It all began with a meeting of seventeen like-minded women who had defied society’s standards by earning college degrees. In 1881, Marion Talbot and Ellen Richards invited fifteen alumnae of eight colleges to a meeting in Boston, Mass. They envisioned an organization in which women college graduates could band together to open doors of higher education to other women and to find wider opportunities to use their training. On January 14, 1882, The Association of Collegiate Alumnae was organized with 65 graduates of 8 colleges and universities. By 1884, the first branch was organized in Washington D.C, and in 1885, the first branch study was the inspection of sanitary conditions of DC schools and the presentation of the findings to Congress. The first national research study was on women’s health and physical education. The Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor determined higher education did not adversely affect the health of women college graduates.
By the early 1900’s, the group was advocating for child labor laws, compulsory education, juvenile courts, and the abolition of child labor and funding for public schools and libraries. In 1907, the twenty-fifth anniversary of its formation, there were 3639 members, 36 branches and 24 colleges and university partners. In 1917, a Committee on International Relations was formed as WWI progresses. The first of the Associations’ International Fellowships was awarded to Virginia Alvarez Hussey, from Latin America, who studied medicine at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. By 1919, the Association was urging for the establishment of the Department of Education. In 1920, Nobel prize-winning scientist, Marie Curie received financial assistance from members to help purchase one gram of radium. In 1921, the official name of American Association of University Women was formed, and they purchased their first headquarters building in Washington DC, two blocks from the White House. By 1931, which was the fiftieth anniversary, there were 36, 800 members, 521 branches and 230 college and university partners.
Today, AAUW empowers women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research. There are more than 150,000 members, 1000 branches and 700 college and university partners in the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico.
On aauw.org you can gather further information about the National and also visit the online history museum to continue to learn of the many activities that AAUW has been involved in such as pay equity, child development, nursery schools, adult education classes, fine arts, refugee aid, civil rights, the voting act, Title IX, Family and Medical Leave Act, sexual harassment and gender issues in the classroom to name a few.