WOMEN’S PRESS ORGANIZATIONS. Encyclopedia of American Journalism

Since the first women’s press organizations were founded in
the United States in the 1880s, they have played an active
role in the preparation, recognition, and assimilation of
women in journalism. In that time, the number of women in
the journalistic work force has increased from less than 3
percent to more than 48 percent.
The roles women routinely occupy in the news industry have expanded from a limited number of positions as
correspondent, society writer, and woman’s page editor to
include positions as print and broadcast reporter, managing editor, and publisher. In the expanding communications
industry of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, women
writers found their place in related fields as well, including public relations and advertising. As women’s place in
the profession changed, so too did the interests, goals, and
strengths of women’s press organizations. These changes
contributed to an evolving vision of the role of women
journalists, assisting them in defining themselves and contributing to their acceptance by the profession as well as
the public. In addition, women’s press organizations, often
closely related to major women’s movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, have helped to put women’s
issues on the public agenda.
Women’s Press Organizations in
the Nineteenth Century
During the second half of the nineteenth and the first part
of the twentieth century, press clubs existed in many cities
and states, but were organized by men and were typically
closed to female membership. There were rare exceptions.
The Missouri Press Association, founded in 1867, permitted
a few women members in the early years, usually because
they were married to an editor and assisted him in the publication of his newspaper. Other women who worked at
newspapers, either as full-time society writers and editors
or part-time contributors, were excluded from such clubs.
It was not until the 1880s that women journalists banded
together to create their own press clubs and associations. The first of these was a group of correspondents in
Washington, D.C., who formed the Ladies’ Press Club in
1881 with Emily Edson Briggs (“Olivia” of the Philadelphia Press) as their first president. (By 1883, the club had
renamed itself the Woman’s National Press Association.)
Their purpose was to provide a source of “mutual help and
encouragement” for the female correspondents working
in the nation’s capital, especially for the “coming generation” of women journalist. Next to organize was a group
of women attending the North, South, and Central American Exposition in New Orleans in 1885. The women, who
worked for newspapers in Boston, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, established the National Woman’s Press Association as
an umbrella organization that would spark the creation of
women’s press organizations in cities and states throughout
the country.
By the early 1900s, some two dozen women’s press organizations had been established in more than seventeen states.
Several national and international groups had also been
established, including the National Federation of Women’s
Press Clubs in 1891 and the Woman’s International Press
Union in 1898. The principle goal of these groups during
these years was to provide a venue where women journalists could talk about their work, discuss professional issues,
and mingle with their professional sisters, a luxury often
denied them in the workplace where they might be the only
woman employed at a newspaper. Another important function of women’s press organizations was to legitimize their
members in the eyes of the public. To this end, they sought
publicity in the press by submitting material to the society columns of the general circulation press, the columns of
women’s publications such as the Woman’s Journal, and
the “club notes” of trade journals such as The Journalist
and The Fourth Estate. By 1900, the society columns in
local papers regularly ran reports of the doings of the individual clubs, including their weekly meetings, their fund
raisers, their annual balls. Other events attracted coverage
in the news pages when the speakers were prominent social
or political figures.
Many of the founders of women’s press organizations
were active in the woman’s club movement, which created
synergy and networking opportunities. Jane Cunningham
Croly, “Jennie June,” who established the Woman’s Press
Club of New York City (1889–1980), is credited with launching the woman’s club movement in 1868 when she founded
Sorosis and was instrumental in establishing the General
Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1890. Julia Ames and Frances E. Willard, founding members of the Illinois Woman’s
Press Association (1885–present), were both officers of the
Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Their influence led
many of the early women’s press organizations to share the
benevolent and reformist characteristics and interests of the
woman’s club movement. The New England Woman’s Press
Association (1885–1982), for example, formed a benefit society called Samaritana in 1893 that distributed funds among
a number of local charitable institutions and established a
journalists’ fund that it maintained for the next eighty years
to aid distressed journalists who needed assistance. One of
the early projects of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association
was to provide an inexpensive lodging house for working
women and in 1886 the association announced a campaign
to raise $1,500 to fund the project.
Many of the women involved in press associations were
also active in the woman suffrage movement and several
of their organizations eventually took a formal position on
the reform. In 1911, for example, both the Kansas Woman’s
Press Association (1891–1913) and the Southern California
Women’s Press Club (1893–1939) endorsed suffrage. In
1914, the New England Woman’s Press Association sent a
delegation to march in the May 2 suffrage parade in Boston,
and on October 1915 and October 1917, the Woman’s Press
Club of New York City turned out in force in the woman
suffrage parades on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, some press
organizations, such as the National Editorial Association
(founded in 1885), began to enroll both men and women as
members. By 1900, woman’s press groups were also affiliated with a dozen state, regional, and city male press organizations. Some of these typically male-only organizations
also began to admit female members, as in the case of the
Pennsylvania State Editorial Association, and the St. Paul
Press Club. In a handful of other cases, press associations
were established by men and women working together. One
of these, the International League of Press Clubs was organized in 1891 and within two years a woman, Sallie Joy
White of the New England Woman’s Press Association,
was elected a first vice president.
Women’s Press Organizations
in the Twentieth Century
By 1900 the U.S. census reported 2,193 women journalists, who made up 7 percent of the journalistic workforce;
women’s press organizations were established in at least
seventeen states and claimed more than seven hundred
members. Yet many of the organizations founded in the
nineteenth century, which had been closely affiliated with
the woman’s club and suffrage movements, lost vitality or
died out as their members aged, retired, and passed away
and once the federal suffrage amendment became law in
1919. The Michigan Woman’s Press Club (1892–1914) and
the Missouri Woman’s Press Association (1896–1915) suspended meetings during the early years of World War I.
The Woman’s National Press Association became inactive
during the mid-1920s, and other organizations, such as the
Woman’s Press Club of Kentucky (founded in 1890), vanished quietly.
At the same time, a new generation of women journalists rose up and began to establish their own organizations,
seemingly oblivious to those that already existed. Washington women journalists organized the Women’s National
Press Club in 1919, despite the existence of the still active
but fading Woman’s National Press Association. Likewise,
women in New York established the New York Newspaper Women’s Club (1922–present, with a change of name to
the Newswomen’s Club of New York in 1972), though the
Woman’s Press Club of New York City was still active. In
this case, the new organization became more exclusive than
the old, admitting only women working for newspapers,
while its predecessor continued to admit all women writers. The general trend, however, was to become more inclusive. The New England Woman’s Press Association, which
had originally limited membership to newspaperwomen,
revised requirements to embrace women professionals in
the emerging communication fields, such as public relations and radio, as well as in the broader fields of literature
and magazine writing. These organizations also sponsored
scholarships and youth auxiliaries in the hope of attracting women to the profession and securing their allegiance
to the organization. By the 1960s, this became a common
There was also a surge of interest in reestablishing
a national umbrella organization, and in 1936, four state
organizations—the Illinois Women’s Press Association,
Ohio Newspaper Women’s Association (1920–2004), Presswomen of Portland (Oregon), and the Woman’s Press Club
of Indiana (1913–present)—federated to form the National
Federation of Press Women (NFPW). An early requirement
that affiliated clubs restrict their membership to women
working for newspapers was eventually changed so that the
NFPW and its affiliates came to embrace a wide variety
of women in communications, including those in advertising, public relations, and broadcast. During the 1940s,
responding to these developments as well as the recruiting
efforts of the NFPW, several new organizations were created, including Minnesota Press Women (1940–1982), and
Colorado Press Women (1941–present).
The Removal of Gender Barriers
Until the 1970s, many of the women who founded and
joined women’s press organizations did so largely because
they were excluded from male press organizations and isolated within the journalism profession, which for most of
its existence has been male-dominated. They soon learned,
however, that the women’s press organizations provided
a sense of power, solidarity, and identity women could
rarely experience in mixed-sex organizations. Nevertheless, as women gained legitimacy in journalism, the barriers excluding them from male-only press clubs began
to slowly come down so that by the early 1960s women
in some localities had the option of choosing whether to
belong to a women’s organization, a mixed-sex organization, or both.
As the twentieth century women’s movement brought
pressure through public opinion and legal action, the most
recalcitrant of male press organizations—the National
Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi—removed their exclusionary policies and admitted their first women members
in 1971 and 1972, respectively. Following these developments, many women’s press organizations abandoned
membership descriptions that defined members in term of
gender, although they usually retained the word “women”
or “woman’s” in their name and maintained their purpose
of supporting the efforts of women within the profession.
Other women’s press organizations went even further and,
in addition to admitting men, dropped the word “women”
from their title in an effort to attract new members. In 1995,
the name of Texas Press Women (founded in 1893 as Texas
Woman’s Press Association) was changed to Texas Professional Communicators. By the end of the century, twelve of
the NFPW’s forty-four affiliates were using a name without
the designation “women.”
Even as women’s press organizations merged with men’s
and gender distinctions were dropped after the 1970s, participation in the established press organizations declined
across the board. Changing lifestyles and a decrease of
available time for voluntary and professional activities led
to the demise of some of these organizations, including the
Woman’s Press Club of New York City, Minnesota Press
Women, and the Woman’s Press Club of Cincinnati. Others
simply became inactive without taking formal action: the
New England Woman’s Press Association ceased activity
after 1982; and during the 1990s, at least four NFPW affiliates became inactive. Others survived by capping costs,
reducing the frequency of meetings, redefining their mission, and stepping up recruiting efforts.
At the same time, new women’s press organizations
were established in response to emerging issues and needs.
In 1985, a group of women journalists and journalism educators established JAWS: Journalism and Women Symposium to support the personal growth and empowerment of
women in the newsroom. In 1987, women sports journalists created the Association for Women in Sports Media to
address the difficulties they faced in covering male athletes,
the poor coverage of women’s sports, the lack of legitimacy
accorded both women athletes and women sports reporters,
and inequities of pay. And in 1988, a group of Dallas, Texas,
journalists established the Association for Women Journalists (AWJ) to protest a demeaning promotional campaign in
a local newspaper. In its mission it stated it was “dedicated
to supporting women in journalism and promoting respectful treatment of women by the media.” By 2005, the three
organizations were still active and the AWJ had grown to
seven chapters.
Since the 1880s, women’s press organizations have provided women journalists with the professional and emotional
support they have needed to function in the workplace, to
survive gracefully during times of little progress, and to
eventually overcome some of the barriers preventing them
from gaining full access to their profession. Even in the first
decade of the twenty-first century, however, women journalists still had not attained full access. In 2005, they still
earned less than their male counterparts, lagged behind in
receiving promotions and plum assignments, and remained
in the minority in managerial positions. The women’s press
organizations of the twenty-first century still had much to
Further Reading
Beasley, Maurine H. “The Women’s National Press Club: Case
Study of Professional Aspirations.” Journalism History
15, 4 (Winter 1988): 112–121.
Blair, Karen J. The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood
Redefi ned, 1868–1914. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1980.
Bradshaw, James Stanford. “Mrs. Rayne’s School of Journalism.”
Journalism Quarterly 60 (1983): 513–517.
Burt, Elizabeth V., ed. Women’s Press Organizations: 1881–1999.
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.
Croly, Jane Cunningham. The History of the Woman’s Club
Movement in America. New York: Henry G. Allen & Company, 1898.
De La Torriente, Donna Duesel. So We All Can Be Heard: A
History of The Illinois Woman’s Press Association, 1885–
1987. Streamwood, IL: Illinois Woman’s Press Association,
Deverell, William, and Tom Sitton, eds. California Progressivism
Revisited. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper. “Networking in the Nineteenth Century:
Founding of the Woman’s Press Club of New York City.”
Journalism History 21:4 (Winter 1995): 156–163.
Kulczycky, Larissa C. et al. The First 85 Years: The History
of Women in Communications, Inc. Arlington, Virginia:
Women in Communications, Inc., 1994.
Lord, Myra B. History of the New England Woman’s Press Association. Newton, MA: Graphic Press, 1932.
Scott, Anne Firor. Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Elizabeth V. Burt