Our Roots: History and Strength in Advocacy

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 BPW/USA, on the heels of World War I, with a mission from the government to “coordinate identification of women’s available skills and experience.” Officially forming on July 16, 1919, BPW/USA became the first organization created to focus on the issues of working women. Since then, BPW has consistently provided education, outreach, and opportunity for advocacy on issues that affect working women. 

MEET THE WOMEN WHO HAVE LED OUR GREAT ORGANIZATION

  


  • In the 1930's, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (IFBPW) was formed and BPW/USA became a charter member. The IFBPW was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, on August 26, 1930, on the initiative of Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips. President of BPW/USA at the time, Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips organized several "Goodwill Tours" to Europe in 1928 and 1929. Hundreds of American women participated in these tours with the purpose of meeting business and professional women in Europe and promoting affiliation with them. The founding member countries of the international federation were Austria, Canada, France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States of America. Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips was elected as the first IFBPW President and served until 1947.
  • 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.
  • 1940's: 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.
  • In 1956, 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.  
  • 1960's: The establishment of "Status of Women" commissions 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.

  • In the 1980's, 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. 

  • In 1986, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to approve a pay equity referendum, implementing $34 million in increases for employees in female and minority-dominated jobs. Continuing with BPW's focus on workplace issues, BPW lobbied Congress for passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which finally passed in 1993.

  • 1990's: 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.

  • In 2005, BPW/USA launched Women Joining Forces: Closing Ranks, Opening Doors (WJF), a program to support female veterans as they transition from military to civilian life. This commitment made BPW/USA the first and only non-governmental agency to offer programming that supports female veterans.

  • In 2009, BPW/USA and BPW Foundation merged to become one national organization dedicated to promoting and advocating for successful workplaces for women, families and their employers.

  • In 2010, since 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 (IFBPW or BPW/International). 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.
  • In 2021, NFBPWC began our yearly parallel event participation at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) event. The focus for this event: using impact activation events to help fast track a gender-equitable pandemic recovery.

   

   

Our Relationship with the United Nations

BPW/International 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.

   

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.

  • Nike depicts strength, progress, freedom and triumph, facing squarely the winds and waves of prejudice and all other limitations. 
  • The Torch is the symbol of light, wisdom, principle and leadership. 
  • The Wand symbolizes a new day for women and represents opportunity, equality, harmony, cooperation, healing and power. 
  • The Ship of Commerce is a symbol of the entrance of women into business and the expansion of opportunities for women. 
  • The Scroll represents achievement and leadership, a record of accomplishments in solving economic problems and establishing equality for working women. 
These five symbols are found within the Golden Circle, signifying unbroken harmony and endless friendship.


Equal Participation of Women and Men in Power and Decision-Making Roles

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NFBPWC is a national organization with membership across the United States acting locally, nationally and globally. NFBPWC is not affiliated with BPW/USA Foundation.

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