Tackling the Gender Pay Gap over a 50-Cent Lunch: 1892 Convention
The 49th AAUW National Convention will be held in Washington, D.C., from June 14 to 17, 2017. Of course, this isn’t the first time our association has convened in the nation’s capital: The 2017 convention will mark the 13th time we’ve met in D.C., tying with Boston for the most frequented convention city!
The very first convention in Washington, D.C., was held in October 1892. The 1890s were a period of tremendous societal change and technological advances, and women were playing a more active role in society than ever before. At the time, AAUW’s predecessor organization, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, was only 11 years old and had a membership of just 2,085 women. The purpose of the convention, then called the annual meeting, was to recap the accomplishments of the previous year and do the hard work of laying out plans for the future.
In 1892 the organization was still operating out of its beloved wooden trunk, so the annual meeting headquarters were at the Hotel Arno. This hotel is no longer a part of the D.C. landscape, but it was once conveniently situated on 16th Street between I and K streets NW.
Members got down to business the first day, listening to annual reports from the secretary, treasurer, and state directors. The women in attendance were an impressive bunch. Florence Prag Kahn, state director from California, would later become the first Jewish woman to serve in Congress, representing California in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1925–1937. Also present was Indiana state director May Wright Sewall, a suffragist, peace advocate, chair of the National Woman Suffrage Association, and all-around civic leader.
On day two, attendees gathered at Columbian University (now the George Washington University), then located at 15th and H streets NW. They heard about the association’s progress in representing women’s interests at the upcoming World’s Columbian Exposition to be held in just a few months in Chicago, Illinois. Elizabeth Deering Hanscom, the first female recipient of a doctoral degree from Yale University’s graduate school, spoke about higher education funds and scholarships. A lively discussion followed about the limited (yet growing) number of scholarships and educational funds available to women.That evening, the meeting moved to a room in the National Museum — the precursor to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Guests heard from the honorable William Torrey Harris, U.S. commissioner of education, and listened to member leaders speak about the local work of fellow members and recent educational progress for European and American women. Like all AAUW conventions, this one also laid the plans for work to come. At the National Museum the next day, members heard a report from the newly formed Committee on the Study of the Wage Question. Committee Chair Eleanor Louisa Lord, a history and economics professor at Smith College, addressed the issue of the gender pay gap and encouraged the association to research the problem, gather data, and make recommendations. The two other notable committee members assisting with the report were Emily Greene Balch — economist, peace movement leader, leader of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and eventual 1946 Nobel Peace Prize recipient — and Vassar College professor Elizabeth M. Howe, who would later become AAUW president from 1901 to 1903. In 1894, two years after this inaugural committee report, AAUW would release our first pay equity study.
Following the address, a luncheon was offered for 50 cents in the gallery of the museum. The “eduvacation” began in the afternoon: For just $1, members could choose between a steamer excursion to Mount Vernon or a trip to see Baltimore.
Convention has evolved since our first meeting, but our purpose remains the same: to bring women together and give them a chance to connect, find solidarity, and plan how to help other women both now and in the future.
Like hearing about AAUW memories? Now it’s up to you to see the next memory in the making. We hope to see you in D.C. in June!
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