Convention History in DC: Revisiting the Harmonious 1973 National Convention

Convention Program, Voices of the Future, June 1973. Image via AAUW archives

June is quickly approaching, which means the 49th National Convention — set to take place in Washington, D.C., — is right around the corner. In anticipation of this year’s gathering, we’ve been reminiscing about the many conventions held in the nation’s capital. This time we will travel back to 1973 when attendees gathered at the Washington Hilton Hotel on June 17 to start the 27th National Convention.

The theme of the 1973 convention was Voices of the Future, and this meeting was definitely forward-looking. Hearing the inaugural report of the new Commission on the Future of AAUW was the highlight of this convention. Established by the AAUW Board of Directors, this group was responsible for making recommendations for AAUW’s future. Among their many proposals was a vote on offering membership to women without college degrees. (Men were not admitted in AAUW until 1987.) The commission recommended extension of membership solely on the basis of “interest and ability to contribute.” Members voted, yet the proposal was overwhelmingly defeated.

During the convention attendees were treated to state of the art technology available at the time and several interesting speakers. A multimedia program called Survival was displayed using 13 projectors and five screens. A six-hour film festival also took place. Benetta Washington, Ph.D., wife of the mayor of Washington, D.C., proclaimed June 17–24 as AAUW Week in the District. Other speakers included President Nixon’s daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, and Bina Roy, Ph.D., president of the International Federation University Women (IFUW).

Awardees also delivered acceptance speeches. The AAUW Achievement Award was given to Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D., a psychologist who along with her husband Kenneth Clark, Ph.D., based their research on the well-known doll racism test. The Recognition Award for young Scholars went to Susan Hartmann, Ph.D., a historian specializing in women’s history. In keeping with AAUW’s tradition of recognizing stellar female scholars, the new AAUW Annie Jump Cannon Endowment was announced and awarded to women studying astronomy on behalf of AAUW and the American Astronomical Society.

Membership survey, June 1973. Image via AAUW archives.

As always legislation and public policy played a central role in convention business. Sixteen resolutions were debated, including support for the inclusion of women’s studies into the higher education curriculum, support for public broadcasting, and the allowance of a reasonable amount of lobbying by nonprofit organizations without loss of tax exemptions. The program also included two new and timely issues: support for adequate handgun control laws and the adoption of a national energy policy.

Despite the unsettled times, attendees said the overall spirit of “harmony and cooperation” prevailed throughout the entire meeting. This assessment was a marked contrast from the previous gathering in 1971, during which the controversial issues of reproductive rights, recognition of China, and support of the Vietnam War polarized the convention body. By 1973, a unifying spirit overcame the largest convention attendance to date: 2,181 registrants brought together members from every state and Puerto Rico.

Come discover what unites us in 2017, and join us this June in D.C.


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By:    April 20, 2017