Reflecting on the First AAUW Lobby Day

AAUW members gather before first ever Capitol Hill Day, June 27, 1989. Image via AAUW archives

In just a few weeks, the 49th AAUW National Convention will take place in Washington, D.C., making it the thirteenth time the nation’s capital has hosted convention. The last stop on our convention history tour takes us back in time to 1989 and the 35th AAUW National Convention, where the theme that year was “Choices, Changes, and Connections.”

Much like they will in 2017, convention attendees heard from a star-studded lineup of speakers including Washington, D.C.’s own Eleanor Holmes Norton who spoke at the AAUW issues luncheon. We know her today as the 14-term congresswoman representing the District of Columbia, a position she assumed in 1990. At the time of the convention in 1989, Norton, a professor at Georgetown University School of Law, was known as the first female chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a position she held from 1977 to 1981, and as the former head of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Norton is also the lead sponsor in the AAUW-supported which aims to ban employers from seeking an applicant’s salary history during the job hiring process.

A big highlight was the opportunity to hear the first-ever sitting U.S. president address an AAUW convention. President George H.W. Bush spoke to the convention audience on the issue of violence against women and the “archaic and unacceptable attitudes that all too frequently contribute to these crimes.” Bush called for a halt to the “war against women” and expressed concern that women would never have the same opportunities as men if they were in fear of “walking to the campus library at night or reluctant to work late hours for fear of getting out of some parking lot safely.” While AAUW has been hosted at the White House by U.S. presidents, this was the first and only time a president attended a convention.

President George H.W. Bush with (left to right) AAUW Presidents Sharon Schuster and Sarah Harder and AAUW Executive Director Anne Bryant, June 26, 1989. Image via AAUW archives

During the Foundation Night Banquet, the annual Achievement Award was granted to Marva Collins, a Chicago school teacher, founder, and teacher at the Westside Preparatory School. Collins received the award for her dedication and success in reforming Chicago’s school system.

This year also celebrated more than 100 years of AAUW’s fellowships program, which began in 1888. To mark the centennial, AAUW launched the Eleanor Roosevelt Fund for Women and Girls. The fund aims to eliminate barriers to girls and women’s participation in education, promote the value of diversity and cross cultural communication, and gain and promote a greater understanding of how women and girls think, learn, work, and play.” At the convention, Ruth Leger Sivard received the inaugural Eleanor Roosevelt Award for her world survey on women, which had been previously presented at the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985.

Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) addresses AAUW members during Capitol Hill Day, June 27, 1989. Image via AAUW archives

The 2017 Eleanor Roosevelt Award will be granted to Laura Dunn and SurvJustice Inc. Founded in 2014, SurvJustice Inc., is the only national organization providing legal assistance to survivors of sexual violence in campus hearings across the United States.

A new event debuted in 1989 that has become a tradition for D.C. conventions ever since. Capitol Hill Day, now known as Lobby Day, presented members with a “golden opportunity to make their numbers count with the lawmakers of Capitol Hill.” After a rally on the Capitol steps and an address by Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), AAUW lobbyists visited their legislators in the House and Senate to discuss AAUW’s support of the Family and Medical Leave Act. AAUW is proud that through their persistent lobbying efforts, FMLA became law in 1993.

Wondering about the successes we’ll have during AAUW Lobby Day this year? Join your fellow AAUW members as they make their voices heard on Capitol Hill.

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By:    May 26, 2017