A Look Back at GFWC History with the International Past Presidents

Five of the GFWC International Past Presidents at the 2015 GFWC Annual Convention in Memphis, Tennessee.

For two years, the GFWC International President resides at GFWC’s Headquarters on 1734 N Street, located just south of DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C. It becomes her home as she invests all of her time into GFWC. Living at this National Historic Landmark is just one of the many duties required of the International President during her administration.

Serving as the official representative of GFWC, each International Past President has left a truly remarkable mark on GFWC that is still felt today. From Charlotte Emerson Brown, GFWC’s first president in 1890, to Babs J. Condon, GFWC’s 50th President, the Federation has been led by inspirational leaders who ensured GFWC was meeting its mission of improving the lives of others through volunteer service.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, join us on a glimpse of the past as we look back on the accomplishments and contributions of just a few of the many International Past Presidents. These incredible leaders are true examples of Living the Volunteer Spirit.

Mary Elizabeth Preston

During her term, Mary Elizabeth Preston, the 32nd GFWC International President, promoted family unity and free enterprise.

“The private enterprise system has been the financial pillar of our society, the family has been the moral and philosophical pillar. While they both stand, our country is held aloft and free; if they should fall, America falls with them,” she said.

She also helped to establish the Korean Federation of Women’s Clubs, traveling to Seoul, South Korea in 1978. She then spent a week in the Soviet Union, along with First Vice President Juanita Bryant and Second Vice President Jeri Winger. In Moscow, the GFWC leaders met with leaders of the Soviet Women’s Committee and discussed the roles of Russian women.

After the discussion, Mary said that she had “a better understanding of Russian women. I have to believe that they too would like world peace. All the women of the world would. Our governments may work in very different ways, but as women, we have many common concerns.”

Marijo Shide
North Dakota

As GFWC International President, Marijo Shide worked to increase awareness of GFWC and encouraged clubs to put GFWC in their club name.

“Clubs and State Federations saw the value of the GFWC Brand. If a reporter didn’t know what GFWC was, that gave them a great opportunity to tell them,” she said.

Marijo promoted programs including crime prevention, energy conservation, the Community Improvement Program (CIP), CARE, and National Family Week.

Marijo enjoyed interacting with clubwomen and having the opportunity to serve. She also loved living at GFWC International Headquarters and having access to the Archives.

Juanita Martin Bryant
North Carolina
The opening of the GFWC Women’s History and Resource Center on May 1, 1984 was one of the highlights of Juanita Martin Bryant’s time as GFWC International President from 1982-1984. Vice President George Bush cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony, officially opening the center, which stores GFWC Archives and documents the history of women volunteerism. As a self-described history buff, Juanita is proud that the WHRC is still going strong today, and that it is used by individual researchers, universities, and historians.

Working with the mentally and physically handicapped, especially through the Special Olympics, was Juanita’s special project during her administration. She attended the International Special Olympics in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1983. Another highlight of her presidency was attending the National Multiple Sclerosis Conference in Houston, Texas, where she presented the MS Volunteer Award to Frank Sinatra.

Juanita also travelled internationally through the CARE project, visiting projects in Hawaii, Guam, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, and Saudi Arabia.

Looking back at her administration, Juanita says that she enjoyed the opportunity to visit and meet with clubwomen not only in the United States, but around the world as well.

“I feel very strongly that our volunteer work is a great contribution. It doesn’t trickle down from the top; it wields up from the bottom. The great success of GFWC is because it is organized not only in clubs, but on regional, national, and international levels. I think that is a major thing that has made GFWC so successful during this 126 years,” she said.

Jacquelyn Pierce
As the 46th GFWC International President, Jacquelyn Pierce’s administration focused on Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention. Participating in the writing of the Violence Against Women Act was one of the highlights of her time as president.

Jacquelyn is proud of GFWC’s recognition in the United States Senate in 2006. Then-Senator Joseph Biden (Del.) called “a gem among our midst” for our work in domestic violence awareness and prevention, as well as GFWC’s history of support for the Violence Against Women Act.

Jacquelyn had the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic in 2007 with Reaching Out Internationally Chairman Nancy Jones, participating in the Plan USA Global Women’s Fund in Action.

“It was a very humbling experience for me to be able to write a personal check in the amount of $800 which enabled the women of the village of Azuna to purchase their first commercial sewing machine so that they could make the school uniforms that their children were required to wear. Presented on behalf of GFWC, that small donation made a difference. The women could now be gainfully employed and the uniforms could be made at a cost much less than if purchased in a retail store,” she said.

Jacquelyn’s administration theme was “Empowering Women One by One.”

“I have always thought that if you looked at a banner in the front of a convention hall, the words on that banner should define, without question, the mission of the organization. To me, GFWC, first and foremost, empowers its members, and it does so on an individual basis. Ask any club member what GFWC means to them and their answer will involve their personal empowerment,” she said.

Rose M. Ditto, Ph.D.
Rose M. Ditto, Ph.D., served as GFWC’s 47th International President. Her administration focused on health programs, specifically healthy self-worth. As president, Rose enjoyed the opportunity to share her passion for the importance of the development of healthy self-worth and emotional intelligence.

Serving with Missi McCoy, GFWC Director of Junior Clubs, the Executive Committee, and the GFWC Staff was another highlight. Rose also enjoyed attending GFWC Region, State, and club meetings and representing GFWC at events.

“Through my travels to GFWC Regions, States, and Clubs, I was always amazed by the projects and volunteer achievements proudly reported,” she said.

“GFWC — A Vision of Possibilities” was Rose’s administration theme, inspired by the song “I Am a Promise” from the musical “Kids Under Construction” by the Gaithers. The words are, “I am a Promise, I am a Possibility, I am a Promise with a capital P.”

“These describe each and every GFWC member as we have unlimited possibilities for serving others in our families, clubs, and communities,” Rose said. “GFWC’s historical accomplishments speak loudly, the present accomplishments continually build, and the future accomplishments are within our reach.”

The volunteer spirit and the giving nature of GFWC members have impacted the American spirit and culture which have reached all over the world, Rose said.

“At one time the voice of GFWC was very strong and quite influential, however, as our membership has lessened, so has our voice. The challenge now is to continue impacting those around us and within our reach—families and communities. The American dream is just not to have more, but to give more for the betterment of others,” she said.

Mary Ellen Laister
Mary Ellen Laister strongly supported the GFWC Signature Project: Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention and the Success for Survivors Scholarship. In 2013, GFWC awarded eight scholarships of $2,500 each for a total of $20,000.

Mary Ellen is proud to have raised over $20,000 in 2012 and 2013 to award these scholarships. Reading the applications and hearing the stories of these women was an emotional experience.

“When I read those applications, I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream. It gave you every emotion in the world,” she said.

Mary Ellen met one of the scholarship recipients during her administration, and said the young woman was so grateful that it brought tears to her eyes.

“It was so important that we made their life better,” she said.

According to Mary Ellen, the most exciting part of being president was traveling to the Regions and attending State Conventions, which allowed her to meet clubwomen and hear about the impact they were making in their communities.

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was very fortunate to be the 49th president,” she said.

The Red Dress Fashion Show at the 2013 GFWC Annual Convention in Hollywood, Florida was a huge hit, Mary Ellen said.

“I felt I had a very positive two years,” Mary Ellen said.

For a full list of GFWC’s International Past Presidents, click here. Stay tuned for a look at GFWC Past Directors of Junior Clubs on the GFWC Facebook Page.




Making an International Impact: GFWC Affiliates Around the World

By Elaine Ko-Talmadge
GFWC International Affiliates Chairman

In 1889, Dr. Emma Brainard Ryder of the New York City Sorosis Club placed an advertisement in a newspaper in Bombay, India, inviting young women of all classes and nationalities to a meeting about forming a women’s organization. Dr. Ryder received a great deal of backlash for her plan. Some missionaries said that men would not permit women to participate, and residents of Bombay argued India’s caste system would make forming a club difficult.

Despite this doubt, 47 women attended the first meeting, and 30 women became charter members. Thus, the first GFWC International Club was created. GFWC Founder Jane Cunningham Croly sent a message congratulating the new club. “Tell them the world was made for women also,” she wrote.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, clubs like Bombay Sorosis continued to form around the world. At one point, GFWC was present in 55 countries. Today, GFWC has International Affiliates in Aruba, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Ghana, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Taiwan, Curacao, and Ukraine.

International Affiliates are supported by the GFWC International Liaison Committee. The committee consists of a chairman and three committee members who work to promote GFWC membership services, benefits, and resources. The committee also hosts members who attend GFWC International Conventions and Region Meetings. I was proud to be selected as the 2016-18 chairman.

My international life began in 1960 when I married my college sweetheart from Korea. During our 30 years of marriage, we had four children and hosted 17 international exchange students from all over the world. It just seemed natural that I would be part of GFWC International Programs.

When GFWC asked me to represent the Federation at the United Nations, I was thrilled and attended meetings pertaining to women, children, and families for a number of years.

My only regret is that I do not speak all the languages of our International Affiliates. Most of the officers speak English, but it is difficult for those who do not to attend GFWC meetings and conventions.

I look forward to the next two years, and hope to bring more clubs into our Federation. Remember, all GFWC clubs are welcome to become a sister club to International Clubs. Please contact me at elainekotalmadge@gmail.com for more information.

Here’s a brief overview of what some of our International Affiliates have been up to:

American Women’s Club of Toronto
The club’s It’s Teatime Fundraiser raised over $2,000 for Nellie’s Shelter, which assists those in need of food, shelter, and support. The American Women’s Club of Toronto will celebrate 100 years in 2017.

The Federation of Women’s Lyceum Clubs Ammohostos Cyprus
The club’s lifetime project is the Children’s Holiday Resort, a camp for children from economically disadvantaged homes. The project started in 1931 and now includes training in the arts and education, as well as community health services for women and the elderly.

Ukraine Women’s Club
The war in Ukraine has affected children and their families, both young and old. The Ukraine Women’s Club has tried to help make life a little easier for the children by hosting a camp in the summer, providing food during the year, hosting a Princess Ball for children without parents, and collecting clothes and utensils for families escaping the war. The GFWC Cookeville Junior Women’s Club (Tennessee) and the GFWC Heritage League (Nebraska) recently sent children’s vitamins, liquid ibuprofen, and DynaRub to the club, as medicines and fruit are very expensive in Ukraine.

Women’s Club of Aruba
Aruba celebrated its 80-year anniversary in 2014. Last December, the club provided clothes for 300 less-fortunate children. Members recently delivered 2,500 sports bottles to students across the island as part of their Save the Earth Project.

The Women’s Club of Osculda
The Women’s Club of Osculda, located in Curacao, was founded in 1963 for organizing seminars and study mornings. The goal was to help women take care of the economic and social affairs of their families and advance women’s sense of responsibility as members of society. Today, members promote women’s health, and recently formed a parent’s group in the schools.

International Women’s Club of Porto Alegre
The International Women’s Club of Porto Alegre, Brazil, established in 1964, helps children from the slums find a better life. Members run a children’s club for students, helping them complete their homework and learn leadership skills.

Recently, members bravely entered a march against government corruption to show the world that, as women of all different classes, they are all affected by government malfeasance, and reform is necessary.

 GFWC Baroy Woman’s Club
The GFWC Baroy Woman’s Club, located in the Philippines, partners with local officials and nongovernmental organizations to implement the KidzFeeding Project, a daily meals program that works to combat undernourishment and malnutrition in children three and younger in Baroy. The project provides training to parents on the kind of meals they should provide their children. The club plans to bring this program to other villages and seeks help funding this project. Only $0.65 is needed to provide one meal to a child.

American Women’s Literary Club
The American Women’s Literary Club of Lima, Peru celebrated its 90th birthday with a new cookbook called “Fresh Flavors.” The club’s signature event is Noche de Musica, held every year at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Money from these events has gone towards building a classroom for a school, funding educational supplies, and providing financial support for teachers at the Instituto Pedagogico.

International Women’s Club of Merida
The goal of the International Women’s Club of Merida, Mexico is friendship, service, and self-improvement. The club mentors young women and provides scholarships for higher education.

National Council of Women of Taiwan
The National Council of Women of Taiwan was established in 1950 to enable women’s groups in Taiwan to work with nongovernmental organizations. The National Council of Women of Taiwan advocates for women’s issues, cares for elderly, handicapped, and indigenous people, and promotes environmental protection and child welfare.

Taipei International Women’s Club
The Taipei International Women’s Club has promoted education, public welfare, international friendship, and cultural exchange since 1951. The club recently donated to victims of a typhoon in the Philippines and the Taipei Benevolent Society for the Blind.

Grand Bahama American Women’s Club
The Grand Bahama American Women’s Club is marking 50 years this month. The club is also planning for its 13th Annual Philanthropic Golf Tournament, which raises money for scholarships and grants. Recently, clubwomen provided 1,600 vision and hearing screenings in local schools.



End Human Trafficking in Your Community


If you’ve been following the GFWC Facebook and Twitter pages, you may have noticed that we’ve been sharing facts about human trafficking throughout the month of January to mark Human Trafficking Awareness Month. These facts, provided by GFWC International Outreach Partner U.S. Fund for UNICEF, included the shocking statistic that over 5.5 million children worldwide are victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking may feel like it’s a problem that happens somewhere far away, but the truth is that it’s been reported in every U.S. state. That’s why it’s more important than ever for clubwomen to work together to end trafficking.

Mansi Mehta, Manager of Civil Society Partnerships at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, hosted a webinar for GFWC members last week to share ways that we can work together to end trafficking. Clubwomen learned about how to speak to their clubs and local communities about stopping human trafficking.

While Human Trafficking Awareness Month has come to a close, there are many ways we can continue to act throughout the year, including:

Learn the signs of human trafficking
Visit www.polarisproject.org/recognizing-the-signs to learn more about common signs child victims of trafficking may show, including working long and excessive hours, being nervous or anxious, and appearing malnourished.

Get informed about human trafficking
UNICEF USA offers both a podcast series and a toolkit that can help you learn more about this issue.

Be aware of and decrease your slavery footprint
Visit www.slaveryfootprint.org to learn more about how victims of human trafficking are exploited and how you can ensure the products you purchase don’t use exploited workers.

Host a screening of Not My Life 
Not My Life shows human trafficking both around the world in the United States. Email endtrafficking@unicefusa.org  to get a copy of the film. You can also host a facilitated discussion following the documentary.

Check out more tips covered in the End Trafficking Webinar by clicking here.

GFWC At Arlington National Cemetery

GFWC International President Babs J. Condon, clubwomen and staff at the 2014 Wreaths Across America Ceremony.

GFWC International President Babs J. Condon, along with GFWC staff, and fellow clubwomen will be participating in the annual Wreaths Across America Day on Saturday, December 12 at Arlington National Cemetery. GFWC has sponsored several wreaths and is also volunteering its time to lay wreaths on the grounds. The Opening Ceremony begins at 9:30 am. If interested in joining GFWC at Arlington National Cemetery, please contact Derek Tennant at DTennant@GFWC.org.

Wreaths Across America coordinates wreath laying ceremonies at Arlington, as well as veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states to spread its message about the importance of remembering our fallen heroes. If you can’t make it to Arlington but want to be involved, check out the wreath laying options in your state or sponsor a wreath at Arlington.

Learn more about Wreaths Across America by visiting their YouTube Channel and checking out this video.


Giving Thanks for GFWC

By Babs J. Condon
GFWC International President

As we approach Thanksgiving, I like to reflect on my many blessings and would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to thank each of you for the valuable contributions you have made to GFWC.

For all that you do to improve your communities through your volunteer service, I am grateful, because it is the work of volunteers like you that makes GFWC a remarkable organization. By living the volunteer spirit, you are improving the lives of others each and every day.

Whether you’re planting pinwheel gardens for child abuse awareness during Advocates for Children Week or wearing purple for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I am truly inspired by the time and energy you put into all things you set your mind to accomplish.

This fall has certainly been a busy time. October marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month, reminding me how thankful I am for all the work GFWC has done through our Signature Project: Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention. Our club members meet with our elected officials to discuss legislation to end domestic violence and raise money for the Success for Survivors Scholarship. I am thankful knowing you are committed to breaking the cycle of abuse.

Earlier this fall, your president was grateful to represent GFWC at the anniversary celebration of the Violence Against Women Act at the home of Vice President Joe Biden. While Vice President Biden was expressing his appreciation for GFWC, I could not help but remember the dedication to our cause shown by our club members across the country. We may have a long way to go, but together, I believe we can accomplish anything. Indeed, as we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, let us remember to continue to be active in our efforts to end the global pandemic that is violence against women.

In November, clubs continue to show their volunteer spirit by promoting Prematurity Awareness Month, honoring our veterans for their service, hosting DogFest Walk ‘n Rolls to raise money for Canine Companions for Independence, helping improve literacy among adults, and so much more. How blessed I feel to be a member of this group of strong and determined women who change the world.

On November 11, I visited Arlington National Cemetery with the GFWC Executive Committee, GFWC Resolutions Committee, GFWC Staff, and the President’s Assistants, and we all had to opportunity to honor those who have served and sacrificed their lives for our country. It is because of this service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans that we are able to celebrate our freedom this Thanksgiving, and my father, Staff Sergeant Arthur H. Peck is among those who gave so much that we may be free. For that, I am especially thankful.

Finally, I am thankful to serve as your International President, and sincerely appreciate all that you do to improve our world by Living the Volunteer Spirit. On Thanksgiving and throughout the year, I count my many blessings and am grateful for your commitment to GFWC.



GFWC Honors Our Veterans

By Hope Royer
GFWC Public Issues Community Service Program Chairman

We are reminded every year on Veterans Day of the tremendous debt of gratitude we owe to our military personnel. They are our heroes, both past and present.

On Veterans Day and throughout the calendar year, GFWC clubwomen support and express their gratitude for the over 22 million veterans living in the United States.

Whether they’re hosting a “Barbecue for the Troops” fundraiser, inviting homeless veterans to a “Bring a Vet to Lunch” meeting, or hosting group sew days to make adaptive clothes for wounded service personnel, GFWC clubwomen are committed to helping veterans.

Through GFWC’s Public Issues Community Service Program and its partner organizations, Sew Much Comfort and the USO, GFWC clubwomen have countless opportunities to educate their communities on the needs of military families. Clubwomen advocate for legislation supporting active and veteran military personnel, and help veterans with the often difficult transition back to their communities.


“Real heroes don’t wear capes. They wear dog tags.”


Veterans give so much to our country on a daily basis, but sadly, the commitment and sacrifices made by veterans often go unnoticed. In response to this, GFWC announced its support of Green Light A Vet, a national campaign to increase awareness and support for veterans through a visible symbol. GFWC encourages its members and their communities to change a porch light to green to recognize veterans year-round.

GFWC Public Issues Partner Sew Much Comfort is the only national organization that provides adaptive clothing at no cost to support the unique needs of our wounded service personnel from all branches of the military and the National Guard. More than 147,000 pieces of adaptive clothing have been provided over the past eleven years. GFWC clubs support Sew Much Comfort by providing seamstresses and through in-kind and financial donations. Donating adaptive clothing to wounded service members gives them a sense of comfort as they recover and provides them with a reminder of our gratitude for their service.

As USO approaches its 75th Anniversary in February, GFWC clubwomen will continue to provide active support to help lift the spirits of troops and families. Clubs provide in-kind and financial donations, and help provide “No Dough Dinners” for military families in financial distress. These dinners usually take place once a month right before payday and help families not only by lifting some of their financial burden, but also providing a place for fun and fellowship.

In addition to volunteering at local USO centers, Clubwomen support the United Through Reading program, in which children of deployed parents receive a DVD of their mom or dad reading them a bedtime story, by donating books and DVDS, hosting book drives, and raising money for the program.

GFWC clubwomen will proudly fly the flag of the United States of America in honor of our nation’s veterans as they organized and attend community wide celebrations on Veterans Day. Well beyond November 11, GFWC clubwomen will continue to honor our nation’s heroes, both past and present.

“Real heroes do not wear capes. They wear dog tags.” Thank you to all the veterans who sacrifice so much so that we may live in freedom.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2015

GFWC President Babs J. Condon meets with Vice President Joe Biden during a reception celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act.  (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
As a national leader in the fight to end domestic violence, GFWC clubwomen were especially active in their communities during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out these Facebook and Twitter posts from across the country.

GFWC Members Advocate for Domestic Violence Prevention


By Chris Sienkilewski
GFWC Signature Project Committee Chairman

As Chairman of the GFWC Signature Project Committee: Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention for the past three years, I not only have watched our members learn more about what domestic violence is, but also saw GFWC members become true advocates for this project.

Our members begin with simple discussions about their own lives as they read GFWC’s Clubwoman Magazine or the weekly News&Notes. They bring this information to their clubs, and what starts as a simple discussion about the issue then becomes stories about their own experiences, whether from personal accounts or about family members and friends. Their discussions move to action plans, and our members work with their local and state organizations to become educators and advocates in their communities.

Eventually, the discussions moved to approaching lawmakers both in their own states and nationally. Our members learned quickly that the most crucial element to changing awareness and perception about domestic violence is to educate policymakers about the problems of domestic violence based on the real-life experiences of women. Each and every day, our members are supporting these issues through discussions, community speakers, innovative and creative projects that support shelters and victims, and increasing the leverage that can be brought to bear on politicians and other government officials.

And through these conversations, we have dispelled myths about domestic violence:

  • A national study found that 29% of women and 22% of men had experienced physical, sexual, or psychological intimate partner violence during their lifetime.
  • Abuse can come in many forms, such as sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional. When a person in a relationship repeatedly scares, hurts, or puts down the other person, it is abuse. Harassment, intimidation, forced or coerced isolation from friends and family and having an independent social life, humiliation, threats of harm to you or your family or pets, threats of suicide if you leave, violating your privacy, limiting your independence and personal choices are all examples of abuse.
  • Domestic violence takes on many forms, from emotional and psychological abuse to physical and sexual abuse. Sexual abuse ranges from true sexual assault, to harassment and exploitation.
  • Elder abuse is on the rise. As the population grows older, so do instances of abuse against older people, especially women. Elder abuse takes many forms, such as physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
  • The psychological impact of a child being raised in an abusive household can be profound. Many children develop cognitive and psychological problems after having experienced abuse second-hand. Eating disorders, sleeping disorders, depression, aggressive behavior, destructive rages, stuttering, shaking, and declined problem-solving skills are all symptoms of such abuse.

As October 2015 Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, I applaud the efforts of GFWC Clubwomen across this country in their support of the GFWC Signature Project. There is still so much work to do and our members are up to the task of showing the world that domestic violence can be diminished or eliminated.




Advocacy and GFWC

By Becky Weber, GFWC Legislation and Public Policy Chairman

GFWC Friends this is a first for me.

I’ve been asked to write a blog for our NEW GFWC website! As GFWC Legislation/Public Policy chairman, I hope I can pass on my love and enthusiasm for legislation. I know most of you know about our rich history in advocating and legislation and it is my hope that we as an organization get back to our roots.

GFWC has given us the absolute easiest tool there is to help in our advocacy efforts. The LEGISLATIVE ACTION CENTER is right at our fingertips. Once you sign up for the LAC, whenever there is a current national and legislative issue important to GFWC, we are alerted and can take action immediately. With just a few clicks of the computer mouse we can contact our legislators, the Vice President and even the President! We can also research current legislation and read about GFWC’s stance on national issues.

One of GFWC’s greatest strengths is networking.  So I’m asking all of you to contact me with any national legislation questions and information via email: mweber@mtco.com. Working together, we can get GFWC back to our advocacy and legislative roots!

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for the Legislative Action Center by clicking the image below and begin exploring this powerful and easy to use advocacy tool.