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American Woman's Association records

 Collection
Identifier: BC41

Collection Scope and Content Summary

The office files of the American Woman's Association reflect the growth and development of the organization from 1911 to 1974. The records are arranged topically and include bound volumes of meeting minutes, newspaper clippings, memos, flyers, promotional materials, estate bequests, books, photographs, invitations and guest lists relating to lectures, luncheons, award presentations, and musical concerts. Materials of other social and cultural events presented by the AWA are also included. Highlights from the collection include “100 Women Look at the Future,” a report compiled from survey information to chart the growth of women’s financial stability, and “Miss Robinson Crusoe, Her Island Clubhouse,” a printed brochure about the Robinson Crusoe affair (a campaign designed to raise awareness about the necessity of a new clubhouse of the AWA).

The office files from the two predecessor organizations, the Vacation Committee (1911-1915) and Vacation Association (1915-1922) are incomplete and consist only of the charter and by-laws, savings stamps, and receipts. Also included in the inventory are materials relating to two organizations that the AWA was a chapter of: the National Council of Women of the United States and the National Committee on Household Employment. These records consist of correspondence, financial papers, newsletters, and invitations to various events. The materials representing the AWA (1922-1981) include minutes and reports of the Board of Directors, founding and history of the AWA, administration, including committee reports and correspondence, the American Woman’s Realty Corporation, general office correspondence, and activities and programs, including the Woman of the Month Award and the Eminent Achievement Award. In addition, there are many photographs documenting the multitude of events. Lantern slides are also included in the collection, both of promotional posters and candid AWA events. Also included are publications issued by the AWA. There are gaps in the materials available from the 1960’s and early 1970’s; other than general correspondence, there are few organizational files reflecting the administration of the AWA.

Dates

  • 1911 - 1981

Creator

Access

This collection has no restrictions; archivists may restrict access to glass plate negatives and lantern slides due to the fragility of the materials.

Publication Rights

Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Barnard Archives and Special Collections. The Barnard Archives and Special Collections approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Reproduction Restrictions

Photocopies or scans may be made for research purposes.

Historical Note

The American Woman’s Association (AWA) was the final product of various clubs and societies that supported and championed the advancement and efforts of women in both professional and cultural spheres. Throughout its 63 years of existence, the AWA provided safe lodgings, social outlets, and increased financial stability for independent women. A crucial element of the woman’s movement, the AWA boasted famous feminists such as Eleanor Roosevelt among its members. The AWA dissolved in 1974 after a period of waning activity. Dorothea Hopfer Kassouf ('47), a former president of the organization, claimed that this was because it had “served its purpose” in championing equal opportunities and protecting the rights of women.

The American Woman’s Association was initially known as the Vacation Committee which was founded in 1911 as a branch of the Woman’s Department of the National Civic Federation. The Vacation Committee was occupied with the Vacation Savings Fund, implemented to help women who did not receive salaried vacation time. Members of the Vacation Committee encouraged women across the country to buy stamps which eventually accrued enough interest to provide profitable vacations for the investors. Around this time, members of the Vacation Committee decided that they wanted to provide female friendly lodgings at a moderate cost for members willing to pay. Those who lodged were called the “taxpayers committee.” Lodgings were on W. 36th St in New York City. In 1915, the Vacation Committee split from the National Civic Federation, and Gertrude Robinson Smith became the first president of the now independent organization. In 1922, the Vacation Committee officially became the American Woman’s Association and stopped the vacation savings fund. They had raised more than $1,300,000 through the program. By 1927, members of the Association were searching for a more permanent home, and raised the funds to start their own clubhouse on West 57th Street.

Around this time, the Friendship Dinner Group was started as a subsection of the AWA to foster a feeling of friendship and camaraderie between women. AWA was the blanket association that ran the Friendship Dinner Group, but other unaffiliated groups participated in it as well. In 1931, meetings of the Friendship Dinner Group began to present the AWA Award for Eminent Achievement to women making strides as leaders in their respective fields, among them Frances E. Perkins, Pauline Sabin, Helen Rogers Reid, Virginia Gildersleeve, Dorothy Thompson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Florence R. Sabin, Margaret Chase Smith, Jacqueline Cochran, Marguerite Higgins, Helen Menken, and Mary H. Donlon.

The AWA was very involved with war relief efforts. During World War I, the AWA opened up temporary housing at headquarters for soldiers on leave from the battlefields and ran temporary work rooms in which unemployed women could make supplies for the frontlines and support their families. During World War II, the AWA formed the Red Cross Group, which trained volunteers from the AWA as nurses and sent them overseas, as well as providing supplies for the medical professionals serving in the war. The AWA commissioned reports on financial stability and independence among American women, including “100 Women Look at the Future.” In the 1950s, the AWA began to participate in larger, nationwide groups such as the National Council of Women of the United States and the National Committee on Household Employment (for which Dorothy Barko, president of the AWA, was treasurer.) Participation in the AWA dwindled in the 1960s and 1970s, and it functioned more as a social club than as the figurehead of the woman’s movement as it had in the past. In 1974, the AWA was officially dissolved.

A detailed historical timeline of the AWA is available in the Archives or by contacting archives@barnard.edu.

Extent

66.67 Linear Feet (41 full size boxes, 1 half size box, 14 custom boxes, 1 binder, 25 bound volumes)

Abstract

The records of the American Woman’s Association consist of materials relating to the founding and functioning of the organization over the course of seventy years, and include administrative documents, brochures, publications, clippings, miscellaneous printed materials, and photographs.

Collection Arrangement

This collection is arranged in four series. The records are arranged topically. The series are as follows:

Series 1. Vacation Committee, 1911-1922.
This series is arranged chronologically. The Vacation Committee was the predecessor of the AWA. Files contain annual reports, correspondence, loan funds, annual reports of and minutes from the War Relief Committee, minutes, and label ribbons.

Series 2. American Woman’s Association, 1920-1984.
This series is arranged by subject (following an arrangement devised by previous Barnard archivists) and contains materials that outline the founding and history of the American Women's Association, including administrative files, correspondence, awards and medals granted to and from the American Women's Association, membership records, records of the American Women's Realty Corporation, event ephemera, publications of the Vacation Committee and the AWA, and objects such as printing stamps and a commemorative trowel.

Series 3. National Committee on Household Employment, 1915 - 1974.
These files are arranged chronologically. The AWA participated in both of these organizations in later years. The files contain correspondence between members of the AWA (including AWA President Dorothy Barko, who was also treasurer for the NCHE) and the organizations, memoranda, financial statements, programs, newsletters, newsclippings, invitations, grant applications, and studies.

Series 4. Photographs, 1911-1960s.
The photographs in this series include black and white prints, glass plate negatives, and lantern slides.

This series contains approximately 400 photographs which document activities, events, locations and persons associated with the Vacation Association and AWA (1922-1950s). The bulk of photographs in this subseries are 8”x 10” gelatin-silver paper prints. Photographs are arranged topically, and split into four categories: officers and members, buildings and grounds, ceremonies, activities and events. Photographers include Underwood and Underwood Studios, A. Tennyson Beals, and the Pach Brothers. Notable photographs include from any number of the themed dances the AWA threw—the Bahamian Dance and Norwegian Independence Day, for example—and photographs focusing on the murals in the AWA Clubhouse. Photographs are in black and white; photograph credits, dates, and identification of people/places/event are included with the photograph/written on the file.

This series also contains sixty glass plate negatives (4¼” x 3¼”) and ninety-one lantern slides (4”x 3¼”), arranged by access copy item number. Imagery includes members of the Vacation Association/American Woman’s Association, interior and exterior images of the Clubhouse at 222 Madison Avenue, and events held within; outings in the countryside; reproductions of VA printed ephemera, such as posters and flyers; and typed song lyric cards.

A detailed, item-level inventory of the collection (which may be slightly out of date as the physical arrangement of the collection has shifted over the years) is available in the Archives or by contacting archives@barnard.edu.

Physical Location

This collection is located in the Barnard Archives and Special Collections, Barnard Library. To use this collection, please contact the Barnard Archives and Special Collections at 212.854.4079 or archives@barnard.edu.

Acquisition Information

A portion of this collection was donated to the Archives in 1980 by the American Woman's Association. The remainder of the collection was donated in 1995 by former president of the AWA, Doris Hopfer Kassouf ('47).

Accruals

No additions are expected.

Processing History

This collection was processed by Lucinda Manning in 1988 with additions made to the finding aid by Dianne Stalker in 1989. Further revisions were made in 2011 by Marcia Bassett and Johana Godfrey BC ’13. Finding aid updated by Dinah Handel in February 2015 and by Martha Tenney in July 2015.
Title
Guide to the American Woman's Association Records
Status
Completed
Author
Marcia Bassett and Johana Godfrey
Date
© 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English

Repository Details

Part of the Barnard Archives and Special Collections Repository

Contact:
3009 Broadway
New York 10027 United States