AAUW’s Most Memorable Convention Speakers

With convention just a few months away, it’s time to get excited about the lineup of this year’s wonderful speakers! Whether you’re a first-time attendee or a convention veteran, you will enjoy learning about some of our most memorable speakers from our past gatherings. Here are just a few of the highlights.

1. Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1993

Schuster, Bryantm, and Angelou

Renowned poet and author Maya Angelou spoke at the opening of the 1993 convention in Minneapolis.  AAUW Outlook said that “her voice was resonant and impassioned, and the delegates listened absorbed.” Angelou finished her speech by stating: “The vision, the voice, will not bring us victory unless we have courage.” “Vision, voice, victory” was the theme of that year’s convention.

2. Gloria Steinem, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1977

 Gloria Steinem at 1977

The cofounder of Ms. magazine gave the keynote address at the 1977 convention in Minneapolis with the theme “Bridges to Equality.” Steinem encouraged women to seek inclusivity in the women’s movement and to not let themselves be divided or polarized by age, economics, race, or sexual orientation. During that same convention, AAUW members reaffirmed its commitment to the Equal Rights Amendment.

3. Coretta Scott King, Chicago, Illinois, 1969

Coretta Scott King 1969 Convention

This convention’s theme was “The Responsibility of the Educated Woman” and kicked off the new Coretta Scott King Educational Fund.  King gave the keynote address and stated: “The educated woman must fight as relentlessly for peace as our men have fought for war. We cannot continue to bear if the educated woman fulfills her responsibility, she must become involved in the great contemporary social issues.” She also called for an end to racism — “however deeply it may be imbedded in our psyche” — and reminded attendees that racism could only be addressed if we “deal honestly and forthrightly with it.”

4. President George H.W. Bush, Washington, D.C., 1989

George H.W. Bush Convention, 1989

President George H.W. Bush was the first U.S. president to address an AAUW convention when he spoke to our Washington, D.C., convention in 1989. The theme of the convention was “Choices, Changes, and Connections.” Bush spoke about education and public safety. He specifically focused on crime against women.  He stated: “Women will never have the same opportunities as men if a climate of fear leaves them justifiably concerned about walking to the campus library at night.” At the closing of his speech, Bush encouraged AAUW members to “roll up their sleeves and run for public office.”

5. Frances Perkins, Denver, Colorado, 1939

Frances Perkins

AAUW member and first female cabinet secretary Frances Perkins addressed the 1939 Denver convention. Perkins was six years into her position as President Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor. She spoke about the very appropriate subject of women in public administration. Perkins outlined the opportunities for women in government and pointed to the progress that had been made up to that point. She also detailed the accomplishments of her own tenure that improved the lives of U.S. workers, including the abolition of child labor, a shorter work day, and the right to organize and bargain collectively, to name just a few. She expressed hope that in the future more women would heed the call to enter public service.

6. Ellen Gleditsch, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1929

Ellen Gleditsch was a Norwegian radiochemist who worked as an assistant to Marie Curie. Her accomplishments as a scientist include establishing the half-life of radium and discovering the existence of isotopes. Gleditsch was the president of the International Federation of University Women when she spoke to AAUW at the 1929 convention in New Orleans. During the ensuing years she used her laboratory as an undercover safe house for scientists fleeing Nazi persecution. Gleditsch herself was active in the resistance movement and posed as a needle worker to transmit messages during the war.

7. Eleanor Roosevelt, Kansas City, Missouri, 1959

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1959

Former First Lady and AAUW member Eleanor Roosevelt was the highlight of the 1959 convention in Kansas City. She spoke to the international relations panel and addressed the question, “Is America Facing World Leadership?” Roosevelt discussed the United States’ position in the world during the Cold War era. She answered the question of why Americans should help developing areas of the world. According to Roosevelt, as leaders of the noncommunist world, Americans must understand the regions that have yet to be swayed to either democracy or communism.


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By:    March 13, 2017