Given at the 65th Anniversary Celebration, March 23, 1996
by Mooneen Lecce
Ada Belle Clark and Anna Elam, teachers from Bisbee, Arizona continued their friendship when they moved to the San Fernando Valley. Anna Elam became a charter member of the Glendale Branch when it formed in 1923, and Ada Belle Clark, who taught at Van Nuys High School, joined the Glendale Branch in 1926. She and eleven other women wanted an AAUW branch in the western part of the valley, so they held an organizing meeting on March 21, 1931, where Miss Clark became our founding president.
Most of the members of the new San Fernando Valley Branch lived in Van Nuys and North Hollywood, although Mrs. Ralph Goodall lived in the far west of the Valley – Canoga Park. These eleven members held meetings in their homes, discussing topics such as World Disarmament, the Influence and Environment of the Home on Boys and Girls, reviewing books, and listening to musical presentations that first year.
By 1935, there were 25 members, and they were involved in many aspects of AAUW beyond the local community. The 1935 annual report of the CA Division President stated “the San Fernando Valley Branch accomplished two goals at once – interesting their members and providing successful branch programs by a series of panel discussions and forums on international events, reviews of recent books and biographies, and with only 25 members have added $40 to the Fellowship Fund which is the highest per capita contribution in the South Pacific Division.” As you can see, we developed our talent for raising funds for EF early on.
As the war approached, disarmament, world peace and global economics were topics of discussion, with speakers from UCLA being asked to address the branch frequently. During the war, homes were sought for English refugee children, members worked for the USO and China relief, sold War Bonds, knitted wool socks and sweaters, and continued the custom of gathering toys and other gifts for less fortunate children at Christmas time.
During the post war years of the forties, we sponsored our first non-partisan candidate and issues forum, became interested in city planning and the development of the San Fernando Valley, formed our first bridge group (how frivolous!), grew to 100 members, and raised our first Fellowship Grant award of $500.
In the 50’s, we continued to raise monies for Fellowships, sponsored two University Extension courses on American Foreign Policy and World Politics, started our involvement with the McKinley home for Boys, providing gifts, trips and tutoring until the facility moved from the area – Sherman Oaks Fashion Square took its place and Bullocks didn’t seem to need our tutoring or our gifts. Our baby-sitting co-op began, and our activities and accomplishments began to receive a series of annual awards from the CA State Division. In 1961, our branch took over permanent possession of the silver pitcher awarded by the state for outstanding programming – every president since then has polished it at least once – when she hands it over to the incoming president! We continued our involvement in the community with a county conference attended by 15 other branches, supported city charter amendments, produced a two-year humane abortion study which was taken to the state convention, provided a summer enrichment program for our members’ children, and a summer creativity program for Mexican-American children in Canoga Park. We cooperated with the Destination 90 Forum at what is now CSUN to establish a cultural-arts council in the Valley. And oh, yes, we became the first branch in CA to establish an endowment in the name of a branch, not a person. Our membership grew to 710.
In the 70’s, our members became more active in the community – the Group Effectiveness Training Team was formed from the Ojai Retreat funded by the Sears Roebuck Foundation and the Association. We helped initiate the Los Angeles County Interbranch Council of AAUW, providing the process for the 25 branches to take legislative action on a countywide basis. We formed the Center for New Directions to help women make decisions and new starts in their lives. We provided programs for the LAUSD to teach ecology and art appreciation to elementary students, and a Community Concerns Award was initiated to honor women in the community who made a difference in the status of women. At the state level of AAUW, Sharon Schuster and I were elected to offices on the leadership team.
During the 80’s, more of our members worked outside the home, we marched for the ERA and Pro-Choice in the rain, our International Endowment was finished providing stipends for our first fellows from West Germany and China, Sharon was elected President of CA AAUW, and began her activities at the Association level, and in 1989, she was elected President of AAUW.
The 90’s are here, more of us are working outside the home, and our membership is 350. We are continuing to make changes in our lives and the community with mentoring at Mission College, developing a child care study which resulted in the CA AAUW taking a strong position and lobbying in Sacramento and Washington, forming the Women’s Organization Coalition with other women’s groups in the Valley, providing candidate and issue forums, endorsing candidates for non-partisan office, and continuing to play bridge. We bought into the Initiative for Educational Equity, and the Association’s study resulting in the report “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” providing this information to the schools and teachers so that our daughters and granddaughters will not be short changed. Some of us were involved with the International Decade of Women and the IFUW year of the mother/child, some of us have retired and have gone on to our favorite hobbies but still remain active in the issues of AAUW and the branch.
We started and finished an American Endowment in the memory of Evelyn Ghormley, and a Research and Projects Endowment in memory of Heidi Kadonaga, both past presidents who left lasting imprints on the lives of our branch members and the community. Now we are starting another American Endowment – this shows how goal-oriented our membership is!!
Our goal is to meet the future with enthusiasm, with energy, with younger members who will snatch at the leadership roles, and become the diverse organization that we all know we must make AAUW, if we are to continue to make a difference.
On to the 21st Century and another 65 years!!