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GFWC Vermont Helps Women Succeed

By Mel Huff, The Barre/Montpelier Times Argus (3/4/08) 
For Vermont women who have lost their means of support through separation, divorce, the death or the long-term unemployment of their spouse, there's a little good news – a scholarship designed especially for them.

Every year the General Federation of Women's Clubs of Vermont gives away one or more scholarships to women who need training or education to re-enter the workplace.

Applications for the Barbara Jean Barker Memorial Scholarships, which range from $500 to $1,500, are now being accepted. Completed applications must be returned by March 15.

Last year's winners came from West Fairlee, Brattleboro and Warren.

"There's no criteria as to age," said Joyce Lindamood, a member of the scholarship committee. "It doesn't matter whether there's a club in their town or not. We try to spread the applications over the whole state."

What the committee looks for is whether the applicant has a well-thought-out plan, Lindamood said. Two of last year's winners were divorced and planned to enter nursing. The third woman's husband had become disabled, and she wanted to learn to do medical transcribing.

The money for the scholarships is raised from the approximately 400 members of the 10 women's clubs in Vermont. "We would gladly take a contribution, be we don't solicit them," Lindamood said.

Barbara Jean Barker, for whom the scholarship is named, was the president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs of Vermont from 1992 until her death in 1994.

"Barbara was very concerned about the situation of women who had to go back into the workplace," said Lindamood, who was a member of Barker's board. The scholarship fund was created around 1995, she said.

The clubs – in Bellows Falls, Canaan, Castleton, Hartford, Ludlow-Okemo, Orwell, Poultney, St. Johnsbury, South Royalton and South Ryegate – also focus on service to their towns. The Poultney women sponsor a program to collect Christmas presents for children and the elderly, among other projects.

On the state level, domestic violence awareness is a shared concern. Several clubs have participated in a program called Cut it Out, putting cards in beauty shops listing telephone numbers that women can call to get help, and the members collect toiletries and cell phone for shelters.

The General Federation of Women's Clubs is an international organization – there are clubs in Brazil, Hong Kong and Ukraine. The precursor of the federation was organized in the United States in 1889. According to the organization's handbook, the federation played an important role in many national undertakings – creating the National Park Service, securing national support of the United Nations, campaigning for seatbelts in cars and accurately labeling food and medicine.

Julia Ward Howe, the suffrage leader who wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," served as president of the Massachusetts Federation of Women's Clubs. Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, the Chicago settlement house that served as a model for social reform at the beginning of the last century, belonged to the Chicago Women's Club. Dr. June McCarroll, a California club member, originated the idea of painting white lines down the center of highways to reduce accidents, and in 1924, the California Highway Commission painted 3,500 miles of road as a test, the handbook says.

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