The Heritage We're Proud Of
For over one hundred years, the women of BPW have been dedicated to advancing the cause of our nation’s working women. We take great honor to reflect on the accomplishments our sisters have achieved in the past.
We began in 1919 as the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs (NFBPWC), on the heels of World War I, with a mission from the government to “coordinate identification of women’s available skills and experience.”
NFBPWC is the first organization created to focus on the issues of working women. Since its formation on July 16, 1919, BPW has consistently provided education, outreach, and opportunity for advocacy on issues that affect working women.
Gail Laughlin - a prominent lawyer, legislator, and women’s rights advocate was elected as our first national President. Laughlin was later elected to the Maine Legislature for three terms beginning in 1929; successfully working for the passage of several laws to improve the lives of women. She sponsored bills raising the legal marriage age of women to 16 (from 13), preventing husbands from committing wives to mental institutions without medical consultation, and including women on juries. She served in the Maine State Senate from 1935-1941 and organized the Maine Department of Health. She was the first female lawyer to serve in the state legislature and chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1939-1943.
We worked throughout the 1930's to prohibit legislation or directives denying jobs to married women and lobbied successfully to legislatively end the legal practice of workplace preference for unmarried persons and, in the case of married persons, preference for males. BPW/USA was one of the first women’s organizations to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment in 1937.
At the advent of World War II, BPW developed a classification system for women with specialized skills critical to the war effort and supported the formation of women’s branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. While wage discrimination has existed in the U.S. since women and minorities first entered the paid workforce, its prevalence was not felt until the massive influx of women sought work during World War II. Immediately following the war, the Women’s Pay Act of 1945 – the first ever legislation to require equal pay – was introduced in the U.S. Congress. It was another 18 years before an equal pay bill made its way to the President's desk to be signed into law.
We strengthened our efforts by establishing BPW Foundation, the first non-profit research and education institution of national scope solely dedicated to the cause of working women.
The establishment of "Status of Women" commission in the U.S. in 1963 was due largely to BPW efforts. President John F. Kennedy recognized BPW's leading role in securing passage of the Equal Pay Act by giving BPW/USA's National President, Dr. Minnie Miles, the first pen he used when signing the Act into law. The first National Legislative Conference, held in 1963 in Washington D.C., later developed into BPW's Policy & Action Conference, where members lobby Congress and the Administration on BPW's legislative issues.
BPW tackled "comparable worth" by calling for newspapers to stop the occupational segregation in classified ads (clustering of women in a few restricted occupations of low-paying, dead-end jobs). Numerous state and municipal governments revamped their pay scales, recognizing dissimilar jobs may not be identical, but may be composed of tasks, educational requirements, experience and other characteristics that are equivalent or comparable.
Discussions on comparable worth were expanded to include enforcement and strengthening of existing Equal Pay legislation. The Pay Equity Employment Act of 1994, followed by the Equal Pay Act (introduced in 1994) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (introduced in 1997) became BPW's focus legislation through the '90s. Then-Secretary of Labor, Elizabeth Dole, and First Lady Barbara Bush addressed BPW's members at the White House Briefing during the 1990 "Lobby Day" event.
After learning the newly merged BPW organization was not able to continue their focus on local and state organizational structure and governance, BPW/USA members came together to meet that need, and formed the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs (NFBPWC). At that time, NFBPWC reconnected as an Affiliate member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women's organization. BPW International has a mission to develop the business, professional and leadership potential of women on all levels. through education, advocacy, networking, mentoring, skill-building and economic empowerment programs and projects.
Our Relationship with the United Nations
BPW has become one of the most influential international networks of business and professional women with affiliates in over 100 countries on five continents. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and participatory status with the Council of Europe. Its members include influential women leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, professionals and young career women.
The root of BPW’s advocacy is embedded in our work with the United Nations. In 1947, BPW lobbied for the formation of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW); advocating for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Esther W. Hymer (1898-2001), BPW representative at the UN, was named as one of three women playing a significant role in the work of the UN Commission by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1997.
Today, BPW continues its representation at UN Headquarters in New York, Vienna, Geneva; UN regional offices (UNECA, UNECE, UNESCAP, UNESCWA, UNECLAC); UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO, WHO, UNCTAD, UNIDO, FAO, UN DPI; Council of Europe; European Women’s Lobby and continues to work closely with UNIFEM.
Our NFBPWC Emblem
Throughout history, the progress of events and people has been marked by symbols. The Emblem of NFBPWC was adopted at the 1921 National Convention and incorporates a variety of symbols to represent light, peace, communication, achievement and progress - elements to which our Federation is dedicated.