AAUW: Its not just for your mother’s generation

My first introduction to the American Association of University Women was through a newsletter my then 74-year old mother-in-law received.  My conclusion was that AAUW was a social club for the senior set.  I never thought about it again.  My next introduction was through my biological aunts.  At our first meeting three years ago they handed me an AAUW application and told me I would be joining (okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration.)  I listened and joined.

Marion Talbot, Co-founder, AAUW

Marion Talbot, Co-founder, AAUW

I have just joined a national committee on fundraising and will be speaking at the Washington State convention in a few weeks.  In preparation, I began by researching AAUW.

In November, 1881 founders Marion Talbot and Ellen Richards met in Boston with 15 alumnae representing eight colleges to discuss the needs of college-educated women.  Out of this meeting came not only a vision to broaden opportunities for women can the formation of AAUW. In January, 1882 65 alumnae of eight

colleges meet and form the predecessor organization, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae.  The mapped out the bylaws and Articles of Incorporation and set the mission:

“For practical education work, for collection and publication of statistical and other information concerning education, and in general, for the maintenance of high standards of education.” (1)

AAUW is the oldest and largest organization for women in America providing fellowships and grants to women and girls, engaging in groundbreaking legislation such as Title IX and funding critical research about the issues facing women, including a current research project on how the Sequester is affecting women and girls.  Its current mission is still relevant:

Advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.

I like the words but they don’t begin to articulate the power of the work being done by this organization.  As I dug into the history and the actions behind those words, I found a bunch of “I didn’t now that!” coming out of my mouth.

AAUW has a long history of publishing research on women’s issues.  The first report issued in 1885 concluded that a woman’s health was not compromised by attending college.  I have to remember the time and place in order to understand how breakthrough this research was and how critical to opening more doors for women.

In 1869 when Girton College opened in Cambridge the reaction was fear, anger and disgust.

All of these colleges,  but Girton in particular, attracted a lot of a criticism to begin with, indeed the term ‘Girton girl’ applied to a daughter could strike fear into a parent’s heart. One Rev. famously called Girton College ‘That Infidel Place’ and it was denounced from more than one pulpit. Opponents claimed that Girton and women’s colleges like it (especially residential ones) posed a threat to the family by tempting women away from their natural and proper role: that of a wife and mother. Conservative clergymen joined doctors and parents in condemning higher education for women as unchristian and dangerous. In the words of Oxford theologian Henry Liddon, the founding of Lady Margaret Hall was ‘an educational development that runs counter to the wisdom and experience of all the centuries of Christendom’.  And, any threat to the family was, of course, also a threat to the social order. (2)

Equal education remains an issue especially for women in the STEM programs of science, technology, engineering and math.  Women’s enrollment levels in these programs are down across the county.

In 2009, women earned 62% of all associate’s degrees, up from 60% in 2000, and 40% of S&E associate’s degrees, down from 48% in 2000. Most of the decline is attributable to a decrease in women’s share of computer science degrees, from 42% in 2000 to 25% in 2009. In 2009, women’s share of S&E associate’s degrees rose slightly due largely to an increase in psychology degrees.(3)

American Association of University Women headq...

American Association of University Women Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

A recent editorial in the Puget Sound Business Journal suggested that pay equity was that big a deal because if you look at the tech sector, the discrepancy isn’t that large.   There’s so much wrong with that statement, but I refer you back to the previous quote.  Women are NOT entering science and technology at the rates the were a decade ago. (4)

Pay inequity continues.

AAUW is not a social club for the senior set.  It’s a thriving and energized organization of  women who are working to improve the lives of women and girls through advocacy and education.  Today AAUW continues to work in critical areas.  A look at just a couple of their recent publications, 2013: The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap and 2011:  Crossing the line: Sexual Harassment at School prove the level of their commitment and the professionalism of their work. (5)

Come join us.


1. “Our History: The story of AAUW’s place in women’s history”, American Association of University Women, http://history.aauw.org/
2.  “Women’s access to higher education: An overview (1860-1948),” Herstoria, http://herstoria.com/?p=535
3. “Science and Engineering Indicators 2012” National Scientific Foundation, Chapter 2, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c2/c2s2.htm
4. “Want more gender equality in pay? Get more women in Tech,” Tech Flash, a Puget Sound Business Journal publication, May 17, 2013. http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/techflash/2013/05/seattles-tech-gender-gap-drives.html?page=all
5. Downloadable e-reports are available at:  http://history.aauw.org/category/aauw-research

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