Leigh Stephens, a leader in the Sacramento branch of AAUW for 49 years, died July 14. She was 80.
Stephens served as president of the branch in 1977-1978 and founded the Women of the World program, spearheading the group for more than a decade. She initiated a study of women in the media and oversaw branch publicity for many years.
“She was very proud that she was there almost 50 years,” her husband Bob Aldrich said. “She was really supportive of AAUW’s work towards equal pay and equal rights. She met a lot of people (in AAUW) of like mind.”
Stephens, a retired Journalism and Communication Studies professor at Sacramento State University, focused her teaching and research on women’s rights and women’s role in the media. Her work with AAUW was a natural complement to her professional endeavors, her colleague and friend Virginia Kidd said.
She told younger women that “they had the right to do what they wanted to do,” Kidd said. “She was a very positive person. She had great faith in attitude.”
As part of her focus on education, Stephens founded Women of the World, an AAUW program that brought speakers from around the globe to Sacramento branch members. She organized the quarterly events and chaired the committee for more than a decade.
“It was a way of reaching out and learning about women and their culture in other countries,” Aldrich said. “It was to share knowledge and cross-cultural ties.”
Ruth Burgess, who worked with Stephens on many projects, recalled Stephens leadership ability in AAUW. “She would step up and lead a group and get it organized,” Burgess said. “She had a real love for AAUW.”
One of those projects included a study titled Images of Women. Stephens organized branch members to watch television news and entertainment programs and advertisements and document the roles of women. She gathered the data and wrote the report, which is now part of the AAUW archives.
“It was eye-opening for people to see that women were almost invisible,” Burgess said.
Stephens handled publicity for the Sacramento branch for many years, and upon leaving the position, wrote a how-to manual for publicity and conducted training sessions for board members.
A native of Americus, Ga, Stephens earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Mercer University and a master’s degree in Communication Studies at Sacramento State. Besides teaching at the university, she was the first woman to teach classes at Folsom Prison, Aldrich said.
Stephens also taught writing, editing and public relations through her consulting firm, Creative Communications Associates, and was the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters. She also wrote “Covering the Community — A Diversity Handbook for Media” and “12 Steps to Clear Writing.”
She was active in several organizations focused on women and media and the recipient of several awards for her academic research. After retiring, she wrote for Valley Community Publications.
“She was a mentor, she was a leader, she was a spokeswoman,” Aldrich said. “She wore many hats.”
In addition to her husband, she is survived by four children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Services were private.
Her family has established the Leigh F. Stephens Journalism Scholarship at Sacramento State University. Contributions to the Professor Leigh F. Stephens Journalism Scholarship fund at CSUS can be sent in her memory to The University Foundation at Sacramento State, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA, 95819.