Celebrated every March, Women’s History Month is an opportunity for us to collectively celebrate the many contributions of women throughout history across all facets of our society. This year, we recognize the role women have played in AFGE’s nearly 100-year history.
Since our founding in 1932, women have played a central role in building and sustaining this federation. At the first AFGE national convention, 14 of the 42 delegates were women. At this inaugural convention, Esther Penn was elected as AFGE’s 7th Vice President and Bernice Heffner became the Secretary and Treasurer.
Heffner served in this capacity for two decades, during which she stepped up to serve as Acting President three different times when the position was vacant. Helen McCarty-Voss, AFGE’s first Chief Organizer, oversaw an era of unprecedented growth, leading AFGE to reach 37,000 members by the end of its fourth year.
Fueled by the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, AFGE demonstrated this commitment by electing to establish the Women’s Department in 1974 to promote the advancement of women into leadership roles within the union.
AFGE Local 2725 President Louise Smothers served as the first appointed director until 1980, when AFGE voted to make the director of the Women’s Department a member of the NEC and thus elected by delegates at the AFGE national convention. Barbara Hutchinson, a young EEOC attorney in Atlanta was elected as first director of the Women’s Department to serve on the NEC.
In addition to establishing the Women’s and Fair Practices, AFGE also voted to create the National Women’s Advisory Coordinators (NWACs) in 1974 and National Fair Practices Affirmative Action Coordinators (NFPAACs) in 1980 to work closely with WFP in the fight to protect and advance civil and human rights. WFP hosted the first Human Rights Conference in 1995, under the leadership of Director Kitty Peddicord.
Today, standing on the shoulders of these early leaders, AFGE’s Women’s and Fair Practices Departments have expanded to include not only the National Human Rights Committee, but also the AFGE National Y.O.U.N.G. Committee, AFGE PRIDE, AFGE B.L.A.C.K., AFGE A.P.O.W.E.R., AFGE HISCO, and a thriving network of Local WFP Coordinators all committed to advancing civil, human, worker’s and women’s rights through education and training, member organizing and mobilization, legislative and political action, and representation through litigation.
Women’s history is AFGE history, and AFGE history is women’s history. WFP is proud to be part of this vibrant legacy. We recognize and honor our foremothers, not only these iconic leaders, but all the women of the federal and D.C. government who have served as local leaders, coordinators, stewards, organizers, representatives, and in any other role dedicated to lifting up working people and fighting for a better world.
We invite you to kick off Women’s History Month with WFP at our upcoming virtual workshop about women in leadership. In addition to our guest speakers, this workshop will bring together AFGE women and their allies to share their experiences and expertise in addressing the issues women still face as union leaders, activists, and government employees. Don’t miss out on this important workshop!
Women in Leadership Virtual Workshop on Tuesday, March 7th from 7-9pm ET.
Join us on Zoom: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/86778124876.