Women Supporting Women

The American Association of University Women’s 140-year organization continues to strive for women’s equity.


Courtesy Photo from Mary Ross.

Voting YES! Members of the AAUW Edmonds SnoKing Branch gather in preparation for statewide Lobby Day. A day where members advocate for women focused legislation to Washington State’s elected officials. Photo courtesy of Mary Ross, AAUW Edmonds SnoKing Branch member.

The American Association of University Women, the AAUW, was founded in 1881. Its advocacy for equity has impacted every woman in the United States but many people have likely never heard of AAUW or its involvement with groundbreaking legislation. The members of the Edmonds SnoKing Branch strive to keep the organization’s mission on track and hope to grow membership in the process.  

Marion Talbot, Dean of the College of Women at the University of Chicago and Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman to earn a chemistry degree, established AAUW in 1881. Both wanted to create an organization that championed women, assisted in breaking down barriers women faced when accessing higher education or pursuing jobs in male-dominant fields and be treated as equal to their male counterparts.

Early advocacy efforts of AAUW range from financial contributions to Marie Curie’s research leading to her discovery of radium’s radioactive properties to recent calls for change in legislation and its treatment of women. The Equal Pay Act proposed in 1945, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 and most recently, the Paycheck Fairness Act passed by the House of Representatives in April of 2021, have all been aided by AAUW efforts.

President Kennedy signs the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963, with several AAUW members in attendance. Legislation supported by the American Association of University Women’s efforts aided in the Equal Pay Act becoming law. (Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. )

The AAUW Edmonds SnoKing Branch is the local chapter encompassing members from Snohomish County and those straddling the King County border. Its members believe in the mission of the organization and are making efforts to expand membership to currently enrolled college students.

“Diversifying our membership creates an opportunity to highlight legislation that focuses on the needs of those currently coming up against barriers,” said Sandra Ripley Distelhorst, Public Policy Director of the Edmonds SnoKing Branch and member since 2016. “Their perspective on current educational challenges and issues that impact girls and women can inform our programs, advocacy and philanthropy work.” Lobby Day, which Ripley Distelhorst heads, calls on members to connect with local and state policymakers.

The Edmonds SnoKing Branch has established The Foundation for the Advancement of Education and Economic Equity, Foundation A3E, a nonprofit that awards scholarships to students with an educational path with a STEM focus. Currently, the A3E scholarship is only available to Edmonds high school and Edmonds College students; several members hope to expand scholarship opportunities to include additional districts along with Everett Community College. A connection several members of the Edmonds SnoKing Branch would like to focus on.

Bringing the A3E scholarship to Everett Community College depends on membership growth and establishing EvCC as a corporate member of AAUW. A partnership with EvCC would mirror the current relationship AAUW has with Edmonds College and would expand scholarship opportunities to EvCC students. Members of the Edmonds SnoKing Branch are eager to make connections and offer support to those interested in joining.

Marianne North, Program Team Leader, recognizes suffragists of color during the centennial year of women’s suffrage in a 2020 presentation to AAUW Edmonds SnoKing members. AAUW members work in close partnership with the League of Women Voters by participating in voter registration drives and candidate forums in addition to Lobby Day. (Photo courtesy of Mary Ross, AAUW Edmonds SnoKing Branch member. )

“Currently enrolled students would bring renewed vitality and diversity to our branch. In return, they could be mentored, both academically and professionally,” said Deborah Smith, Membership Chair and 14-year member of the organization.

Members of the Edmonds SnoKing Branch have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer new members. Career backgrounds ranging from teachers, college administrators and nursing professionals to those with a background in medical research, policy writing and communications.

“We can offer our experience as former college students who succeeded. Many of us were the first in our families to go to college,” said Marianne North, Program Team Leader and 40-year member of AAUW.

“I think the networking and knowledge base that our members have would be really beneficial to newcomers,” said Shirley Buono, Community Outreach and member since the 1970s. “We’re able to provide mentoring and guidance, and new members will bring revived enthusiasm for our mission.”

AAUW’s founding mission was to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy; that mission is still the driving force behind the 140-year-old organization. New membership will bring new perspectives and the established members of AAUW Edmonds SnoKing Branch are eager to learn from and support a younger generation of women. 

We at The Clipper believe in transparency, article author Elena Cervantes has been an active member of The American Association of University Women since July 2020.