How It All Began for AAUW in Sacramento by Nancy Lawrence

On Feb. 25, 1920, 41 women met to form the Sacramento Branch of the Association of Collegiate Alumni (to become AAUW in 1921) after two newcomers to Sacramento brought the idea of college graduate women uniting to support education in the local area. The majority of the women were graduates of Stanford or the University of California; smaller numbers were from Mills, Vassar, Radcliffe, College of the Pacific, etc. Many of the original members were high school teachers such as Belle Cooledge, Sacramento’s first woman mayor.

The original “sections” or interest groups the branch offered were drama, legislation and education. The decade saw the addition of a modern novel section, new discoveries in food, and international studies. Branch members joined in coalitions with other civic organizations to promote better education, health and housing. The branch fully supported the effort to create a junior college here in 1921 and opposed tariffs on books and scientific instruments.

One issue the new branch advocated for in the 1920s was to increase teachers’ annual retirement income from $500 to $750. Dues for the branch increased over the decade from $1 to $2. At the same time, the branch raised $3,000 to create a loan fund for women going to college. One of the problems, as you might imagine, was recovering the loans. In later years that program became the scholarship program that we continue today.

Branch meetings through the decade always hosted speakers (most of them men) on serious topics that sound familiar today: Do Colleges Educate?, The School as the Burden Bearer, Post-war Resettlement of Refugees, Tariffs. Somewhat quaintly today, the meetings always included a musical performance by members. One meeting, perhaps before Big Game, had members singing the Cal and Stanford fight songs!

Women had gotten the vote in California in 1911, nine years before the 19th amendment was passed in the year of our founding. Yet in 1925, the branch voted against supporting a version of the Equal Rights Amendment by a 19-18 vote. Perhaps we should explore what that version of the ERA actually called for.

A glimpse of our founding decade indicates that many things don’t change, but community activism has been part of Sacramento Branch’s mission since our founding.