Be sure AAUW can reach you

In the spring of 2021, there were many problems with emails from national with voting information going astray.

To check that AAUW can actually reach you, be sure that you haven’t inadvertently unsubscribed from their mailings. (This can sometimes happen if you forward a message to someone else without removing the unsubscribe link in the footer.)

As you may have heard, AAUW is migrating its member database to a new system.
One part is already “live” — the one that lets you choose which email messages you wish to receive from AAUW national.

If you start at

you’ll be asked to fill in your email address. You’ll then 

  • Get an email with a new link to update your information
  • When you click that, you’ll see the contact info AAUW has for you, and
  • A Tab labeled “My Email Preferences”

Click the Email Preferences and select at least one (I recommend Mission & Action) to be sure you are “in the loop” for emails from AAUW national.

If you have trouble getting the email with the link to  your contact info, check your Spam for a message from “AAUW Member Information” — it should come almost immediately. As always, would be your next place to check for help.

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2021 Results

This post will have information on the 2021 campaign.

In the meantime, the results are posted at

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This was originally posted on April 12 in the public Facebook group “AAUW: American Association of University Women” –

Much of this discussion has focused on our name and whether or not it matches our membership requirement.

I’d like to move on to whether our PURPOSE has anything to do with the our degrees.

Yes, in the 19th century, our documents said:

“The object of this Association shall be to unite alumnae of different institutions for practical educational work.”

That language carried into the 21st century as in the Bylaws of 2003:

“The purpose of the Association is the uniting of the graduates of different institutions for practical educational work, for the collection and publication of statistical and other information concerning education, and in general for the maintenance of high standards of education.”

But those who remember the “change or die” discussions of 2005-2007, the vote in 2007 to change, and the hard work to come up with a new structure and documents for approval in 2009, know that it was in 2009 that we changed our Purpose (Article II of the Bylaws) to say:

“The purpose of AAUW is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.”

That change in purpose was made at the same time that the membership organization was folded into the Educational Foundation and became a 501(c)(3), a public charity. The new bylaws that so many members worked on for so long also dropped the degree requirement for membership. That was put back in on the Convention floor with no consideration of how it was inconsistent with the new purpose — just because many members thought that it could not be separated from the AAUW they knew and loved.

But the fact remains that if we say we are about gender equity (not uniting graduates), if we are a nonprofit serving the public (not a club), then there is no logical reason to require those who work with us to have a degree.

If you want to keep the degree requirement for membership, how would you rewrite the Purpose to be appropriate for a 21st century national 501(c)(3) organization — but still restrict membership to those with degrees?

Bottom line: We have already changed. Our allies see the “new” us, and scratch their heads at the degree requirement.

Please vote and encourage others to vote to root out this inconsistency and let us move forward as the powerful organization working for gender equity that we really can be.

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Prepared by Jean D’Addario for presentation to the AAUW Cape Fear (NC) branch

Dear AAUW Branch Members,                                                

How important is our AAUW vote?

As AAUW members we’re being asked to give considerable thought to doing away with a last barrier to inviting all women to become AAUW members.  

I want to introduce you to Isabella. She was a charismatic speaker.  Among others, she met Fredrick Douglas and then gave speeches about the evils of slavery.  She dictated her autobiography and survived on the sales of her book.  She became know nationally.  She befriended Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  She gave a lecture at a women’s conference in Akron, Ohio in which she challenged the prevailing notions of racial and gender inferiority.  She eventually split with Douglas because he felt suffrage for men should come before women.  Isabella thought it should happen at the same time.  Who is this woman?  Sojourner Truth, a slave who was bought and sold 4 times.  She had five children.  She couldn’t read or write but she continued speaking nationally and helped slaves escape to freedom.  During the Civil War, she urged young men to join the Union cause and organized supplies for black troops.  After the war she was honored with an invitation to the White House.  She became involved in the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping freed slaves find jobs and build new lives.  She lobbied against segregation and won a case in the mid 1860’s when a streetcar conductor tried to violently block her from riding.  Have we done as much?

One more woman whom we know today…she had a high school degree.  She went to work in a plant.  Initially, she received the same pay as men, but year after year she received less and less pay than her male co-workers.  Eventually she learned about it and sued.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.  Two years after the Supreme Court decided that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow employers to be sued for pay discrimination more than 180 days after an employee’s first paycheck, the US Congress passed a fair pay act in her name to remedy this issue, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.  She has since become a women’s equality activist, public speaker, and author.  In 2011, Lilly was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  Although Lilly did not have a college degree, she was given an Honorary Degree which did allow her to become a member of AAUW. Passage of the act did not result in her receiving a settlement from Goodyear (where she worked).  In spite of this, she said, “I’ll be happy if the last thing they say about me after I die is that I made a difference.” 

How about Eleanor Roosevelt?  Did she make a difference?  What do all three of these women have in common?  They didn’t have a college degree!  Do we value our college/university degrees?  Of course, we do!  We have moved into the 21st century, or have we?  Let’s become who we say we are.  Let’s break down the barrier we have to full participation in AAUW and really mean our mission and purpose.  Are we really making a difference in our communities? 

My hope is that you consider doing away with the last barrier to AAUW membership by voting affirmatively for the proposal.  We can still value our degrees and AAUW still stands out from all other organizations as we are the world’s largest Graduate World Funder…a great explanation for why we have “university” in our name. 

As AAUW members we are asked to vote to elect members to the national AAUW Board of Directors and vote on changes to the bylaws that would open membership and on changes to the Public Policy Priorities.

To vote, search for your personal email from Shannon Wolfe sent to you on April 7.  Just click on the box that says VOTE.  It is very simple!  Or, if you can’t find that, go to, then, search by clicking on the magnifying glass (to the left of DONATE) and write in National Election.  Enter and then click on National Election.  Scroll to the bottom to VOTE.

Very Sincerely,

Jean D’Addario

AAUW Cape Fear (NC)
AAUW Tar Heel (NC)
AAUW NC Past President

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History 1999-2009

Once More, With Feeling

As we move towards the 2021 balloting on this issue, I thought I’d review the early years of the discussions I had on the topic and how I think the issue has evolved.


I joined AAUW in 1994 and, as a newly minted branch president, the 1999 national convention in DC was my very first. It was a contentious convention dealing with a proposal for divorcing the foundation from the membership organization. The AAUW report, Gaining a Foothold: Women’s Transitions through Work and College, documenting women’s winding path through higher education (school, work, home — rinse and repeat) took up much of the program time. That report spoke to our branch where we were trying to figure out how to keep one of our newer volunteers engaged — she spent the previous year with us as a student affiliate, but now it was her husband’s “turn” to go to work and she had stopped out of her undergraduate program. The only advice we got was to add a “friend of the branch” category to our bylaws (which seemed unduly complicated if, as I hoped, the change to dropping the degree requirement was relatively near).

During the discussion of the Transitions report, we were told that we should listen to those “not at our table”, and when the change was discussed in a forum at that convention, I rose during the debate and used those words to argue for the change.

However, many more folks quoted the then current bylaws that said AAUW’s purpose was “uniting of the graduates of different institutions for practical educational work, for the collection and publication of statistical and other information concerning education, and in general for the maintenance of high standards of education” — words that came from the AAUW Charter.

I had come to convention sure that I’d drop out if the change didn’t get the support of the delegates, since I couldn’t see what having a degree had to do with the current mission – “Equity for all women and girls, lifelong education, and positive societal change.” In the end, though, I could accept the argument of those who focused on the “uniting of graduates” for the 501(c)(4) organization. I acquiesced and went on to spend much of the next 10 years in a variety of AAUW efforts.


Cindy Hebert, AAUW ME, 2005

The late Cindy Hebert, AAUW ME president in 2003.

The question was next brought up for a vote at the 2003 convention in Providence, RI.

This time it was raised by a small group led by AAUW Maine.

This was about the time that Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone had come to wide attention, talking about the “social capital” that groups like AAUW branches could bring to communities.

The new argument was that some communities were so small that they couldn’t support more than one organization working on issues of equity for women and girls. Those proposing the amendment to drop the degree requirement wanted AAUW to be the one remaining such group, but felt they couldn’t really compete with, say the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women if the degree requirement for AAUW membership was maintained.

The idea didn’t get much support, and the bylaws amendment failed.


Frieda Schurch

The late Frieda Schurch on the day she swayed the convention to grant membership to those with AA or equivalent degrees.

The idea came back again in 2005, with the convention returning to DC. A few individual members across the country were inspired by Maine’s efforts, and communicated with each other to plan strategies to move towards the change.  There were handouts, buttons (see the Cindy Hebert picture above), and hallway discussions to lobby the delegates on the issue.

Two bylaws amendments were proposed:

  • One: as before, to drop any degree requirement.
  • Two: to allow those with associate  or equivalent degrees (not to be confused with “associate degrees or equivalent”) to become members of AAUW

The two were debated in that order. The first failed. As time was running out on debate on the second, Frieda Schurch, a 50-year member and major donor, spoke. Her brief question — “What are we about? Equity for women or showing off our degrees?” — changed the whole tenor of the debate and the second version passed with the required 2/3 in favor.

[By the way, 2005 was also the year that I was on a conference call with a member of the national board and and and a branch member who said her branch’s bylaws had been changed to state state specifically that all were welcome as members. That branch continued as a remarkable force in its community for more than a decade until they were eventually challenged on the issue and decided to fold.]


Diane Ehrenberger

The late Diane Ehrenberger who designed collateral for Open Up AAUW efforts from 2005 on.

This convention in St. Louis changed the organization forever. For the previous three years (and at the 2007 convention) members were presented with a “change or die” proposition. Addressing some of the issues that had come up in the 1999 Convention (and the Foundation/Association split), a complete new set of bylaws was proposed that would, among other things

  • Fold the Educational Foundation, Legal Advocacy Fund, and the “Association” into one corporation, “AAUW”
  • While EF and LAF had been 501(c)(3) organizations, the Association had been a 501(c)(4). The new AAUW would be a a 501(c)(3)
  • Relegate the AAUW charter to the dustbin, and make the new purpose “advancing equity for women and girls through education, advocacy, and research”, mirroring a mission that had been adopted by the board earlier. Note there was no longer a “uniting of graduates” anywhere in the documents.

After a furious floor fight, a small group of delegates got together and proposed amending the new bylaws by putting back back the language in Article IV — the degree requirement — from the old bylaws. That amendment passed and we were left with the contradiction that we have lived with since: a purpose and mission that could very well be of importance to those without degrees, but a “club mentality” that says only those with degrees can  be members.

Since 2009

Ruth Wahtera

The late Ruth Wahtera who gave her immense communications skills to AAUW in many ways, including support of this website,

After 2009, the group that worked together in 2005 and 2009 expanded to a virtual presence and formed Open Up AAUW, the website, and a corresponding email list. 

The other thing that happened in 2009, was that the power to change the bylaws moved from the relatively small group attending the (expensive) national conventions, to the membership as a whole through the one member/one vote process. This means that voting on the fate of the national organization was open to members who see AAUW primarily as a local organization whose character would be irreparably changed by expanding the membership base. No creative solutions (allowing a local option, say) emerged during the ensuing decade and all attempts to drop the requirement went down. We have yet to see if the strong support from the national level for the change in 2021 will reach the electorate and change the outcome.

-Nancy Shoemaker
 February, 2021


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Letter to the Idaho Branches

On March 19, AAUW Idaho co-presidents, Kathy Scott and Julie Custer send the following letter to their members. We thank them for allowing us to share their document here, and we encourage other branch and state leaders to send similar notices.

Subject: We Support AAUW’s Proposed Change in Membership Requirements
To: All AAUW Idaho Members

Over the past four years we have visited all Idaho branches multiple times. Regardless of the size of a branch we are always impressed with AAUW Idaho members and their commitment to AAUW and their community. When reaching out via telephone or email, we have found members to be well informed and ready to take action that will lead to positive change for women and families. We are now asking you to take an action that will expand the voice and reach of AAUW: vote to eliminate the degree requirement for membership.

As we travel the state and at AAUW Idaho board meetings we always discuss the issue of membership. We have conducted membership training and talked about ways to grow membership. In those same discussions we have identified barriers to growing our branches. The biggest barrier, especially for the branches in rural areas, seems to be the degree requirement. We are an organization that advocates equity yet we are exclusive (some have said “elitist”) in our requirements for membership.

We have been relentless in asking Idaho branches to grow because if we are to have a voice in the issues of our time, our voice must be backed by numbers. At any function or event, we continually try to recruit new members. When we talk to prospective members about AAUW many of them are interested in learning more: “How can I join you in working towards AAUW’s mission?” We are then faced with having to ask them if they have an associate or higher college degree. This is a difficult question to ask. It may result in embarrassing the prospective member if they don’t meet the education requirement. Never mind that their passions, their accomplishments, and their contributions are significant, and we share the same values about empowering girls and young women. They cannot join AAUW because they do not meet a requirement that was established over 130 years ago.

Over the years AAUW has modified other eligibility requirements to reflect the ever-changing social climate:

  • 1882 – Degree from a specific list of colleges or universities
  • 1949 – Degree from any accredited four-year college or university
  • 1987 – Membership extended to male college graduates
  • 2005 – Membership extended to include graduates who hold an associate or equivalent degree from a qualified educational institution

How many potential members are we losing because AAUW has this eligibility requirement? We can answer that question to some extent based on conversations we have had over the years and around the state with interested individuals:

  • We lose younger women and men who meet the education requirement but don’t want to join an organization that seems elitist to them.
  • We lose women and men who share our vision for the future but because of a myriad of circumstances they were not able to attain a college degree. This did not keep them from having careers or joining other activist organizations. They just cannot join AAUW.
  • We lose donations from organizations that support our mission but do not understand why one must have a college degree to work towards gender equity.

Some members object to open membership because they wonder “What will our name be?” AAUW is the fourth name we’ve had in our years of being a membership organization. The name was not changed when AAUW started accepting men as members, or people who had a community college degree. What we call ourselves is not the end-all in our decision to become a more inclusive organization.

While AAUW is an organization that fully supports women getting a college education in the field of their choice, we need to recognize that education comes in many forms. Over our professional lives we have worked with many women and men who did not have a formal degree. This is not a measure of intelligence…sometimes it is the lack of opportunity or choices made early in life that are difficult to reverse. If you look at the statistics, in 2016, 46% of non-Hispanic white women aged 25 to 29 years completed four years of college. For African American and Hispanic women, the numbers are more stark at 25% and 31% respectively. This suggests AAUW cannot promote equity and diversity for all women and girls if the organization maintains exclusionary membership requirements.

We need every woman and man who supports our mission – empowering women and girls – to join us in the ongoing challenge of achieving gender equity.

When online voting begins on April 25, we encourage you to vote “Yes” to eliminate the college degree requirement for membership in AAUW.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Kathy Scott and Julie Custer
AAUW Idaho Co-Presidents

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When we were in the process of acquiring YWTF [the Younger Women’s Task Force], we had a retreat in DC for each of the existing chapter leaders and as the youngest Board member at the time, I was invited to be the liaison. At this retreat, the young women learned what it would mean for them to become AAUW members. They were all horrified at the membership requirement- not because they didn’t have degrees and couldn’t join but because of the exclusivity of it. They couldn’t understand why we would have a barrier for people who might want to help support our causes. This is not the way they think. I don’t mean to dismiss the acquisition of a degree but it is less of a big deal to women today. I am 46 and there was never a question that I was going to college. Yes, I am proud of my degrees but I am not interested in belonging to any organization just because I completed college. I am interested in belonging to an organization that fights for women’s equity and rights and I don’t care one bit if the other members have degrees as well.

[Many of AAUW’s] … 170,000 members and supporters are [not members, but] people who engaged with us in some way-signed a petition, signed up for Action Alerts, donated money or time, attended NCCWSL, responded to a social media event (twitter storm eg.). Many of these fall in the demographic of under 50. Many do become national members. It is just highly unlikely that a 25 year old woman is going to join a branch where the next youngest person is 65. I did join as a 22 year old but my grandmother was a member and she paid for my membership plus they pulled me onto the board right away. I was attracted by the mission, not the fact everyone had a degree.

…[W]e absolutely cannot adequately fight for equity and inclusion of women at the decision making table when we only allow certain women/people to belong to our group….

-Charmen Goehring
AAUW Branches: Sacramento (CA), CHAR (CA), CA Online, Bath-Brunswick (ME)
Edited from an email sent on April 22, 2017

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AAUW’s mission focuses on equity and equality. Equity and equality related to membership is critical to building a more inclusive organization. One way to do this is to open up the membership requirements for AAUW membership.

-Felisha Perrodin, AAUW Fayetteville (AR)
April 26, 2017

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As a third-generation AAUW member (and a history major), I honor and respect our organization’s history, so my support of opening AAUW to anyone supporting our mission in no way dismisses the reasons membership has traditionally been restricted to those with degrees. But part of what has made AAUW last the test of time as a nationally recognized and respected organization is its willingness to evolve with the times. (Read the Membership History page on this website!)

My AAUW membership is important to me not because of the letters after my name, but because I firmly believe AAUW’s advocacy, education, research, and philanthropy is moving the needle on equity for women and girls. I gratefully welcome anyone else who shares that passion and is willing to work with us on that mission. Asking someone for proof of a degree diminishes the strength of our claim to advocate for ALL women. We’re better than that. It’s time to prove it.

Sandy Kirkpatrick
April 11, 2017

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Voting near for 2017 Changes

The 2017 Voter Guide has been released with candidate bios, changes to the public policy program, and changes to the AAUW bylaws.

Again this year, this group collaborated to submit a change to the bylaws that would drop the degree requirement for AAUW membership.

Another proposal suggests adding  a new category of membership that would be open to those without degrees, but which would not convey the right to participate in national governance or committees nor in the required administrator/treasurer offices for affiliates such as branches. This two-tier structure seems untenable in an organization focused on equity.

So we urge all members to vote for “Proposal 2” (the simpler one) – tell your friends, seek out new members and national-only members who might not feel connected enough to vote. While it will be a hard to get to the 2/3 vote needed to change the bylaws, if we improve on the 2015 40% so that 50% of the voters approve this change, the board — which has already said it supports the change — may be pressured to campaign more openly and explain the rationale that the change is for the good of the organization’s future.

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