no structure other than: “What time are we meeting in the Circle of Estrogen and where are we eating?” Sleeping arrangements are never pre-assigned; one’s weekend roommate is a surprise, much as it was freshman year (before Facebook spoiled the mystery). Today, hotel room keys are mixed up and randomly distributed at the front desk. The group runs to each room to test the key to see whose key unlocks which door. The excitement builds as the roommate scenario unfolds. They can only hope for a patient representative at hotel checkout as they shuffle credit cards to match the arrangements. As usual, the Dirty Dozen creates quite a scene!

While time seems to stop when they reunite on these annual trips, life obviously doesn’t. There have been weekends over the years where “breaking news” during their time away takes precedence: a child gets into trouble; a husband has a sudden and emergent medical issue. When life intrudes, as it tends to do, these college friends agree there is no better place to weather the storm than with their Michigan Girls, safe within the Circle of Estrogen.

‘In a cold world you need your friends to keep you warm.’
The Big Chill movie poster

Female Michigan Grads in U-M gear pose gleefully in front of a mural in Ann Arbor.

Look out: It’s 1985 all over again. (Image courtesy of the Dirty Dozen.)

In the months between the annual Girls’ Weekends, daily group texts cover countless topics. The Dirty Dozen is an emotional sounding board and brain trust, advising on all matters from restaurant recommendations and book reviews to product endorsements and fashion counsel. Bottom line: These Wolverines have saved a fortune on therapy.

As fans of the Big Chill movie celebrated its 40th anniversary in fall 2023, these 12 friends continued to celebrate their own milestones.

Two of the Dirty Dozen daughters (who observed the depth of their mothers’ friendships since they were in strollers) cultivated their own version of a sisterhood during their time in Ann Arbor. This confirmed for the moms that their Circle of Estrogen has a profound and far-reaching impact.

A bunch of happy Michigan alumnae pose with one man.

The Circle of Estrogen makes an exception for the article’s author/classmate Rob Granader. (Image courtesy of the Dirty Dozen.)

Indeed, the Original Dirty Dozen is a microcosm of the Michigan experience. They are smart, strong, gritty, fun-loving women who lead professionally and charitably. They are mothers to many (no grandbabies yet). They are survivors — of cancer, of financial ruin, of disappointment. And, through it all, the deep friendship of the Dirty Dozen serves as the scaffolding of their lives.

In The Big Chill, Kasdan explored what’s lost between college and real life. He tapped into that disillusionment that takes over when life’s harsh truths erode one’s youthful idealism. As the movie poster says: “In a cold world you need your friends to keep you warm.”

Rest assured: The Dirty Dozen is warm.

Meet the Dirty Dozen: Michelle Correnti (Rosenbaum), Jodi Fischer (Orbuch), Debbie Fischer (Weltmann), Leslie Footlick (Schaller), Jill Freeberg (Gartenberg/Pila), Kim Gilman (Gelfand), Sue Greenebaum (Wasserman), Ivy Kruman (Cohen), Andrea Pollack (Gabay), Jill Poznick (Epstein), Allison Wohl (Snedecker), Lynda Zamore (Kruman) — and yes, Lynda and Ivy are sisters-in-law… Lead image courtesy of the Dirty Dozen.


  1. Mike Jefferson - 1980

    A cute refrain to say the least though I find the “Circle of Estrogen” to be misandric, elitist, and exclusionary. Come on M, you can do better.


    • Deborah Holdship

      Thanks for teaching me a new vocabulary word. I had never heard misandric before. — Ed


      • Kim Gilman - 89

        Thank you so much, Deborah, for working with Robbie to tell our story! It certainly seems to resonate with many Wolverines! Happy and healthy holidays … and forever Go Blue!


    • peter ensminger - 1987

      FWIW, the estrogen level in a post-menopausal woman is about the same as in a man.


    • Kathryn Robertson - 2004

      They call THEMSELVES that. Did you read the article?

      Kudos to you for coming across an article about a group of women and immediately finding a way to complain that it’s not about you.


      • Christine Cole - 1997

        This is the ultimate truth.


    • John Haeussler - 1989; 1990

      I love everything about this article other than Mike Jefferson being a misandick in the comments.


      • Deborah Holdship

        John, thanks for your hilarious take on “misandry.” In the past few days, I’ve asked multiple people if they’d ever heard “misandric.” All of them said, No. But when asked if they knew misogyny, they all said, Yes. Talk about a microcosm of our culture and what it’s like to be a *female* today: A term about hating women just rolls off the tongue. But the one about hating men? Just about everyone (except Mike Jefferson and Timothy Gilbert, apparently) has to look it up.


        • John Haeussler - 1989; 1990

          Add one to the heavy side of the statistical tally, Deborah. I had to look it up, too.


    • Ken Jakubowski - 1980

      Your comment saddens me. Social media is a hateful place but I hadn’t dreamed that hatred would infiltrate a platform like Michigan Today. Bummer.


    • Shannon Robins - 2004

      So the sentence, “the locker room was filled with testosterone” would be misogynistic? Maybe take your thesaurus and scream into the void that you’re mad about the enduring friendship of 12 women that met at UMich.


  2. Cindi Hopkins - 1972

    We have our own group of 11 women from 1968 meeting at Alice Lloyd. We meet, have had loves & losses, just like this group. I so enjoyed reading this article as it truly “hit home”. Michigan sure gave us a wonderful place to bond.


  3. Shari Krasnow-Renzi - 1988

    I love this story! I’m a bit jealous that I don’t have my own big circle like the BIG CHILL crew and these gals. But they were the most amazing years in A2. It’s still my “happy place” and now, as my daughter is studying at UM, it’s become hers, too!


    • Georgia Hale - 1987

      I also found myself a bit sad.


    • Nancy Gordon - 1988

      I love this article. I think I chose Michigan because of The Big Chill. Still close with my Michigan posse although I wish I had a group of 12 like this. Forever Go Blue!


  4. Amy Lewis - 1984 BA 1985 MSW

    My college housemate is visiting me right now! Great memories!


  5. Carol Kalamaras - 1960

    Alice Lloyd was my first thrust into coping with so many estrogenic females. Being without any siblings, the triple room on 6th floor Hinsdale House was not what I expected at all. However, I did survive and then experienced a Big Chill 1963 coincidence event while earning another degree at UC Berkeley WITHOUT DORM LIFE. Only I have entitled it Another Atlantis, Lawrence Kasdan! Thank you very much! My experience was before you wrote your screenplay! You did a good job. I had spine tingling recognition issues when seeing it. Will send to Deborah so you can read about Ypsiatlantis.


  6. John Jablonski - 1969

    Can boys join the club? My wife and I met at Michigan; our daughter met her husband at Michigan. Our grandchildren live in Wisconsin and my become Badgers. But if they even consider Ohio State, they will be dis-inherited. Our “group” is composed of (co-ed) friends we met when we were stationed in Berlin in the early 1970’s: five couples, Tom and Charlie We have reunions every summer; last July was our 50th reunion. Our friends may not be Wolverines, but our ties are close. So, to the women of your article, we say, “great.”. Keep the ties. Friendships can be fragile. They take commitment and work to maintain them.


  7. Timothy Gilbert - 1986

    Obviously the Dean of LS&A not knowing the meaning of the word “misandrist” shows in a microcosm the gender bias that currently exist at being a “male” on campus and the so called “real” world. Other then the response the article was really cool!


    • Deborah Holdship

      Timothy: What are you talking about? I’m not the dean of LS&A, just an editor and lifelong learner with a new word in my vocab.


      • Timothy Gilbert - 1986

        Sorry about that, not exactly sure why I had you confused with a past Dean my apologies!


  8. Terri Ridenour - 1996 and 2008

    I love this article. What a special gift of friendship to treasure and honor. Although I transferred to U-M from WCC, and didn’t live in a dorm, I formed lifelong friendships with the girls I worked with at Weber’s Restaurant. Cheers!


  9. Paula Greenberg

    I loved this article, it made me both happy and sad reading it, especially since one of the group is my niece and I am so lucky to have met her friends at different occasions. They are an amazing group of friends.


  10. John Wharton - 1983

    I moved into Lloyd in September of 1978, one of the two people from my graduating class of 500 in rural NC who actually went out of state to school. It was amazing being thrown together with all the other 18 year olds trying to learn a new path in life. That first year on 4th Klein helped me in ways I can never repay. I still crack up about my next door neighbor Pam being convinced the observatory was looking into her room while she changed.


  11. Doris Rubenstein - 71 (for the most part)

    All 5 of us started out in the fall of ’67 in Mosher-Jordan: 4 in Mosher/1 in Jordan. When “MoJo” went co-ed in ’68, we moved en masse to the same corridor in Stockwell. We’ve only had one “group” reunion (about 8 years ago), but we’ve all been together 2-3 at a time in one configuration or another ever since graduation. I went back to my Stockwell room (on the “4-5” corridor) in ’84 and knocked on the door. There was a sizeable group of women (Stockwell was still all women at that time) in the room, relaxing together. When I told them that I’d had that room in ’68, there was an audible gasp from all of them and then they said with amazement in their voices, “The Big Chill”!!! Yes, I said. That was us. I remember reading Kasdan’s work in the Michigan Daily and feel a sense of kinship with my fellow classmate. The Big Chill is still one of my favorite movies. Go Blue!


  12. Richard Shulik - 1970

    An excellent article! Thank you for the story. My closest and most enduring friendships are from my Michigan days. It matters not one bit whether the members of your friendship group were young women or young men or a mixed group. Your college experience and your many years of friendship which followed thereafter were very much in the spirit of The Big Chill, which is also one of my most favorite movies. Thank you again.


  13. Fran Goran - 1970

    I lived in Alice Lloyd, first floor, Angell Wing, first room to the right across from the bathroom. I can still remember the constant banging of the hall door closure.
    I am from Michigan..the women I met from all over the US opened up my world. The article is great. The relationships the group has are precious with treasured memories.


  14. Laura Rhodes - 1985

    I started at UM law school in 1982 and was dumbstruck when The Big Chill came out. Incredibly universal themes and characters. Each if us us lucky to have attended such a remarkable university. My friends and I from that time have special bonds — none related to law — just to going through a process with companionship and laughs.
    Is the article misanthric? (I had to look it up, too.) A hatred of men? Don’t see that anywhere in it. Maybe it makes men feel left out. Hmm, what’s that like, guys?


  15. Linda Safran - 1968

    I’ve always thought the title of the movie referred to death and the chilled body of the friend in whose memory the old gang gathered for his funeral.

    My “on line” memory is the line for dinner at Markley. We “co-eds” had to wear a dress to dinner. Mine was a blue plaid wrap-around dress with a Peter Pan collar. I can still smell the mashed potatoes.

    Linda Safran, LSA 1968
    4324 Mary Marley 1964-5


  16. dave lathrop - 1983 Rackham

    great story… the value of old friendships is incomparable… part of a group of 8 men from Elem/middle school … this was in the early 60s… only real add in our case was our spouses are completely a part of it all … we get together somewhere at lease once each year… and have a weekly zoom call usually with only the guys… most of us are now “Repurposed” and we’re all still alive which is something as we have all shifted into our 70s …


  17. Andrea VanDenBergh - 1989, 1993

    We also have a group from the class of 1989–six of us lived at 205 North Ingalls our senior year and also get together at least once a year for a weekend together. Amazing that we all still liked each other after graduation considering that 205 N Ingalls only had one bathroom that the six of us shared! Now the kids each have their own bathroom and bedroom in the new apartments—how things have changed!


    • Teri Baker - 1989

      Hey Andrea! I instantly thought of you and your roommates! Great tradition.


  18. Wendy Shepard - 1960

    Hit home! My Circle was only 2 strong, but we experienced every aspect of this story. And it all started in AA. Celebrating Michigan and going through life Michigan strong. woman strong.. Misandric? My goodness –that sounded a little like 1960.Tsk Tsk


  19. David Jakubiak - 1982

    What a wonderful article. I cherish my memories at Michigan and stay in touch with some of my Delt brothers on a weekly basis. I returned to campus for a football weekend this year and walked the campus (including posing for a photo in the back of MOJO where I lived). It’s great that these women have maintained a bond for all these years. Times have changed but the memories remain. Go Blue.


  20. Teri Baker - 1989

    I wish I had this kind of experience while at U of M. While I loved my time there, I am so different from that 18 year old, I don’t know if we could still be friends.


  21. Margie Goldman (yaker) - 1989

    Hey Ladies (and Rob!) Loved seeing this and know that my -our- own “922 Girls” circle can relate 💙💛 Thank you for sharing the beautiful energy of your friendship.


  22. Jessyca Hannah

    You mention Lynda and Ivy but what about Jodi Fischer (Orbuch), Debbie Fischer (Weltmann)? Are they related?


    • Debbie Fischer-Weltmann - 1989

      We are not officially related but became sisters for life! Go Blue!


  23. Mary Carmen Meerschaert - 1976

    Eight ambitious women residing at Stockwell Hall in 1972 bonded for life. We have been nurses, nurse administrators, medical infomatics specialists, pharmacists, physicians, university professors, medical technologists, physician assistants, toxicologists, lawyers, pharmaceutical executives, aerospace engineers, judges, MBAs, bioethicists, and a Buddhist nun. We reunited in Ann Arbor from around the world in 2006 and have been integral to each other’s lives since then. We’ve shared trials and tribulations,as well as joys. We look forward to our yearly retreats, Zoom calls, shared reading lists, small group meet-ups and emotional texting during Wolverine football games.
    We are friends for life. Go Blue!


    • Dave Corradi - 1989, 1994

      Pretty sure I know that Buddhist nun. Your group must be formidable!


  24. Eric Johnson - 1989

    Very timely article. Myself and seven friends from freshman year living in Bursley got together in October for the Michigan-Indiana game. I’ve seen most of these friends from time to time since graduation, but this was the first time we’d all gotten together, and first time that I’d seen a couple of them since UM days. We’re not going to wait as long to organize the next get-together!


  25. A.J. Duffy III - 1980

    Fond memories of Alice Lloyd from orentation in the summer of 1976….just like CRISP a thing of the past!!! Made many lasting friends from my days in A2. Keep finding the time ladies, great article!!


  26. Kevin Farris - 1988

    When I read the article, I instantly knew the UM alum referenced who perished in NYC on 9/11. RIP Jimmy. Gone but never forgotten. He would have been over the moon with Michigan’s Rose Bowl and National Championship this year! And beating the Buckeyes three years running! He was true blue; a “Michigan Man” through and through!


  27. David Geiss - 1989

    What a wonderful story! To keep such a strong bond of friendship going all these years is a wonderful gift of true love and affection.

    I also moved into Alice Lloyd in the Summer/Fall of 1985 and lived on 6th Klein. I also am a proud 1989 graduate.


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