Explained by GFWC Babs Condon--
GFWC members have played and will continue to play a crucial role in women's history.
Most of you know that our roots can be traced back to 1868 when Jane Cunningham Croly - a professional New York journalist - formed a club for women…but did you know it took 22 years until she extended an invitation to other women's clubs throughout the United States to attend a convention in New York City?
And did you know that members from 63 clubs across the country attended that meeting in April of 1890 where they formed the General Federation of Women's Clubs? The original purpose of GFWC was as a means of self-education - personal and professional development for women and over the last 123 years there have been some lively disagreements over various resolutions and bylaws revisions.
If you have even attended one of our national conventions, you might even say that some of those debates have been pretty fierce or contentious - because we women fight for our beliefs.
Democracy is what America was founded on and what our founding mothers used when they decided to form a Federation. They chose this type of organization on purpose - not going with the then popular Association. For you see, the leaders of an association dictate the rules, the names, the dues amounts, and even tell their chapters or clubs what their bylaws will say.
Our founders didn't want that because we were already fighting over some basic human rights the right to vote and own property and they didn't want to take one more right away from us. From the late 1860's until 1920 - the suffrage movement played a key role in history and GFWC members were right in the thick of this avalanche of debate, protest and advocacy for political reform.
Unfortunately these same women who didn't want to restrict our members in any way - would never have believed that just by forming a Federation it might keep us from gaining recognition.
Clubs just like yours and members just like you have made history time and time again. You have worked alongside the thousands of other GFWC clubs on in our country for many purposes over the years. Your connection to these other clubs is the reason we can claim some of this awesome history.
Things like: in the late 1800s, as the woman suffrage movement gained momentum, GFWC women became more attentive to social issues, such as food and drug safety, worker safety, and child labor. Factory and business owners fought against women's right to vote - often because they were worried that women would pass laws requiring changes in procedures and make it more expensive to operate their businesses.
In the late 18oo's GFWC convention attendees unanimously passed a resolution against child labor and then we turned to juvenile court laws - many of which were passed at the insistence of GFWC clubwomen.
In 1901: The 56th Congress of the United States chartered GFWC and designated that the Federation be headquartered in Washington, DC…
And we continued our hard work on issues like:
The Pure Food and Drug Act
The 8 hour work day
And Prison reform.
We also focused on Maternal Education and helped establish 6 of the first national parks.
So - our congress decided we needed to be headquartered in Washington DC and in the beginning - we had a traveling trunk filled with the records and documents of the federation which was passed along from officer to officer.
Eventually we rented office space in DC and the documents found a temporary home.
It wasn't until 1922 that we found our current GFWC HQ and purchased it for $70,000.
I'm sure many of you know that Eleanor Roosevelt was an active member of a GFWC Club in New York, and maintained strong ties with the Federation throughout her years as the First Lady.
But even before FDR was elected as our US President, he and his wife lived in DC - on N Street diagonally across from our HQ building.
Eleanor informed the GFWC President that a suitable building for our national headquarters was available - just up the street from her home at the time, and that is how we came to purchase 1734 N Street, NW in Washington, DC to serve as the Federation's International Headquarters in 1922.
In addition to staff offices and rooms for meetings and receptions, one floor was designated to serve as an apartment for the International President. In the 1950's we purchased the buildings on either side of 1734 N Street and connected them on the 3rd floor.
Did you know that in 1924 - a GFWC California club woman came up with the idea of painting a white line down the middle of the roads as a safety measure?
History tells us that she was almost run off the road by a large truck - who was taking his half in the middle - which started her on the road of many long years of dedication to road safely.
When she finally accomplished her goal of getting lines painted on her state highways to mark the center of the road - other states soon followed suit - because she had asked her fellow Federation members across the country to lobby their legislators as well.
How many lives did these connected GFWC clubs save with this idea?
In the 1930's and 40's - the library movement was tied to the growth of women's organizations. The last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a proliferation of women's literary and cultural clubs in American cities and towns and these GFWC clubs founded over 474 free public libraries and 4,655 traveling libraries in the 1930s and 40s.
We also sold war bonds worth over $154 million - enough money to purchase 431 of the first 450 planes off the assembly line at Boeing.
In the 1950's GFWC started the Community Achievement Program, which recognized clubs that best improved the quality of life in their communities. Now called the Community Improvement Contest, it remains one of GFWC's longest running and most important efforts.
In the 1960's we turned to safely issues again and came up with a project called Brighten the Night - a nationwide campaign for street lighting to prevent crime and accidents.
We also had the GFWC's Women's Crusade for Seat Belts program which resulted in the installation of more than one million seat belts over the course of one year , but can you believe that the first state law REQUIRING the use of seatbelts was not passed until 1984 - 23 years later?
Our GFWC clubs banded together and lobbied for both of these safety measures. We have always stood for what is important for our families and fought for what we believe.
2014 will be the 30th Anniversary of the founding of our Women's History and Resource Center - which is dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting, and promoting all of the histories, contributions and records of our proud 124 year history of volunteer service and each year we have students of women's history from all the big universities in the area doing research in our archives.
In the 1990s: GFWC actively supported the passage of the Violence Against Women Act; the Americans With Disabilities Act; the Family and Medical Leave Act; and legislation supporting handgun control.
We also renewed our commitment to libraries with a project called Libraries 2000.
Who remembers when Faye Dissinger (our GFWC President at the time - announced that she had pledged 12 million dollars on our behalf? Wow - we actually thought she might have overstated our enthusiasm - but over the next five years, GFWC clubwomen raised and donated $13.5 million to public libraries and public school libraries across the nation.
During the 2004-2006 administration, GFWC members contributed $180,000 for a fully-equipped ambulance for use by the New York Fire Department in response to the loss of equipment suffered during 911.
GFWC has earned a reputation as a powerful force in the fight against domestic violence. During the 2006-2008 administration, our members donated over $15.9 million dollars to DV shelters and organizations who fight DV. Since then we have donated almost 60 million dollars and just this past year our clubs donated almost $1.5 million to aid DV survivors.
The amazing hard work and accomplishments of our founders is important to know and use as a motivator, but this is the time to step up and show the world that GFWC women still care.
During my administration I am going to urge every one of you to step up and create a ruckus, lobby your legislators, and advocate for issues you feel strongly about - issues that we have resolutions supporting - issues like DV reforms.
To do this - we have created a Legislation Action Center on our website. It's very easy to use. You log in - and then click on the Public Policy heading and then on the Take Action link.
Simply type in your Zipcode and BAM - you are connected to your legislators. You can email them all with one click. We will provide the resolutions that support various bills coming up for votes and you can urge your people to vote along with 90,000 women in GFWC. From time to time - we send out alerts via our News & Notes weekly emails…and I am hoping our women will get ACTIVE in legislation!
GFWC clubs and members have played an incredible role in the history of our country and the world. The things I have mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg.
So I ask you - where do you think our world and country would be without GFWC?
How important is it to you to belong to a group where clubs just like yours annually donate about $40 million dollars to help people who are in need?
In a single generation, technology has revolutionized our world, transforming the way we live and work and we can either keep up - or get left behind.
The young women you need to keep your clubs going - are techno savvy - constantly connected to their friends and family via smart phones and other social networks. Are you keeping up? Do all of your members know how to access GFWC information online?
Keeping GFWC strong and viable has never been about standing still. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.
We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the volunteer organizations who are vying for new members.
Our building is 136 years old and the pipes have started to leak. Anyone who has an older house knows about those tiny little leaks that take months to even notice. We've had to replace parts of the pipe system over the last year - but we know that the entire system needs replacing.
If we collected the same dues that members of Kiwanis pay each year - we'd have 6.5 million dollars annually - enough to fix these problems and provide lots more membership services.
But for some unknown reason our members don't seem to value our organization enough to even think about a dues increase.
Remember the GFWC convention in 1992 in Indianapolis? It was my first GFWC convention and there was a 2 hour debate over raising the dues $2. I was incredulous. We had all spent hundreds of dollars to attend the convention - had bought pretty new clothes, and spend lots of money on the convention food - to fight about a $2 increase.
Then again in 1999 - we flew to San Francisco - stayed at the most expensive hotel in that town - the Fairmont - and I know my bills totaled about $1500. The convention delegates voted down a $10 dues increase.
Do you know that the last dues increase (of $5) was approved in 2000 (and that had a stipulations that it could only raise one dollar per year to start in 2005 and end in 2009). It's been 14 years since we voted and 5 years since the last increase and no one has been brave enough to say - this is ridiculous - membership in GFWC is worth more than $15. What does this tell you about the value some of our members place on our organization?
Do you know another organization that you can join instead of GFWC that provides you with the opportunity to do so much good for so many people in need?
Our vision for GFWC's future - continues as it started - a means of self-education and personal and professional development for women.
John Wesley is quoted as saying: Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you can. He must have been talking about our GFWC members - for that is exactly what we do, because...
When we see injustice - we stand up
When something needs to be said - we speak up
When we make an appointment - we show up
When we become blind to our faults - we wake up
When we make a mistake - we fess up
When we overstep - we back up
When we get behind - we try to catch up
When they knock us down - we get right back up
If you're out of line - someone says - straighten up
When your president goes fast - we have to keep up
When your elders speak - we listen up
When your teachers teach - we sit up
When the fight is over - we make up
When we're being too hard - we ease up
When our hearts are closed - we open up
If we want to buy something - we save up
If we make a mess - we clean it up
If someone is waiting for us - we speed it up
If we're caught fibbing - we give it up
If people fall down - we help them up
Not the rest of the world - WE step up
If we see someone fighting - we break it up
If the music is wholesome - we turn it up
If your words are rude - we say clam it up
But if your words encourage - we say - keep it up
If someone needs our help - we pull them up
If we can't afford stuff - we pass it up
There are no bail outs here folks - so we pony up
If we make a promise - we back it up
Quit your whining - or we'll tell you to pack it up
If life is good - we soak it up
If life is unfair - we buck up
If life gets sad - we ....look.....straight.... up
Life is just too short - so live it up.
When your Federation calls - we woman up
GFWC was founded on it - you can look it up
and if you don't believe it by now - I'll never give up!
Babs J. Condon, GFWC President-elect, April 2014
Did you know that the offical song of GFWC is "America, The Beautiful" written by Katherine Lee Bates. GFWC selected the song in 1922, as it "…is a song of dignity and beauty, easily sung, and reflecting the true spirit of America and the ideals of this Federation."