Women's Foundation of Arkansas

The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas (WFA) is dedicated to the economic, educational, and social advancement of women and girls in the state, and is the only statewide foundation to focus solely upon women and girls. WFA’s mission is to promote philanthropy among women and to help women and girls achieve their full potential. To fulfill this mission, WFA serves as a grant-maker, a convener, and a resource on the status of women and girls. The organization was inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018.

WFA’s programs and initiatives include Girls of Promise, an annual two-day science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) conference for eighth-grade girls; annual grants that support projects that assist Arkansas women and girls in achieving their full potential; mini-grants for Arkansas colleges and universities that hold STEM programs for girls; and events such as film screenings, lectures, and panels that highlight issues important to advancing the status of women. In addition, WFA conducts research and disseminates data on the status of Arkansas women and girls in areas such as educational attainment, socio-economic circumstances, health, workforce participation and careers, barriers to success, and other issues.

WFA was founded in 1998 by a group of the “Top 100 Women in Arkansas.” These women were selected by the Arkansas Business Publishing Group each year from 1995 to 1999 and honored with a luncheon and in an annual special supplement of Arkansas Business magazine. In 1998, the 100 women honored challenged themselves to collectively make a difference in Arkansas, and the idea of a foundation emerged. The group—led by Arkansas Business Publishing Group CEO Olivia Farrell; Pat Lile, president of the Arkansas Community Foundation; and Mary Gay Shipley, board chair of the ACF—proposed to improve the educational and economic status of Arkansas women. Further, the purpose of WFA would be to train women and girls for emerging occupations, encourage mentoring of women and girls in rural communities, as well as urban areas, and promote philanthropy by and for women.

Prior to the October 1998 launch of the WFA, more than 150 women responded to an appeal for funds, eighty-two of whom contributed $1,000 or more to establish a permanent endowment. Among these founders were Sharon K. Allen, former president and chief operating officer of Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield; Carolyn Blakeley, dean of the Honors College at University of Arkansas Pine Bluff (UAPB); Ellen Brantley, former judge for the Sixth Judicial Circuit; Charlie Cole Chaffin, former state senator; Sandra Cherry, the first woman in Arkansas appointed as an Assistant U.S. Attorney; Audrey R. Evans, chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court; LaVerne W. Feaster, former educator and district agent for University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service; Sue Frueauff, chief administrative officer of the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation; Johnelle D. Hunt, co-founder of J. B. Hunt Transport; Myra Jones, former state representative; Brownie W. Ledbetter, lifelong political activist; Cora McHenry, former president of the Arkansas Education Association (AEA); Dorothy Morris, co-founder and president of the Morris Foundation; Lisenne Rockefeller, owner of the Winrock Group and Winrock Farms, Inc.; Judith Rogers, former judge on U.S. Court of Appeals; Charlotte T. Schexnayder, former state representative and president of the National Federation of Press Women; Lottie Shackelford, the first woman elected mayor of Little Rock (Pulaski County); Helen R. Walton, co-owner/founder of Walmart Inc.; and Carolyn B. Witherspoon, director of Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon and Galchus, PC, and former Arkansas Bar Association president.

These women developed WFA’s first programs, made the first grants, and in 1999 created WFA’s signature fundraising event, The Power of the Purse. Each fall at the event, WFA honors accomplished women and announces the year’s grant recipients. Awards made at the event include Woman Business Leader of the Year, Woman Leader of the Year in Philanthropy, and Philanthropic Organization of the Year. In addition, WFA created the Brownie Ledbetter Civic Engagement Award, which is given when a woman distinguishes herself above all others through her exemplary participation in the building and strengthening of her community.

In 2002, WFA became its own 501(c)(3) organization. The foundation is strictly non-partisan. Much of WFA’s research and program work continues to be carried out by volunteers, and the organization also has one full-time and three part-time staff members, including an executive director, executive assistant, program director, and director of philanthropy. WFA’s offices are located in downtown Little Rock.

For additional information:
Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. http://www.womensfoundationarkansas.org/ (accessed September 29, 2021).

Women’s Foundation of Arkansas Papers. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Karen Hawkins
Women’s Foundation of Arkansas


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