BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Our History – Honoring Those Who Came Before

Posted by YWM on March 23, 2011

The history of Business and Professional Women’s Foundation began in 1919. Although the organization has transformed over time, the legacy and vision remain intact.  During Women’s History Month it is well worth remembering our history and the women on whose shoulders we stand.

In 1919 while mobilizing for World War I, the U.S. Government needed a group to coordinate identification of women’s skills and experience for use during the war effort.  A Women’s War Council, financed through a federal grant, was established by the War Department to organize the resources of professional women. From that process, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs was founded on July 15, 1919.  The name later changed to BPW/USA.  


Throughout the years, three major issues shaped the legislative agenda: elimination of sex discrimination in all fields of employment, the principle of equal pay, and the need for comprehensive equal rights.

In 1928, BPW/USA launched National Business Women’s Week to acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions of workingwomen and highlight their important role in the business community. This week is still going strong and will be celebrated this year October 17-21.  

During the 1930’s, BPW/USA worked 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.

At the advent of World War II, BPW/USA developed a classification system for women with specialized skills critical to the effort and supported the formation of women’s branches of the Armed Forces.

Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation was incorporated in 1956, to provide research, information, career development programs and scholarships, as well as workshops and other training opportunities for women.

President John F. Kennedy signs the 1963 Equal Pay Act into law as BPW/USA president Dr. Minnie Miles watches.

The establishment of “Status of Women” commissions in the U.S. in 1963 was due largely to BPW/USA members’ efforts. President Kennedy recognized BPW/USA’s leading role in securing passage of the Equal Pay Act by giving our National President the first pen he used when signing the Act into law.

The 1980s saw BPW/USA members tackling “comparable worth” by calling on newspapers to stop the occupational segregation in classified ads (clustering of women in a few restricted occupations of low-paying, dead-end jobs).

Workplace equity issues including sexual harassment, the glass ceiling, health care reform, dependent care, tort reform, increasing the minimum wage, lifetime economic security and pay equity continued to be our targeted issues in the 90s.  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/USA’s focus legislation through the ‘90s.

In 1994, BPW/USA members lobbied Congress successfully convincing them to pass the groundbreaking Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Looking at more recent history in 2000, BPW/USA expanded its  “Making Workplaces Work” initiative to the “Working Family Values” Program, and more recently, the theme of “Workplace Equity & Work- life Effectiveness,” with education and awareness focusing on diversity, pay equity, dependent care, workplace flexibility, and social security reform.

In 2005, BPW/USA launched Women Joining Forces: Closing Ranks, Opening Doors (WJF), a program to support women 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 women veterans.  To support this effort, in 2007 BPW Foundation conducted the first national survey of women veterans.  This ground-breaking research provided a unique snap shot of women veterans as they return to the civilian workplace.

In 2008, BPW/USA and BPW Foundation co-sponsored a congressional briefing about the challenges facing women veterans transitioning from active military to the civilian workforce.

BPW/USA merged with BPW Foundation in July 1, 2009. This friendly merger ensured that their joint advocacy and support for working women and families would be strengthened and continues. This merged organization represents over 146 years of combined experience fighting for women, their families and successful workplaces.

Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs speaks at Joining Forces for Women Veterans Summit

In the fall of 2010, BPW Foundation convened a national Joining Forces for Women Veterans Summit bringing together select corporate, government, nonprofit and community leaders and women veterans to discuss the challenges and solutions to assure suitable housing, good jobs and overall success for women veterans as civilians.  Joining Forces for Women Veterans successfully heightened awareness of the unique challenges and opportunities faced by women veterans.  The resulting Summary Report is a call to action to support our women veterans and their families.

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