American Association of University Women (AAUW)
With its national headquarters in Washington DC, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is a nonprofit group that advocates for equity in education for women and girls. Its nationwide network of about 1,000 local branches consists of more than 150,000 members with 800 college and university partners. AAUW of Arkansas is the state-level entity of the national organization with branches in Conway (Faulkner County), Fayetteville (Washington County), Hot Springs (Garland County)/Hot Springs Village (Garland and Saline counties), Jonesboro (Craighead County), and Little Rock (Pulaski County).
Reflecting the national organization, the stated mission of AAUW of Arkansas is to advance gender equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. The Arkansas affiliate promotes higher education, greater equity, and development of opportunities for women and girls that enable them to realize their full potential. Its core values are based on integrity, inclusion, and intersectionality. Stating that it is nonpartisan and fact-based, the group’s vision is termed “Equity for All.”
Membership in AAUW of Arkansas is open to any individual holding an associate’s degree (or its equivalent, such as an RN), or bachelor’s degree or above from an institution of higher education that is accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or other qualified educational institution as determined by the AAUW Board of Directors.
Accredited institutions of higher education, such as colleges and universities, are also eligible to be members of AAUW of Arkansas. Students may also join. Chapters of AAUW in Arkansas generally have close working relationships with their local institutions of higher education, sponsoring fundraising events to provide college scholarships as well as supporting student-driven activities such as food donations for low-income families.
On the national level, AAUW was organized in 1881 when a group of female college graduates wanted to encourage more women to pursue higher education and to facilitate advancement for women in careers beyond those that were at the time quite limited. The founding of AAUW was one of the first organized efforts to advance opportunities for women and to advocate for their equal treatment with men. One of AAUW’s major milestones came in 1885 when the group published a paper disproving the prevailing myth that college impaired a woman’s fertility.
As the number of women graduating from college grew, so did national membership in AAUW. The organization supported academic achievements by female scholars, including scientist Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
The first chapters of AAUW in Arkansas were local branches at Fayetteville, Hot Springs, and Little Rock. In 1923, the Arkansas Division of AAUW held its first organized meeting incorporating those branches, followed by chapters emerging in Conway and Jonesboro. All of those towns contain institutions of higher learning in Arkansas. Local chapters of AAUW in Arkansas frequently host social events as well as presenting speakers on a variety of topics.
Reflecting the national mission of AAUW, local chapters in Arkansas generally strive to provide scholarships for women to attend college as well as grants and awards for community projects that benefit women. The organization also monitors issues such as gender discrimination; sexual harassment of female students, faculty, and administrators; salary inequity; denial of tenure and promotion; and inequality in college women’s athletic programs.
Past presidents who served AAUW of Arkansas came from all over the state, not only the towns in which chapters were located. The first recorded state president was Blanche Martin (1923–1925) from Little Rock. Along with state presidents from Conway, Fayetteville, Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Little Rock, where local chapters were located, state presidents for AAUW of Arkansas have also come from the communities of Arkadelphia (Clark County), Bella Vista (Benton County), Bentonville (Benton County), Camden (Ouachita County), El Dorado (Union County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Pea Ridge (Benton County), Rogers (Benton County), Russellville (Pope County), and Texarkana (Miller County).
AAUW of Arkansas sponsors an annual state convention that is open to all members and moves to different locations around the state. In addition to hosting programs and small group discussions, this event includes a business meeting at which delegates elect officers for two-year terms.
The “Diamonds in the Rough” program recognizes individual branches in Arkansas for excellence in one or more areas. In addition, the AAUW of Arkansas creates a statewide publication, the Arkansas Diamond, which is published twice a year. The newsletter may include articles on implementing AAUW programs in Arkansas, announcements of upcoming state, regional and national AAUW meetings, a column by the AAUW of Arkansas president, news from each branch, various committee reports, and any other items of interest, such as proposed amendments to bylaws.
The written history of AAUW in Arkansas is housed at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture. This collection contains records and materials from the AAUW branch in Little Rock as well as the Arkansas State Division. The archive includes board minutes, correspondence, scrapbooks, yearbooks, and audiovisual items.
For additional information:
AAUW of Arkansas. https://aauw-ar.aauw.net/ (accessed October 18, 2022).
American Association of University Women https://www.aauw.org (accessed October 18, 2022).
American Association of University Women Arkansas Division and Little Rock Branch Collection, 1917–1992. UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at https://arstudies.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/findingaids/id/5860 (accessed October 18, 2022).
Levine, Susan. Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth-Century Feminism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1995.
Garland County Historical Society
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