Posts Tagged ‘AAUW history’

The accomplishments of AAUW women never cease to amaze me, and Dorothy Celeste Boulding Ferebee is no exception. Ferebee, a physician, health care advocate, and AAUW board member, tirelessly worked to ensure access to health care for underserved communities.

Dorothy Ferebee

Ferebee, a child of former slaves, was born in 1898 in Norfolk, Virginia. She graduated from Simmons College in 1924 and subsequently earned her medical degree from Tufts University. Although she graduated in the top five of her class, she met with discrimination when she applied for positions at “white” hospitals. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities available to black female physicians in Massachusetts, Ferebee moved to Washington, D.C. She became an obstetrician serving the African American community at Freedman’s Hospital, which is now Howard University Hospital.

Ferebee left her mark on Washington in many ways. In 1925, concerned about the lack of access to public health and family services in the black community, she established Southeast Neighborhood House. This group of physicians provided medical care and other community services, including a day care facility to meet the needs of working mothers. By this act alone, Ferebee was clearly ahead of her time; remember, this was 1925.

During the Great Depression, Ferebee volunteered her time as medical director of the Mississippi Health Project, a program sponsored by the first African American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Black physicians provided medical care to the residents of Mississippi, a state with notoriously limited access to doctors and hospitals for its black residents.

Within AAUW, Ferebee was a member of the AAUW Washington (DC) Branch. She also served as chair of the Social and Economic Issues Committee. Importantly, in 1969, she was nominated to become implementation chair for AAUW’s Human Use of Urban Space study. She was an especially fitting pick for the job since this fledgling program was created to come up with solutions to community problems left in the wake of urban renewal. No doubt public health concerns and a lack of access to basic medical services were challenges that AAUW leaders felt confident Ferebee could handle.

In addition to her AAUW service, Ferebee succeeded Mary McLeod Bethune as president of the National Council of Negro Women, was president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and served as vice president of the Girl Scouts. But to be honest, the complete list of her accomplishments and contributions is too lengthy to mention in its entirety.

In a quote from Ferebee’s obituary in the Washington Star dated September 17, 1980, the writer accurately said that Ferebee “was the sort of person who enlarges other people’s ideas of what can be done by those enterprising enough to want to.”

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FMLA-01The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a shining example of what AAUW lobbying efforts can help accomplish. Passed after seven years of hard work by AAUW staff and the AAUW Action Fund Capitol Hill Lobby Corps, the legislation continues to be held up 20 years later as a lobbying success story.

“Often when I am telling folks about Lobby Corps I use FMLA as an example of our tenacity,” said Lobby Corps member Kitty Richardson. “It was definitely a case of here today, here tomorrow. We’re not going away, and we are supporting [the legislation] for the long term.”

The act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on February 5, 1993, allows qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for a new baby or recently adopted child, tend to a seriously ill family member, or overcome their own serious health problems. About 62 percent of workers qualify for FMLA.

AAUW’s work on FMLA began in 1986 with an official endorsement of national family and medical leave legislation. AAUW delegates then adopted family and medical leave as an action priority at our 1987 National Convention. An AAUW brief from April 1998, Family Leave: A Solution to Work and Family Conflicts, told the story of a Delaware woman who lost her job because she needed time off to care for her ill son. The article said, “Women who have no parental leave face especially heavy income losses.”

In 1989, AAUW and other national women’s groups presented President George H.W. Bush and leaders of the 101st Congress with a “women’s agenda” focused on family, workplace, and health issues. The women’s agenda called for a family and medical leave act establishing a national policy of leave to enable working women and men to fulfill their family responsibilities without sacrificing job security.

AAUW Lobby Corps member Marcy Leverenz lobbied for AAUW on FMLA in the late 1980s. She said that when they started they had to make legislators understand the big picture — that people all over the United States needed the ability to take time off for caregiving.

“Through our lobbying efforts, this need became more of an empirical message rather than an anecdotal message,” Leverenz said. “It initially wasn’t looked on as a problem to be solved.”

Also in 1989, AAUW delegates again adopted family and medical leave as an action priority with thousands of AAUW members visiting the offices of nearly every senator and representative that June. And the results proved positive: The Outlook issue published after the lobby day said that the “coalition of national groups working for family leave … credited AAUW with greatly advancing the issue in Congress.”

The issue stayed at the top of AAUW’s policy agenda throughout the early 1990s. A February 1991 briefing said that AAUW “is fully committed to the establishment of a national family policy that helps American families balance work and family responsibilities.” When FMLA finally became law in 1993, Lobby Corps members said they reacted with joy — and relief.

“I really feel like without us out there nagging, it wouldn’t have gotten through,” said Lobby Corps member Nancy MacKenzie.

Part of the reason Lobby Corps had success was because they could provide personal stories to get legislators on board.

“We are effective because we aren’t paid to lobby,” MacKenzie said. “Therefore we only lobby on things that we personally believe in. It’s not a job to us. It’s something we care about.”

Since FMLA passed in 1993, AAUW has worked to expand the legislation to cover more of the nation’s workforce. Although those lobbying efforts have been unsuccessful overall, some Lobby Corps members have had the thrill of seeing their own families benefit from FMLA. “One thing that touched me was that at the time we started lobbying this bill, my son was rather young,” MacKenzie said. “In the meantime, he got married and had children and made use of FMLA when his wife was pregnant. And I thought, you know, I’m one of the ones who got it passed. And I let him know it, too.”

This post was written by AAUW Political Media Coordinator Elizabeth Owens.

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AAUW's Nzinga Shury with Delta Sigma Theta sisters“Oh, what a wonderful time to be a Delta!” will likely be chanted across the globe in the next week as the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta celebrate 100 years of sisterhood, scholarship, and service. Founded on January 13, 1913, by 22 Howard University women students, Delta Sigma Theta has grown to become the largest predominately African American sorority in the world, with more than 900 chapters in the United States, Germany, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Japan, South Korea, England, Jamaica, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

During the centennial celebration, I and other Deltas from all over will gather where it all began — Washington, D.C. — to celebrate the sorority’s accomplishments and achievements. Looking back on Delta’s history, I am most proud of its start. In 1913, our founders courageously participated in the Woman Suffrage Parade, which marked the sorority’s first national public act as well as its devotion to women’s rights at a time when women’s voices were routinely silenced.

“We marched that day in order that women might come into their own, because we believed that women not only needed an education, but they needed a broader horizon in which they may use that education. And the right to vote would give them that privilege,” founder Florence Letcher Toms later commented.

In a similar push for women’s education, AAUW took quick action after our founding to commission research proving that, contrary to popular thought, higher education does not negatively impact a woman’s health. The connections don’t end there. In 2010, AAUW posthumously honored Dorothy Height, former national president of Delta Sigma Theta and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, as a Woman of Distinction at our annual National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.

Both organizations have strived for years to level the playing field for women. During this time of celebration, it gives me great pleasure to be a member of both Delta Sigma Theta and the AAUW community. Both parties’ accomplishments have inspired and motivated me to know that I too can one day help in breaking through barriers for women everywhere.

The sorority’s 100th anniversary will be celebrated with events throughout the D.C. area. Deltas will continue the celebration by re-enacting the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade in March and holding the official centennial celebration in July. As Delta celebrates a century of service, we encourage our local communities to help us paint D.C. in crimson and cream — the official Delta colors — this coming week and to remember that, even 100 years later, the drive toward women’s rights continues.

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Nzinga Shury.

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During this season of giving thanks and remembering the people and events that are important to us, let’s not forget about the small group of visionary women who paved the way for the creation of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae — the predecessor to AAUW — 131 years ago today.

On November 28, 1881, Marion Talbot, then a recent graduate from Boston University, and Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, invited 15 alumnae from eight colleges to a meeting in Boston. Discouraged by the lack of opportunities available to them, the women discussed how they would join together to help other women attend college and to assist those who had already graduated.

Although Marion is usually credited with initiating this first meeting, it really was her mother, Emily Talbot, who urged Marion to do so. A longtime advocate of girls’ education, Emily was perpetually frustrated by the lack of educational opportunities for young women, including her own daughters. In 1877, Emily founded the Girls’ Latin School in Boston after unsuccessfully trying to get girls admitted into the Boston Latin School. Marion’s sister, Edith Talbot, was in the first graduating class from the Girls’ Latin School.

Emily recognized that there was little that college-educated women could do with their newly earned degrees. Many in this first generation of alumnae struggled with a lack of opportunity that would be unfathomable to women today. Thankfully, Emily suggested the meeting and hoped that it would unite women of similar backgrounds and situations.

At the November 28 meeting, one graduate from each of the eight represented colleges was chosen for a committee to move toward the next step. So a few weeks later, on January 14, 1882, 65 women college graduates met and officially formed the Association of Collegiate Alumnae to “unite in practical educational work.”

Listen to Marion recount, at age 86, the story of that first meeting and how the Association of Collegiate Alumnae was founded.

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AAUW women of the 1970s — a decade remembered for activism and trailblazing — held their own. As the AAUW Fellowships and Grants program expanded and more people and projects were funded, more women from across the globe were able to make lasting contributions to their fields. New AAUW programs were established to fund community public service projects, to help women re-enter the workforce, and to encourage promising young women to succeed and these opportunities helped many women advance their careers.

Who were these women, and what was it like to forge these new paths?

In 1980, AAUW sent a questionnaire to women who received AAUW fellowships and grants from 1967 to 1978. It was originally intended to get up-to-date information about former fellows, but it also painted a revealing picture of working women’s experiences in the 1970s. Their responses sounded sadly similar to stories of workplace discrimination and work culture today.

Most of the women who responded to the survey considered themselves to be role models for young women entering fields formerly considered to be in the male domain. The AAUW alumnae stressed that they led by example and by doing good work, which they believed would prove the merit of future women employees. Only some of the women reported being in decision- or policy-making positions in which they could use their influence to ensure equity in the workplace.

Most respondents reported that they experienced sexual discrimination at work. Sound familiar? What is also interesting is that only 11 percent reported being actively involved in the women’s movement or feminist organizations. The question remains, how far has society really come?

According to a 2011 study, on average, a woman needs a doctoral degree to earn as much as a man with a bachelor’s degree. One woman who responded to our survey in 1980 said that she had been taught that to succeed, a woman needed to get one degree more than a man. Sounds like we haven’t made as much progress since the 1970s as we may have thought.

On October 24, AAUW will release its latest report, Graduating to a Pay Gap, which looks at the wage gap between women and men who are working full time one year out of college. A 2007 AAUW report found that one year after college graduation, women on average already earned just 80 percent of what their male colleagues earned. While the gender pay gap certainly diminished since the 1970s, progress has stagnated in the last decade.    

Women of the 70s began breaking through barriers in their professional lives, but despite that, they are still graduating to a pay gap and facing sexism in the workplace. If you received a fellowship or grant from AAUW in the 1970s, we want to hear your story! E-mail us at fellowships@aauw.org.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

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On October 24, AAUW will release a new report, Graduating to a Pay Gap. The following is the third installment of Gap and Gown, a new blog series inspired by the forthcoming research.

AAUW has been at the forefront of advocacy for fair pay for women for more than 100 years.

In 1894, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, the precursor to AAUW, partnered with the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor to examine the pay of college-educated women by collecting employment and salary information from ACA members. The bureau analyzed the data, and ACA published the results in the 1896 report Compensation in Certain Occupations of Women Who Have Received College or Other Special Training.

The report is fascinating. It is the testimony of the women themselves that proves most interesting. These rare, first-person accounts of women’s work experiences at that time are not often found in archival collections — or anywhere, for that matter.

Here are a few quotes from the report. As you read them, remember that they were written in 1894!

The woman in industry who finds herself employed in the occupations which are open to men and who frequently performs identical work for a salary or for wages much below those paid her co-workers of the opposite sex is naturally apt to inquire what reason, economic or other, justifies this inequality.

Men oftener than women have to support others. In spite of this, I cannot see why a man should be paid $200 more than I am paid to do the same work when he does it no better.

I know that my work here is appreciated and is paid because of its worth. I think many women are helping to keep down the rate of women’s wages by consenting to work for less compensation than would be given to a man for the same grade.

When I was doing office work, I received $6 a week and kept the books and was a typewriter, too. If a man had been employed for this work, his pay would have been $15 a week, and he would not have been required to perform the general office work. He would have been a professional bookkeeper, however, which I was not.

Women are fearful of asserting their inherent rights, standing as they now do on the verge of freedom. The time, however, is not far off when women will have a voice in making just laws for themselves and others, and this will no doubt have an effect in securing equal remuneration for equal services to both sexes.

Today we call “equal remuneration for equal service” by its simpler title: equal pay for equal work. On October 24, AAUW will release its latest equal pay report, Graduating to a Pay Gap, which builds on the shoulders of these women who worked on the issue more than a century ago.

This post was written by AAUW Archivist and Records Manager Suzanne Gould.

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In August 1940, AAUW Atlanta (GA) Branch member Margot Gayle visited Washington, D.C. It was not your typical summer tourist trip. Gayle was determined to meet with members of Congress. Her goal? To provide them with The Statement of 100 Southern Women, a document signed by women from eight Southern states that called for the abolishment of the poll tax requirement for voting. Many of the signers were AAUW members. And not coincidentally, Gayle arrived in D.C. on the 20th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

Gayle recognized that the poll tax was not merely a local or Southern issue but one that had “effects far beyond the borders of the eight Southern states which retain it tied to the vote.” She accepted that the tax was often viewed as a “sectional problem dealing with local election laws” but was adamant that it actually “denies to the country a truly representative form of government.”

While in Washington, Gayle also spoke with Francis Valiant Speek of the AAUW Committee on Economic and Legal Status of Women. Gayle inquired whether the AAUW national office was studying the poll tax, which disproportionately affected women. Speek replied that AAUW had already begun surveying Southern branches and had thrown its support behind federal legislation that would outlaw the tax. The two AAUW forces, one local and one national, joined together.

Two years later, AAUW sponsored The Poll Tax, a report written by lawyer Eleanor Bontecou that studied the tax and its effects on voter turnout in the eight Southern states. Bontecou was dedicated to the cause — she was working with the Southern Conference for Human Welfare to study the tax and with well-known political scientist Ralph Johnson Bunche on issues relating to Southern suffrage. In fact, Bontecou used the proceeds from her previous earnings to fund the research and writing of The Poll Tax for AAUW. Bontecou’s insightful study outlined the history of the relationship between voting rights and property, the racist motives for the poll tax, and the momentous effect that the practice had on voter turnout.

The report was published right before Senate hearings on the Geyer-Pepper Bill, the federal anti-poll tax legislation that was filibustered by Southern states and never passed. Although many states subsequently removed the poll tax requirement without federal mandate, it wasn’t until the ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the poll tax was officially prohibited.

Today, Americans don’t have to open their wallets to vote — at least not to get out cash — but many still encounter barriers like voter-identification requirements. As the 2012 elections draw closer, AAUW can say with pride that we are continuing our long-standing tradition of protecting enfranchisement by opposing any form of voter suppression. Read more about voter-ID laws in the Fall issue of Outlook magazine, and read the full 1942 poll tax report for yourself at the AAUW Online Museum.

This post was written by AAUW Archivist and Records Manager Suzanne Gould.

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