The history of our organization
Started by women, for women -- to improve women's issues.
In 2009 BPW/USA Foundation merged with its sister organization BPW/USA Federation to continue the work and legacy of supporting working women, their families and successful workplaces.
The Business and Professional Women’s organization is the oldest organization of its kind in the world, devoted entirely and actively to the interests and needs of all employed women irrespective of their occupation of their status -- executive or worker. It is the only organization started by women and for women to improve women’s issues.
Premiering on October 20, 2013 at IMAX in Raleigh, Business & Professional Women: A History, A Movement is a short documentary about BPW -- the first organization to focus on issues of working women. Click here for details!
The beginnings of BPW started in 1917, when the U.S. entered into War. The U.S. government realized there was value in the form of women manpower.
In 1917, the United States entered the war with Germany. The government became cognizant of the value of the aid that might be given by woman power as well as manpower (in case of emergency) became evident.
Plans were made -- the Secretary of War, Newton Baker, sent out an urgent call to make that power available for the war, but mobilization of the group was negated by the signing of the Armistice. The necessity of the group of women as a war measure was at an end. But, things had gone too far; too much had already been gained. The flame of its inspiration did not die and the women flocked to the Secretary of War who felt that the enterprise was important enough to consider as a post war project.
In 1918 the U.S. War department sponsored a two-day conference in New York to plan for a national business women's committee for war work.
Key women had been consulted and it was discovered that there were influential women in all states aware of the need for consolidation of power of business and professional women on a national level. The country was divided into five districts with qualified organizers in charge of each. In May 1918 the War Department invited two representatives from each state east of the Rocky Mountains for a two day conference in New York to plan for a national business women's committee.
These women represented executives, lawyers, physicians, educators, librarians, secretaries -- virtually all areas of employment. From this group, Lena Madison Phillips was appointed Executive Secretary and later served as National President. At this meeting in New York, the name of the organization, the purpose and the objectives were established.
Background on Lena Madesin Phillips: Dr. Phillips (original name Anna Lena Phillips) was born in 1881 in Kentucky and was educated at female educational institutes. In 1917 Dr. Phillips became a lawyer and soon started working for YWCA. In 1918 she organized the National Business Women’s Committee for War Work (NBWC). The war ended before any work could be done however the committee decided to continue as an organization dedicated to women in business. In 1919 the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs was formed with Dr. Phillips as executive secretary. Dr. Phillips traveled extensively to promote the formation of local clubs and from 1926 until 1929 she served as President of the National Federation. She started the movement for the founding of the International Federation in 1930 and was its President until 1947. Dr. Phillips died in 1955 in Marseille France.
Listen: Americas Town Meeting radio show. Dr. Lena M. Phillips is part of a panel discussion. 12/12/1935: Personal Liberty and the Modern State Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 Dr. Phillips is heard in Part. 2.
June 1919: A small group of business and professional women from Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, Salisbury, and Winston Salem met in Charlotte, NC. Here they organized the NC Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs. Read more about BPW/NC history here.
July 1919, the NBWC Business and Professional Women's National Federation.
Though the war ended, funding was nonetheless granted and in July 1919 the first National Convention was held in St. Louis, Missouri, where the National Federation was established. The new Federation sponsored the first national survey of business and professional women and their status, opportunities and qualifications. The major goal was to bring a better understanding of the needs and conditions of self-supporting women in different sections of the country; to focus and direct in a cooperative manner all efforts to obtain conditions through the facilities of training, to gather and disseminate information relative to vocational opportunities in order to bring about a greater solidarity of feeling among women throughout the nation and eventually throughout the world.
Before the first year was over, 25,000 local federations had been formed. At the first birthday of the Federation, during the St. Paul Convention in 1920, national president Gail Laughlin appointed a committee to select a design for the Federation Emblem. In 1921 President Lena Lake Forrest and committee selected the emblem that we continue to use today. It was designed by a sculptor name Nygaard. The emblem is in the form of a golden circle. The symbols of Nike, Scroll, Torch and Wand, and Ship of Commerce are imposed above the initials of NFBPWC. The Nike design symbolizes progress, strength, freedom, and triumph facing squarely the winds and waves of prejudice and all other limitations. The Torch is a symbol of light, wisdom, principle, leadership. The Wand is the winged staff of Mercury, herald of a new day for women, and a symbol of opportunity, equality, cooperation, healing, harmony, and power. The Ship of Commerce typifies the entrance of women into business and the expansion of opportunities until there now remains no door closed to the prepared woman. The Scroll of Achievement began in 1919 and is still unrolling. Here it may continue to record our accomplishments and successes.
The Federation was the first women's organization to present a legislative tax bill to congress.
The Federation established scholarship funds in professional schools, was the first women's organization to present a legislative tax bill to congress, and began publishing the magazine Independent Women. BPW was influential in passing child labor laws.
In 1928 & 1929, the "BPW Goodwill Tours" of Europe initiated the founding of the International BPW Federation.
The International Federation of Business and Professional Women (IFBPW) was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, on August 26, 1930, on the initiative of Dr. Lena Madison Phillips, then President of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs of the United States of America. The founding member countries of the international federation were Austria, Canada, France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States of America. Dr. Phillips was elected as the first IFBPW President and served until 1947.
Each year since 1928, BPW celebrates the contribution of women to the business and professional life of the country.
With the theme, "Better Business Women for a Better Business World," National Business Women's Week was established to celebrate and dramatize the contribution of women to the country. Each year since 1928, National Business Women’s Week is celebrated with the announced purpose of dramatizing the contributions of women to the business and professional life of the country. Career women leaders are often recognized and honored during this week. National Business Women’s Week is always celebrated the third week in October. Traditionally the President of the United States begins the week with an official proclamation that is followed by similar messages from governors and mayors throughout the country. BPW clubs use this week to publicize their activities, attract new members, and underline the BPW’s goal of elevating the standards for all working women.
In the 1930’s BPW worked to prohibit legislation or directives denying jobs to married women.
BPW lobbied hard and successfully to legislatively end the legal practice of workplace preference for unmarried persons and, in the case of married persons, preference for males. In 1937, BPW was one of the first women's organizations to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment.
During the Second World War BPW supported the establishment of women's branches in the service.
BPW developed a classification system for women with specialized skills critical to the war effort. While wage discrimination has existed in the U.S. since women and minorities first entered the paid workforce, its prevalence was not felt until the massive influx of women sought work during World War II.
On May 15, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signs a bill that creates the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Women who join the corps perform a variety of noncombat tasks formerly done by male soldiers, such as driving military vehicles; rigging parachutes; and serving as translators, cooks, weather forecasters, and aircraft control tower operators.
Immediately following the war, the Women's Pay Act of 1945 - the first ever legislation to require equal pay - was introduced in the U.S. Congress. It was another 18 years before an equal pay bill made its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
In 1956 the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs' affiliate, the BPW Foundation, was founded as a non-profit research and education organization.
The Foundation supports research on all aspects of women's workforce participation and maintains the Marguerite Rawalt Resource Center, a library of resource material. BPW/PAC is a political action committee which endorses candidates who support BPW's legislative platform, mission, and objectives.
National executive offices originated in New York City but in 1956, the offices moved to Washington D.C. where things were happening. The building selected was a beautifully proportioned four-story brick mansion on “Embassy Row”.
During the 1960s, BPW led the fight for the Equal Pay Act, launched a program to develop young women, and kicked off the first national legislative conference.
The establishment of "Status of Women" commissions in the U.S. in 1963 was due largely to BPW efforts. President John F. Kennedy recognized BPW's leading role in securing passage of the Equal Pay Act by giving BPW's National President the first pen he used when signing the Act into law.
In 1963 BPW National President, Virginia Allan, initiated the "Young Careerist" Program to develop the business and presentation skills of young women between 25-35 years of age.
The first National Legislative Conference, held in 1963 in D.C., later developed into BPW's current Policy & Action Conference, where members lobby Congress and the Administration on BPW's legislative issues.
In the 1970s BPW also fought passage of Title IX and ERA.
Title IX of the Education Amendments banning sex discrimination in schools, equity in education and credit, prohibition of sexual harassment, and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA is passed by the U.S. Congress and sent to the States for ratification. Only 35 of the necessary 38 States ratify the ERA by 1982. BPW and its members continue to work towards ratification of the ERA today.
The 1980's opened up membership for men, launched international Young BPW, and launched a better pay campaign.
In 1980 by changing “women” to “individuals,” revising bylaws to permit men as members. This was well before many men only organizations were forced to open their membership through court action.
In 1985 BPW International started the "Young Career Women" program at the New Zealand Congress just as a congress program to motivate young members. The program evolved and in Acapulco in 1998 - the first International YCW Meeting took place, with 60 YCW members attending from 15 countries. Today they call themselves Young BPW; with a representative that sits on the Executive Board of BPW International.
In 1986 San Francisco became the first U.S. city to approve a pay equity referendum. BPW/USA had spotlighted "comparable worth" by calling on newspapers to stop the occupational segregation in classified ads (clustering of women in a few restricted occupations of low-paying, dead-end jobs). Numerous state and municipal governments revamp their pay scales, recognizing dissimilar jobs may not be identical, but may be comprised of tasks, educational requirements, experience and other characteristics that are equivalent or comparable.
To underscore the economic inequity women face in their jobs BPW/USA launched its Red Purse Campaign with the theme "Better Pay for Women" in 1987. The "Red Purse Campaign” of 1988 drew national attention to wage disparity. Using the "BPW" letters to represent Better Pay for Women, BPW/USA capitalized on the national media attention focused on the red purse.
At the Hartford, Connecticut Convention in 1985, BPW/USA's Legislative Platform expanded to include the Equal Rights Amendment Preamble. Also at this Convention, BPW/USA initiated the $2.65 million campaign to renovate the national headquarters at 2012 Massachusetts Avenue ("Project 2012").
BPW had a heavy focus on legislation during the 1990's.
At the Minneapolis, Minnesota 1992 Convention, BPW/PAC announced the first-ever endorsement of a presidential ticket by endorsing Clinton-Gore. BPW's grassroots membership worked as never before in GOTV (Get Out The Vote!) campaigns. From voter education forums, working in candidate campaigns, fundraising for candidates and registering women to vote, 1992 proved to be the "Year of the Woman," electing a record 4 women to the U.S. Senate and an unprecedented 24 women to the House. This political activism continued to the 1996 elections where BPW joined other women's groups endorsing the Women's Vote Project.
Continuing with BPW's focus on workplace issues, BPW lobbied Congress for passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which finally passed in 1993.
Discussions on comparable worth were expanded to include enforcement and strengthening of existing Equal Pay legislation. The Pay Equity Employment Act of 1994, followed by the Equal Pay Act (introduced in 1994) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (introduced in 1997) became BPW's focus legislation through the '90s.
BPW continued to be branded as the premiere grassroots organization addressing the wage gap, with most of our Local Organizations participating in events to focus on Equal Pay Day, usually the 2nd Tuesday of April. In 2002, the "Take the Pay Equity Pledge" Campaign asked candidates for Congress to sign a pledge to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. As pledge cards came in, BPW's Local Organizations held press conferences and distributed press releases on those candidates friendly to BPW's focus issue-Pay Equity.
In 2002, BPW sold the national headquarters to the Embassy of Portugal for $6.8 million.
2003 marked the 75th Anniversary of National Business Women's Week® (NBWW). In recognition of the vital role of women in business, leaders of Business and Professional Women/USA and the BPW Foundation rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Tuesday, October 21, 2003.
In 2005, BPW used its grassroots power to continue the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) Working Women Series and to re-instate Lifetime TV on the DISH Network programming.
In 2009 BPW Foundation merged with its sister organization BPW/USA to continue the work and legacy of supporting working women, their families and successful workplaces.
Today, BPW is focused on workplace equity issues.
| sexual harassment
|| opportunities for women veterans
|| work-life balance
| health care reform
|| dependent care
|| tort reform
| increasing the minimum wage
|| lifetime economic security
|| pay equity
Today, BPW is also focused on personal and professional development.
Manuscript Group 481 RECORDS OF THE PENNSYLVANIA FEDERATION OF BUSINESS AND PROFFESIONAL WOMEN'S CLUBS, INC. 1919-2002
The History of the Business & Professional Women By: Viola Willard BPW/Maine
America's Town Meeting of the Air in the Great Depression | American Studies Programs at the
BPW NC, BPW USA Foundation, BPW state, and BPW International websites
NC Museum of History