AAUW of Vancouver celebrates its history

Group founded by women with college educations plays key role in big causes

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

• What: Luncheon and “Thinking Back, Looking Forward,” an original play about the Vancouver branch of the American Association of University Women.

• When: 11 a.m. Nov. 14.

• Where: Red Cross Building, Fort Vancouver National Site, 605 Barnes St.

• Tickets: $35.

• Reservations: Required by Nov. 4.

• On the web: http://vancouver-wa.aauw.net/

When a small group of well-educated American women put their heads together in the early 1880s, one of their first projects was disproving the myth that college is bad for ladies. That too much brain stress would render them infertile and unhealthy. This was a common belief — promoted by a famous doctor who’d graduated from Harvard.

To combat that idea, this group of smart Boston ladies mailed surveys to their peers, collected the results and collaborated with the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics on a scientific paper called “Health Statistics of Female College Graduates.” It destroyed the notion that women must choose between their bodies and their brains.

That groundbreaking group eventually called itself the American Association of University Women; its branches quickly spread from coast to coast. AAUW’s mission is to open up the world of higher education for women; that means everything from providing scholarships and mentorships for women entering science and engineering fields to fighting gender discrimination through leadership development, policy advocacy and lawsuits.

On Nov. 14, you can attend a luncheon performance that reviews, in fashionable style, the whole history of AAUW in Vancouver. The local chapter, founded by a gathering of 23 women at the Evergreen Hotel on lower Main Street on Nov. 14, 1931, will celebrate its 85th birthday with an original play called “Thinking Back, Looking Forward.”

Through the years

The play is a series of eight monologues, each one depicting a local AAUW president in a given decade, relating the lives of Vancouver women to developments in the world beyond. According to a history on its website, that first Depression-era meeting in Vancouver really set the pace because so much was happening. Schools were closing and children were being forced to work. Men were out of work, and women’s status was changing fast.

AAUW had already researched and reported, as early as 1913, that women were not paid equally to men for doing equal work. In the century since, it has supported women doing scientific research (including helping to buy a gram of radium for Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning radiation scientist), assisted refugees (especially female scholars) fleeing Europe during World War II, supported the establishment of the United Nations, and fought racial discrimination and environmental degradation.

In 1987, it even voted to allow men in.

“Having done the research needed to write the scripts, I was gratified to find how involved in the social and legal issues of each era the members of our branch have been,” current AAUW Vancouver president Kathy Walker wrote in an email. “From fighting for civil rights to bucking Senator McCarthy, from supporting the USO and selling war bonds during WWII, to fighting for women’s rights in the ’70s and beyond.”

The Vancouver AAUW is now mostly focused on fundraising for scholarships to Clark College and Washington State University Vancouver. It holds meetings at 10 a.m. the second Saturday of most months (except November and December) at Pacific Continental Bank, 101 Sixth St., downtown Vancouver. It has 81 members right now, Walker said.

Nationwide, according to the AAUW website, there are 1,000 branches and 170,000 members and supporters.

Prepaid reservations are required by Nov. 4 for “Thinking Back, Looking Forward,” so luncheon preparations can be made. Visit vancouver-wa.aauw.net/ to learn more.