The Association for the Advancement of Women in 1896

Among the hundreds upon hundreds of women’s organizations, of whose making there is no end and into whose many forms the much-talked of “woman movement” has crystallized itself, there is one unique and interesting society of which little is heard, though it is of ripe age–twenty-two years–and counts its membership in every section of the country.

From Canada to Florida, from Maine to California, are women to whom the initials “A.A.W.” stand for a new inspiration in their lives, and among its hundreds of members are included women of world-wide fame, from its president, Julia Ward Howe , author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” down. From the fact that its working methods are somewhat unlike those of most women’s clubs, the only time when the Association for the Advancement of Women challenges universal attention, is when it calls its members from the East and the North, the South and the West, to its annual convention in some representative city. For the rest of the year it works so quietly–though none the less effectively –that to many of the outside world a brief account of the Association, its membership, and its work, will come as interesting news.

Not that the Association has hid its light under a bushel–that could hardly be, in an organization whose distinguished line of presidents began with Mrs. Mary A. Livermore and Professor Maria Mitchell, and is to-day continued in the person of Mrs. Howe, who has held the office for twelve consecutive years. In its almost quarter century of existence its success has fully accorded with its brilliant beginning under the auspices of an organization justly styled “The Mother of Clubs“–the New York Sorosis. In 1873 a few members of that body planned another and more widely embracing society, which should organize the innumerable women who were working separately for the same ends– the elevation and happiness of their sex –into one united band.

“Our A.A.W. calls itself an association, not the association. Our ruling idea of the advancement of women has been an advance in intelligence and in useful service—a better understanding of the needs of humankind, and of their correspondence to the abilities and activities of our sex. If I may say anything further in praise of the body to which we belong, I will say this, that our work has all been done as members of society, not as protestants against it.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book— Louis Antoine Godey began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1830. He designed his monthly magazine specifically to attract the growing audience of literate American women. The magazine was intended to entertain, inform, and educate the women of America.


Publication: Godey’s Lady’s Book
Date: January, 1896
Title: The Association for the Advancement of Women
Location: Philadelphia, PA

About the A.A.W.

Maria Mitchell was one of the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Women (AAW), was its president (1875), and founded its Science Committee which she chaired for the remainder of her life.

When the fourth Congress of the AAW met in Philadelphia in October 1876, Julia Ward Howe (also a friend of Maria’s) was serving with Maria on the executive committee. Maria presented a paper, “The Need for Women in Science.” In it she stated,

Does anyone suppose that any woman in all the ages has had a fair chance to show what she could do in science? . . . The laws of nature are not discovered by accidents; theories do not come by chance, even to the greatest minds; they are not born of the hurry and worry of daily toil; they are diligently sought, they are patiently waited for, they are received with cautious reserve, they are accepted with reverence and awe. And until able women have given their lives to investigation, it is idle to discuss the question of their capacity for original work.

She is not saying that women cannot be scientists – she is saying they need to be given the opportunities.

Learn more at the Association for the Advancement of Women/Maria Mitchell Association website.

Top Image details: Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, half-length portrait, seated, facing right

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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