Founded in 1881, the national organization has more than 170,000 members active in branches all over the country, including in Albuquerque.
Members of the Albuquerque branch gathered on Nov. 4 to celebrate the 90th anniversary since the group got its start in 1927. It was in October of that year that Mrs. Charles Root put a notice in the Albuquerque Journal announcing she would host a meeting of university women to organize a chapter of the AAUW “to co-operate with the national order in promoting educational, civic and social progress of women.”
Over the decades, the organization has helped found Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, provided scholarships to help women complete master’s degrees, lobbied legislators on policy related to women and promoted education for girls and women.
“What we’ve stood for is the advancement of women and girls,” said Joy Donelson, branch program director and vice president.
The anniversary celebration at the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center drew nearly 75 people, mostly present and former AAUW members, guests and some student members from the recently formed University of New Mexico affiliate. The theme was “AAUW’s Vision – Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow.”
Members and students gave a fashion show modeling outfits from each decade of its history from the 1920s through to the present day. Lifetime AAUW member Julia Brown who was recently elected as chair of the board of directors of the national organization, gave the keynote speech.
Brown is a lawyer in Las Cruces and former Doña Ana County manager. She received the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, an honor that recognizes a citizen’s contributions to the nation.
Her speech focused on the branch history and left those in attendance with a call to action.
“The challenge I leave you with today, is to celebrate, pat yourselves on the back, take a deep breath, refresh and renew yourselves because we must fight on,” Brown said.
In recent years, AAUW supported the New Mexico Fair Pay for Women Act passed by the Legislature in 2013. Its Tech Trek program started in 2014 has helped support middle school girls from all over the state to attend a weeklong summer camp at New Mexico Technical Institute in Socorro where they learn about opportunities in science and engineering careers. So far, 240 girls have benefited, many from families where no one has gone to college.
Most recently AAUW representatives attended a hearing in Santa Fe to protest controversial changes to the science teaching standards that the state Public Education Department proposed for students from kindergarten to high school.
“I’m very proud of everything we’ve done,” said Janet Matwiyosf, media co-chair and past president of the Albuquerque branch.
Albuquerque’s AAUW branch currently has about 100 members, down from 500 members in 1965. Matwiyosf said numbers declined as more women entered the workforce, but over the years the membership has diversified from being mostly teachers to including a wider variety of occupations.