About Us

All About AAUW

AAUW’s Mission
AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.

AAUW’s Value Promise
By joining AAUW, you belong to a community that breaks through educational and economic barriers so that all women have a fair chance.

Leaders of the Tacoma Branch of AAUW for 2020-2021

President LesLee Eicher and Mary Letterman
Tech Trek Committee Chair Marisa Peloquin
Membership Co-VP Robin Larson
Financial Officer Carol Rikerd
Secretary  Open

Tacoma Branch History

Tacoma Branch received its official charter from the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, now American Association of University Women, on May 12, 1907, with 35 members. From the start, the founders knew the value of building coalitions and met often with other women’s groups for mutual projects. In 1909, the members helped form the Presidents’ Council of Tacoma, still in existence today, with AAUW members among the leadership. An early project of this group was to check the cleanliness of bakeries and butcher shops by counting the flies these establishments attracted. They also protested for safer ingredients in cosmetics. A forerunner of the Food and Drug Administration was formed in the area because of this effort.

Although furthering educational opportunities for women and girls has been the primary goal, the branch has taken some rather unpopular stands. Supporting the Japanese immigrant farmers and business owners instead of following the prevailing trend of forcing them out of the area was a courageous stand in 1923. A more recent example would be working for public disclosure legislation. A former branch president, Marilyn Roberts, who is known for her calm demeanor, takes pride in standing her ground against a politician who ruthlessly refused to comply with the new law.

In 1914, the Tacoma members were instrumental in getting the University of Washington admitted into the A.C.A. By invitation from the Dean of Women, several members took the steamboat to Seattle to tour the university campus. Until then, Wellesley College had the most graduates (11) among the 85 branch members; however, the 1916 directory lists 102 members, 22 of them graduates of the University of Washington. The membership topped 400 in the 1950s. Two branches, Puyallup Valley and Gig Harbor, have their roots in the Tacoma Branch.

A common thread woven through the years is the branch’s love of the arts. One of the first two interest sections was a drama group, which performed for its own members’ enjoyment. A friendly rivalry among alumnae existed, to see which college could come up with the best performers at the annual Frolics, “an evening of fun and frolic reliving their college days.” The Frolics departed from the regular policy of welcoming guests to all meetings, forums and poetry readings. According to a newspaper article, “Guests are limited to the AAUW membership, and no one ever absents herself except for necessity, since the evening never fails to fulfill its promise of entertainment.”

In 1947 the branch was the first organization to sponsor theatre for children. Tickets for Hans Brinker, performed by the Children’s Theatre of New York, were distributed in schools. When the Tacoma Children’s Museum needed a boost, AAUW members became docents and helped in raising funds. Evidence of the love of arts can be found in newspaper articles, minutes of the meetings and interest groups. This devotion continues today. Members serve as docents at local museums, and ticket sales for both the Tacoma Musical Playhouse and the Tacoma Opera are used as fundraisers.

At its founding, Tacoma Branch dues were $2.00 annually, of which $1.00 went to the national organization. Within three years after founding, the branch set up a Student Aid Fund, to which members were asked to pledge $2.00 more to set aside for worthy female students to borrow interest-free to attend college. This aid fund continued until the Educational Foundation was established. An early “Living Fellowship” was named to honor Dr. Catherine Staudt, Tacoma member and one of Washington’s first Educational Foundation chairs, in 1955. The recipient of the $2,000 grant, a biologist from the Netherlands, spent six months in the agricultural areas of Washington learning methods of studying sexuality and hybridization in yeast.

The Tacoma Branch continues to promote equity and education for women and girls through many activities beyond the monthly branch programs. The branch provides financial help to female students, attending the area colleges which are AAUW partner schools, to attend the National Conference of College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL). This conference is held in the Washington, D.C. area each June. The branch also participates in sponsoring girls, who have just completed the 7th grade, to attend Tech Trek. This is a week-long camp held on a college campus to encourage girls toward careers in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). This includes seeking funding, as well as participating with the local schools in selecting the girls to attend this camp.

— Constance Dunkelberger, Tacoma Branch member