Historian’s Corner

50 Years Ago; Part 2
by Marilyn Hempstead (33 yr member), Branch Historian

The 50-year members were recognized and received cer- tificates at the September meeting thanks to Membership Chair Barb Fischer. Part II gives added details of our branch, with some connections and some differences, from the time when the honorees were new members.

In September of 1973 Sharon De Cicco remembers with some hesitation approaching the house of President Doris Skemp who was hosting a coffee for new and prospective members. She was invited in, became a member and she still is.

The dues Sharon paid were $12.50 of which $6.40 went to National. Monthly meeting reminders were done by the 51 telephone callers. The CURRENT was 2 or 3 typed pages stapled together and mailed to the over 350 regular mem- bers and 14 associates.

Associates Clare Engelhard and Eleanor Roraff are rep- resented now by daughters Alice Engelhard Gassere and Catherine Roraff. There were four Dr. Gundersen wives. Currently there is one: Joan Gundersen. Josephine Hintgen for whom Hintgen Elementary is named was a member. Fifty-year honoree Carol Taebel served as recording secretary.

Numerous topics were studied with the book study groups being the most similar to today. The Bridge Scholarship program which still exists held its annual tournament in October. Also in October was the Harvest of Homes fund- raiser. The tour featured four local homes, one of which

in West Salem was heated by passive solar and wood an earlier concept of energy efficiency.

Another fundraiser was the Children’s Theater Production of “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” held at the new Viterbo Fine Arts Theater. Honoree Patricia Boge was the managing director.

In line with the new wave of feminism, the La Crosse Branch participated in the ongoing topic from National “Women
in Search of Themselves.” The purpose was to discover, explore and promote the expanding options for women.

They did and we are standing on their shoulders still working for those goals in a different age.


50 Years Ago; Part 1

by Marilyn Hempstead (32 yr member), Branch Historian 

In honor of the 50-year members who will be recognized at the September Social, this is a look back at the year 1973. What might be a history lesson for some is memory lane for others of us.

Here are some of the major events that took place:

· President Richard Nixon’s cover up of Watergate
· The ending, finally, of the Viet Nam war
· Floods along the lower Mississippi River

In relationship to women there were these developments:

· Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal in the US
· Battle of the sexes in which tennis champ Bobby Riggs challenged Billie Jean King to three matches. She won all three.
· The Equal Rights for Women Act re-introduced into Congress by Representative Patsy Mink from Hawaii
· Women in US Legislature – no senators, 14 in House of Representatives · Hit song “I Am Woman” by Helen Ready
· Title IX of the Civil Rights Act had been signed into law by President Nixon opening sports opportunities for girls equal to that of boys in schools

Women were in the majority with a population of 108 million women out of almost 213 million total. In the workforce men made up 84% and women 73% and there was a big discrepancy in pay. Men had a median income of $8,060 while for women it was $2,800. Women

AAUW back then attracted educated younger married women with children, who wanted an outlet for their interests and talents, as well as professional women. Members were tuning into the Women’s Movement, reading Ms. Magazine, working toward improving rights and opportunities for women and girls. One symbolic act of our branch was to list members own names rather than that of their husbands in the directory.

Stay tuned for more details about our branch activities 50 years ago in Part II. The Area Research Center at UW-L will have re-opened and I’ll have access to the 1973 historical branch materials stored there.

Making History
by Marilyn Hempstead (32 yr member), Branch Historian Making History
May 2023

This year as the branch celebrated and honored our past 100 years, we remembered and honored the myriad accomplishments which stretch back to 1922. We recognized the diligent women (and later men) who kept alive and thriving our mission of promoting education and opportunities for women and girls to develop and use their talents and abilities and serve society.

All of this is documented in our newsletters, scrapbooks, secretary’s minutes, committee reports and other re- sources stored at the Area Research Center of UW-L and the La Crosse Public Library. (More current materials are still in my basement or in the hands of officers, but will find their way to those repositories.) Now we have the added advantage of online resources: our own website and using search engines to find specific topics.

Our history is safe, valuable and accessible.

There have been many changes and refinements along the way which continue to happen as we develop. What hasn’t changed and won’t are the respect for one another and the cooperation that has been evident throughout our history. These are key ingredients as we learn and discover new directions such as an emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness while continuing the traditions of the giving of scholarships, fundraising to do so and more that began in the earliest years. Together we keep making history.

Link to:  AAUW_bylaws2016LaX

by Marilyn Hempstead (32-year member), Branch Historian
April 2023

IT’S OFFICIAL – But It Might Not Be Very Exciting.
Congratulations to the new and continuing officers on the Board of Directors for our branch! That is exciting.

What we often don’t recognize is the mundane fact that the bases for the functioning of our organization are the By-Laws and Policy Sheet – that which an organization needs to be legitimate.

In 1922 a constitution was drawn up with 5 Articles defining the name, purpose, membership qualifications, the officers and their duties and the means for amending the constitution. The officers identified at that time were a President, Second and Third Vice-Presidents, a Recording Secretary, a Treasurer and a Chairman of Committees. In addition to that By-Laws were devised describing elections, committee functions, meetings and other branch business.

Since then, the branch has evolved as the times changed. The name of the governing
document came to be called the Bylaws with 19 Articles as specifications for the running
of the branch. What had originally been called the By-Laws became the Policy Sheet with the purpose stated “to provide a reference for frequently asked questions which are not included in the Bylaws.”

The composition of the executive board has been modified over the years along with the Bylaws. Our new officers are not in positions that were included in 1922: President-Elect and Co-Program VP. In alignment with the Policy Sheet, we have appointed officers that reflect the new directions the branch has taken over the years.

Because of our legalese governing-documents we are official. They provide us with a springboard for our dynamic and exciting programs. Belonging, assumes a 2-way or reciprocal relationship You don’t have to wait for someone to ask you to dance. You can determine with whom you want to dance and initiate the invitation. You can influence the choices for the playlist, even if your musical preferences might be different than anyone else’s. You are not only accepted for who you are, you are expected to be who you are. All three of these concepts: belonging, diversity, and inclusion, are inextricably linked and need to coexist for a person to have the best experience possible.

For more information, a video produced by the National AAUW, can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zFKQ33aWq4&t=308s

by Marilyn Hempstead (32-year member), Branch Historian
March 2023

A crucial aspect of branch action and personal enrichment throughout our 100 years has been study groups. In 1922 the newly formed branch set out to study equal pay, supporting college women financially, women in government and voter education.

Over the years various groups were created to study literature, the arts, education and the status of women. A World Problems study attracted so many members it was divided into two groups which met through the 1980s until it again merged into one in 2004. It studied Europe and the Middle East that year (always timely).

In 1989 a whooping nine study groups were listed in the directory. Four of these involved books! Two of the nine exist today: Contemporary Authors and Hearth and Home. Sharon DeCicco was the Hearth and Home leader then and she is now. In that same year there were two other study topics. One was on Promoting Individual Liberties. The other was Women’s Issues/Women’s Work chaired by Pam Thiel.

Because of the number of groups in the branch, a position of Study Group Coordinator to which each group reported was created in 1990. As the number of groups declined the position was eliminated in 2009.

The newest study group to form is AAUW in Action designed to be a springboard for community projects. Erica Koonmen called a meeting to organize it in September, 2009. It has been going strong ever since.

Throughout study group history there have been both change and consistency: change to stay relevant and consistency staying true to our mission of advancing gender equality for women and girls through research, education and advocacy.

That’s what we have done and will continue to do.

(Photo to be inserted)
Lila Seager, Betty Heuslein, Marian Ramlow, Ruth Nixon-Davy – probably early 2000s.

Historian’s Corner

by Marilyn Hempstead (32-year member), Branch Historian

All our activities, programs and other good things we’ve accomplished, and are accomplishing, are dependent on communication. In our 100 years as methods changed, the goal remained the same.

In 1922 members most likely communicated by phone.
(A telephone switchboard was installed in La Crosse in 1881.) In the 1940s the branch had an 11-member Telephone Squad (which dialed only 3 or 4 digits).
Substantial telephone committees continued with 1989 having a 30-person calling tree. Current members involved then were Sarah Stuber (co-chair), Phyllis Miletto, Sue Heuer, Elsie Patterson and Margaret Wood. But today only a few members are being called due to an innovation that swept society.

When email addresses first appeared in the 1989 directory, that of pioneers Ardus Cleveland and Pam Thiel were included out of 11. That number doubled by 2004 and continued to grow. Thus in 2012 we were reminded of meetings via email with Robert Richardson becoming the RSVP coordinator. Only 11 people remained on the Calling Committee list and that number has dwindled.

The first branch bulletin was published in 1927 and sent through the mail. In 1962 the newsletter was revised and named the CURRENT. A used typewriter and a mimeograph machine were purchased and kept in the home of the editor. In later years it was sent to a printer to make copies which were mailed to members. In 2009 Erica Koonmen became newsletter editor, redesigned it, updated the name to THE CURRENT and began its distribution digitally as it’s done today.

Our Directory
Another critical communication device is our comprehensive directory (a resource for this information). The earliest one I have is from 1947 with “Yearbook” as the title. Forerunners are still to be found.

Ultimately it is we, the communicators who use the devices to help carry on the task of keeping our branch vital and serving our mission. Thanks to all, past and present.


Historian’s Corner


Historian’s Corner

by Marilyn Hempstead Branch Historian and 32 year member.
January 2023

As this new year begins, we are continuing to honor the incredible 100-year history the La Crosse Branch of AAUW has created. The mission has been consistent throughout the century beginning with the 1922 constitution that promoted study, involvement in crucial issues of the day and work to support education and opportunities for women and girls. Basic early activities of the branch have continued while evolving with the times.

Do you remember the monthly meetings when you first joined the branch and
what you became involved in? Many of us in the membership experience volunteered or were coerced into taking an office on the board. (Fifty-six have served as president.) The legacy of study groups added another dimension for members in every era. And there were the various continuing committees such as fundraising (now think Art Fair) and Scholarship and others springing up over the years to further our mission. A side benefit to all of these branch contributions for the community has been the members’ deep connection with like-minded people.

Now we build on the past but don’t necessarily repeat it. Gone are the hats, gloves and some of the insular tendencies displayed by the educated women who first banded together. We are promoting new directions for the history we are making today with an emphasis on diversity and inclusivity, on broadening horizons for girls to enter STEM professions and on offering our support to women in countries where they are oppressed by stringent rules of dress and behavior.

These will continue as we move into 2023 and beyond. One goal for the future can be eliminating educational requirements for AAUW membership. What more will we come up with for a phenomenal next 100 years?


Historian’s Corner

The Memorable 1960’s,
by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian.
In December 2022 Current.


This month we look back at the 1960’s, a momentous decade for our branch and a decade that notable members of our branch recall.

In 1961 one of our fundraisers was producing plays for children. Ardus Cleveland joined the branch that year and was recruited to take the part of a playing card in “Alice In Wonderland.” The same year the Home Tour Project was initiated which gave ticket holders the opportunity to tour local homes and buildings.

In 1962 the newsletter was renamed the CURRENT.
It then began being produced using a used typewriter and a mimeograph machine.

In 1963 Ginny Brochhausen, as a senior in high school, was invited by her aunt to attend an AAUW meeting in Clintonville, Wisconsin. Remembering being impressed by the professional women of that branch she became a member of our branch in 2000 when she graduated with a degree in business.

That same year, senior girls at Sharon De Cicco’s St. Cloud, Minnesota, high school were invited to attend an AAUW meeting.

In 1966 Sue Heuer was introduced to AAUW when she received a small scholarship from the Greeley, Colorado branch in her senior year. She subsequently joined our branch on moving to La Crosse.

In 1967 we established our own foundation which was administered by a member. Thus, there was greater freedom involving the range of scholarships given.

In 1967 we took over the Art Fair on the Green which had been organized and run by an arts organization the previous 5 years.

Our member Joan Koonmen was the first chair.
The photo on the right shows Joan Koonman looking at the 1967 art entries.

2022 Art Fair on the Green

What was your introduction to AAUW? Let Marilyn know by emailing her at marizah@yahoo.com.


The 1930’s – Contrasts and Similarities,
by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian.
In November 2022 Current.

We were still calling ourselves The College Club and giving $2.00 of our $3.50 dues to the National Association of University Women. The 80 members then is a similar number to our membership today. Activities reflected our current ones: monthly general meetings, study groups, fundraisers for scholarships. The interest from a $1000 fund provided a scholarship to a student at the Teacher’s College (forerunner of UW-L) even though its graduates were not eligible to join A.A.U.W. (Note that periods were used even then in the abbreviation.)

La Crosse members – all graduates of approved institutions – were activists in promoting the use of radio in the classroom which is a likely technological equivalent to the current computer at every desk. Their lobbying for the headquarters of the Soil Conservation Service to stay in La Crosse instead of being moved to Madison was met with defeat.

In 1938 National put out a report on The Economic and Legal Status of Women encouraging members action for the promotion and protection of women in the labor force. Discussion of The Equal Rights Amendment, which was being debated in a Senate Committee, ensued in the branch about the ERA’s relationship to that issue. There was concern over the erosion of the rights of women happening in Germany and the possibility of it happening in the U.S. As war was looming, A.A.U.W. changed its stance from aligning with the Council for the Prevention of War to recognizing that defense may be necessary.

Challenging times were present then as now. We aren’t experiencing the Great Depression, dust bowls or our nation on the verge of going to war, but many concerns are the same: women’s rights, economic disparity, preservation of the environment and an unstable international situation. These are common threads running from then to now in our 100-year history.


100 Years and Strong,
by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian.

Our branch has been thriving for 100 years! And there
is a lot to celebrate. A committee has been meeting throughout the summer to plan our celebration activities. Your historian is the chair: Betty Kruck, Erica Koonmen, Sharon DeCicco, Ann Brice and Karen Lange (Program Co- Vice President) are hard working members.

“Equal pay for equal work Assistance for needy students Women on boards – local, state and national
Education for intelligent voting.”

Sound familiar? Those were the proposed study objectives for the new 48 member branch in 1922. That philosophy formed a basis which is relevant for today. Throughout the year, beginning with the social on September 13th, we’ll explore how we built on that base and evolved with changing times. We’ll recognize our multitude of accomplishments. We’ll honor those who contributed their talents, intelligence and energy to carry on the mission and the torch of education, equity, philanthropy and research vital to AAUW.

Scholarships & Grants: Awarded and Funded,
by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian.

As May is our month to honor our scholarship recipients, following is a brief history of this branch tradition.

The 1930’s saw the establishment of a $1000 fund with the State Teachers College Foundation. The annual interest was usually sufficient for a scholarship, but when interest was too low the branch made up the difference. During the 1940’s, the fund was increased. With more fund raisers in the 1950’s our own fund was created which initially gave $200 scholar- ships to seniors at local high schools.

When keeping accounts by the branch treasurer became too cumbersome, the La Crosse Branch Foundation was estab- lished as a non-profit corporation in 1967. As assets grew, more high school scholarships were given and scholarships for Viterbo and Technical College students were introduced.

Later, a scholarship for women over age 30 was created honoring member Karen Wilson who was a professor at UW-L and passed away too young. We joined the La Crosse Tri- bune’s Extra Effort Award program donating two scholarships. When long time art fair chair and music teacher Pat Staupe died, we added a scholarship in her name for a student in Arts Education.

Grants were given to organizations supporting women. An example is the Self Sufficiency Program which helps single mothers to obtain an education. Sending students to the AAUW National Conference for Women Student Leaders near Washington, D.C. is another.

By 2010, when managing the branch foundation was becom- ing too cumbersome, a fund was established within the La Crosse Community Foundation. Under that umbrella principal grew and we give close to $30,000 in scholarships and grants per year. As LCF manages accounting and distribution, we are freer to concentrate on fundraising and choosing recipients.

In our 100 years we have given many more scholarships and grants than have been included. This ever-constant need will continue to be addressed by our branch far beyond its first century of accomplishment.


“WE’RE in the MONEY”
by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian.

Throughout our 100 year history, raising money has been a corner- stone of branch activity to support our projects and outreach.

In the beginning there were a variety of typical sales plus a children’s play and the giving of bridge lessons. From 1947-1962, a more glamorous source was the paid admission Christmas Ball held at the Stoddard Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom – formal dress required. Members attended as well as local college women who invited an escort. Fashion shows were staged by members. And the earnings of college women recruited to model for local dress shops went to our branch.

In 1960 a creative innovation was the Home Tour where interest- ing local residences were opened to the public. This continued through the 1990’s. For several years, the Children’s Theater thrived with members as actresses. Later the cast was composed of students from the UW-L Theater Department. Study guides for teachers were prepared and schools paid to send busloads of children to enjoy the play in the auditorium of Morris Hall.

The branch continually came up with new ways to garner funds, often carried out during the same year. The greatest fundraiser of all has been the Art Fair! In 1967 our branch took it over from a local arts group with Joan Koonmen being the first chair. Because of member diligence (which you all have contributed to) it kept growing and generating more profits. With other fundraisers having out- lived their effectiveness, we decided to concentrate our efforts on the fair early in this century. Because of present uncertainties in our culture, the fair is now in a period of transition. With the creativity and resolve of you, our members, and along with our

Scholarship Fund at La Crosse Community Foundation, we will continue to have the resources to support our mission of aiding scholars in their education and supporting causes that benefit women.

Amanda Gorman’s Poem

The Celebration Has Begun!
by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian

A proclamation issued by La Crosse Mayor Reynolds declared September 11th through 17th as AAUW Week and congratulated us on our 100-year anniversary. That recognition and our September 13th Social at the Myrick Center marked the festive beginning to the year-long celebration of our 100 years of accomplishment.

At our gathering, after a welcome from President Andrea Hanson, the planning committee of Erica Koonmen, Betty Kruck, Karen Lange, Sharon DeCicco, Ann Brice and I each delivered a history synopsis of a branch decade wearing a costume representing that period. We were joined by Carol Robertson, Silvana and Robert Richardson, Lois Gilbert and Jan Eriksen who were also dressed fittingly for the parts they read. A huge thanks goes to all these thespians who so expertly added to the fun. If you’d like a copy of the script for the program, it is available on the branch website.

More thanks go to JoAnne Revels at the greeting table and to George Kruck, Jef Jerde and John Hempstead for their role in helping to set up and take down. George and Jef also served the wine. And to all the members who brought the ultra-delicious savories we offer Gratitude (with a capital G)!

We were grateful to all who attended: our branch members and guests, State President Maggie Winz, members from the Tomah Branch, State Assembly Member Jill Billings (who joined that evening), League of Women Voters members and Stacy Coggins, our first Extra Effort Scholarship winner.

The evening was a successful precursor to the year as the committee continues to meet planning displays and other projects bringing attention to our milestone.


by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian

At a Mississippi river town, in January of 1922, the AAUW National President, from Wisconsin herself, spoke to a group of college educated women. And a new branch was formed in La Crosse with 48 dedicated members. The branch has spent 100 years promoting the AAUW mission with study, involvement in crucial issues of the day, community activism and working to support education and opportunities for women and girls.

The story is certainly similar to that of most branches with monthly programs to inform and bond members, study groups, board meetings and special projects such as those for Women’s History Month featuring an International Women’s Day program.

Finding creative ways to raise funds for scholarships has been a goal from the beginning. The longest running and most reliable source has been the Art Fair on the Green. Taken over from a local arts group in 1967 and held on the campus of the University, it has included as many as 100 artists and attracts a few thousand visitors who pay an admission fee. The fair has facilitated our giving generously to the high school, state university, private university and technical college students in our city of over 51,000. Grants are also given to organizations serving women.

Although the pandemic has interrupted many of our activities, the members of the La Crosse Branch continue our dedication to serving the AAUW mission.


Historian’s Corner, 2022 April

“WE’RE in the MONEY”
by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian

Throughout our 100 year history, raising money has been a corner- stone of branch activity to support our projects and outreach.

In the beginning there were a variety of typical sales plus a children’s play and the giving of bridge lessons. From 1947-1962, a more glamorous source was the paid admission Christmas
Ball held at the Stoddard Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom – formal dress required. Members attended as well as local college women who invited an escort. Fashion shows were staged by members. And the earnings of college women recruited to model for local dress shops went to our branch.
In 1960 a creative innovation was the Home Tour where interest- ing local residences were opened to the public. This continued through the 1990’s. For several years, the Children’s Theater thrived with members as actresses. Later the cast was composed of students from the UW-L Theater Department. Study guides for teachers were prepared and schools paid to send busloads of children to enjoy the play in the auditorium of Morris Hall.

The branch continually came up with new ways to garner funds, often carried out during the same year.

The greatest fundraiser of all has been the Art Fair! In 1967 our branch took it over from a local arts group with Joan Koonmen being the first chair. Because of member diligence (which you all have contributed to) it kept growing and generating more profits. With other fundraisers having out- lived their effectiveness, we decided to concentrate our efforts on the fair early in this century. Because of present uncertainties in our culture,

the fair is now in a period of transition. With the creativity and resolve of you, our members, and along with our

Scholarship Fund at La Crosse Community Foundation, we will continue to have the resources to support our mission of aiding scholars in their education and supporting causes that benefit women.


by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian
In March 2022 Current.

It is fitting for Women’s History Month to write of two AAUW members whose names are enshrined on UW-L buildings.

Edith Cartwright (1906-?) graduated from Wisconsin State Normal School in 1928 with a major in physical education. After teach- ing at the high school level, she went back to her alma mater (then called Wisconsin State Teachers College) in 1941 to become

the Dean of Women, a position she held until her retirement in 1969. Always looking to improve the situation of female students, she created the Women’s Self Government

Association (WSGA) and established residence halls for women on campus. Respected by students, faculty and community members alike, the college recognized her contributions by renaming the student union the Cartwright Center in 1964.

In 1969 the La Crosse Branch of AAUW gave a scholarship in her name.

Margaret Annett (1911-2002) graduated from Central High School in 1929 and La Crosse State College in 1934. She became the librarian at UW-L Murphy Library in 1950 serving until 1977. In 1965 she joined our branch and worked with the Home Tour and Art Fair on the Green. A dedicated and eclectic community activist, Margaret was a member of the school board and the boards of La Crosse Symphony Society, Mississippi Valley Archaeological Society. Her support of women was evident in her belonging to the Women’s Political Caucus and the National Organization for Women.

While serving on the La Crosse Housing Authority board of directors, Margaret campaigned for day care facilities to be available in the community. Because of her efforts the new day care facility on campus was named in her honor in 1975. It is now the Margaret Annett Head Start Center. A further honor was the naming of the Annett Recital Hall for her and her music faculty husband Thomas.


Women’s History Month 2022

Each year, members of AAUW In Action (AIA) research and write daily biographies of women for the month of March, centered around the theme of the year. As set by the National Women’s History Alliance, the theme of Women’s History Month 2022 ,“Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” is both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history. Thank you to group members Annie Allen-Wyman, Ann Brice, Jan Eriksen, Pam Thiel and Erica Koonmen who wrote the daily bios of notable women for the La Crosse Tribune this year.
Link: https://lacrosse-wi.aauw.net/2021/03/01/whm/


Historian’s Corner. 2022 February

by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian

As of January 2022, it’s official: our branch has been thriving for 100 years! And there is a lot to celebrate. Thus a committee has been formed with your historian as chair. Betty Kruck, Erica Koonmen, Ann Brice, Karen Lange (Program Co-Vice President) have volunteered to be on the committee. More members are welcome.

“Equal pay for equal work Assistance for needy student
Women on boards – local, state and national Education for intelligent voting.”


Sound familiar? Those were the proposed study objectives for the new 48 member branch in 1922. That philosophy formed a basis which is relevant for today. We’ll explore how that grew and evolved with changing times. We’ll recognize our multitude of accomplishments. We’ll honor those who contributed their talents, intelligence and energy to carry on the mission and the torch of education, equity, philanthropy and research vital to AAUW.


by Marilyn Hempstead, Branch Historian
From AAUW Newsletter, The Current

AAUW Priority Issues

1. Removing Bias from education.

Startling inequities exist in American education. Gender, economics, race and ethnicity should not limit our opportunities.
To ensure a future of equal opportunity — and equal rewards — in the workforce, we need to start with our educational system. It is critical to remove gender-based barriers that keep not only girls but all students from pursuing their dreams and reaching their potential. Schools must teach with an eye toward tomorrow’s economy: The fastest growing, most well-paid sectors require technology, math and science expertise that many students — especially female students and students of color — are not getting. To fully explore this issue, click HERE.

We focus on:

  • Early Gender Bias
  • The STEM Gap
  • Title IX
  • Sexual Misconduct in Schools
  • Higher Education & Other Career Pathways
  • Women & Student Debt

2. Fighting for Fair Pay and economic Equity.

It’s time to close the pay gap and for the work world to embrace Diversity, equity and inclusion so we can all thrive.In recent decades, American women have made significant strides toward economic equality: They make up nearly half the U.S. workforce, and two-thirds of women are their family’s primary or co-breadwinner. Yet men continue to earn more money—and accumulate more wealth—than women do. To fully explore this issue, click HERE.

We focus on:

  • The Gender Pay Gap
  • The Gendered Workforce
  • Workplace Sexual Harassment
  • The Motherhood Penalty
  • Women & Retirement
  • The Future of Work

3. Advancing Women in Leadership
Women make up more than half of college graduates and half of the labor force. But we’re still not represented at the upper levels. We need equal representation.
Recent federal, state and local elections brought a surge of women leaders into public office. But while that progress is getting widespread attention, the reality is that women still lag far behind men when it comes to leadership roles. They remain significantly under-represented at the highest rungs
of almost every field: corporate, government, nonprofit, education, law, medicine, finance and banking, and the military. In 2020, there were only 36 women leading America’s biggest companies — that’s only about 7% of all Fortune 500 CEO’s. To fully explore this issue, click HERE.

  • We focus on:  Barriers & Bias
  • Test Your Implicit Bias
  • Global Connections



6194850By Pam Thiel, AAUW La Crosse, 2013

Our National Beginnings
AAUW has been empowering women since 1881!

Marion Talbot, a recent graduate of Boston College, at the urging of her mother, invited 16 alumnae from eight Eastern and Midwestern Colleges and Universities, including two from the University of Wisconsin, to meet at her home in Boston. This was an era when few women achieved higher education and there was little work or encouragement for those that did. Discouraged by the lack of opportunities available to them, the women discussed how they would join together to help other women attend college and assist those who had already graduated.

This first meeting in 1881 paved the way for the creation of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (ACA) — the predecessor of the American Association of University Women.

The word spread and in just one year there were 65 members. The Association of Collegiate Alumnae continued to grow and by 1885 had nearly 1,300 members. This growth, at least in part, can be contributed to the 1885 statement by a prominent Boston physician that higher education adversely affected women’s health. A study to refute this accusation was the first research undertaken by the Association of Collegiate Alumnae.

In 1921, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, the Western Association of Collegiate Alumnae, and the Southern Association of College Women joined together to form the American Association of University Women. To mark this historic merger, there was a reception at the White House attended by First Lady, Mrs. Warren Harding.

Our State Beginnings

In 1894, Milwaukee founded the first branch of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae in Wisconsin and functioned in a statewide capacity. In 1908, Madison became the second official branch in Wisconsin. From 1908 to 1922, seven more branches were added in Wisconsin.

Now Our La Crosse Beginnings

On January 11, 1922, Mrs. Marvin Rosenberry, then national president of AAUW from Madison, met with women of La Crosse in Library Hall and gave an excellent explanation of AAUW and made it clear that a branch in La Crosse would be a real service to the community. The group voted unanimously to establish a local branch and elected a temporary chairman with power to appoint committees on nominations, membership, policies, and developing a constitution.

Then on March 7, 1922, 48 interested women met in Library Hall to form a local branch of AAUW. They knew they were embarking on something significant and important.
The proposed constitution was read, carefully reviewed, and then adopted. Mrs. T. H. Brindley, grandmother of present members Mary and Kathy Reiman, was elected the first branch president.

Here is what the first part of the 1922 Constitution stated:

Article 1. Name
Section I. The name of this organization shall be the College Club of La Crosse- La Crosse Branch of AAUW.

Article 2. Purpose
Section I. The purpose of this organization shall be (1) to cooperate with the National Association in its general work and (2) to unite the college women of La Crosse and vicinity for social companionship and for the promotion of educational and other interests beneficial to the community.

Article 3. Membership
Section I. There shall be national and local members. Any woman eligible to AAUW may become a national member.

Section II. Local members shall have had a minimum of one year academic work in college or universities on the accredited list of AAUW, or in such colleges or universities as may be added at the discretion of the Board of Directors.

After signing the constitution, Mrs. T. H. Brindley, the new branch president, proposed four areas for further study: 1) equal pay for equal work; 2) assistance for needy students; 3) women on boards—local, state and national; and 4) education for intelligent voting.

These are the same issues we are working on today! We have made progress, but our work is far from done. Nothing less than eternal vigilance will keep us moving forward. We must continue going back to these same issues with renewed vigor!

Our founding members were not just ladies that got together to have tea in their hats and gloves. They did that and I am sure enjoyed each other’s company, but they were more importantly women of substance. Keep in mind that this is 1922. Of the 48 charter members, twelve or one fourth had advanced degrees, mostly Masters of Science, but there was also a doctor, a dentist, and a Ph. D. As you would expect, most of the degrees were from the University of Wisconsin, but six were from Smith College, including our first president. Another four received degrees from Columbia. Other colleges and universities represented were Northwestern, Stanford, Wellesley, Laurence, Marquette, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana, and Iowa. Quite impressive indeed!

Many of the 48 charter members had local La Crosse names that you will recognize, such as Martindale, Desmond, Coate, Wing, Hixon, Trane, and others.

Leona Farnam, a charter member, was interviewed by the La Crosse Tribune in 1981, the 100th anniversary of national AAUW. Leona was 81. She said, “Lots of the husbands of members of the College Club didn’t see why their wives wanted to get into anything like that: most of them thought it was ridiculous. Perhaps, they thought we were flying out of the nest too soon.” It isn’t always easy to change the societal role of women, even within a family.

Early monthly meeting of the branch were held in the now razed Cargill House that was on the corner of West Avenue and Cass Street. The annual rent was $50. In the depression, they couldn’t pay the fee and had to start meeting in members’ homes.

It wasn’t until 1932 that the College Club of La Crosse was recognized officially as a Wisconsin AAUW branch.

National AAUW had high standards for accrediting the colleges and universities from which they would accept graduates as national members. Many private liberal arts colleges qualified immediately, as did many state universities. But even as late as 1949, only 16 teachers colleges were eligible and none of them were in Wisconsin.

Criteria for selection included high scholastic attainment; adequate provisions for women students (including housing and physical education); recognition of women in rank, salary, policy-making positions and faculty and administrative staff; intellectual freedom; and a sound basis of liberal arts education before specializing.

Not until 1962 was La Crosse State Teachers College accepted as an accredited college of AAUW despite years of prodding by the La Crosse branch and other female alumnae.


We have done many things over the years to raise money, including: card parties, candy, nuts, and stationery sales, and magazine subscriptions to name a few. In 1953, we earned $175 by taking the school census; a project deemed more bother than it was worth for subsequent years.

A Scholarship Bridge Tournament as a fundraiser started in 1953, and for many years it was the main source of funds for our scholarships. This later became a study group and a fundraiser. A bridge group continues today and now includes other card games.

Still another fundraising scheme involved Viterbo and La Crosse State students, who under AAUW sponsorship, worked as fashion models in local style shows. Retail exhibitors paid modeling fees to AAUW rather than to the girls. The College-Board earned $175 for AAUW in the late 1950s.

Children’s Theatre started as a study group and then became a fundraiser that thrived for more than 30 years. The idea was to awaken 1960s children to the pleasures and excitement of high-quality, live, dramatic entertainment—as opposed to the passive entertainment of commercial TV.
Early productions were based on fairy tales such as– Hansel and Gretel or Cinderella—or popular children’s literature like Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. Later productions focused more on folklore like Native American legends and Hmong cultural traditions.

AAUW provided the actors and technical crews and area public schools sent thousands of students to watch the shows. Performance venues included the old Coleman Auditorium at Western, Viterbo’s Fine Art Center, and finally Morris Hall Theatre at UW-L.

The first home tour was in June of 1960 and featured six homes including Gunnar Gunderson’s in Ebner Coulee. The event raised nearly $800. This successful fund raiser continued for over 30 years. It was discontinued when many other organizations initiated Home Tours.

The ever-popular Christmas Ball was first held in 1947 and 115 people attended. The Christmas Ball was a viable fundraiser for various scholarships from 1947-1968.

It was a semi-formal dance and quite a prestigious and glamorous affair. It was usually held in the Stoddard Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom with a local orchestra on a Friday or Saturday near Christmas. Special invitations were sent to all La Crosse college girls, at home or away, who in turn were expected to buy tickets, invite an escort, and enjoy an evening dancing. AAUW members were also invited.

It was a great idea for its time and flourished for about twenty years until the social climate changed and students lost interest in dress-up parties. We were in luck because after the ball was over, fate would have it that the Art Fair on the Green would fall into our lap!

In 1959, the first outdoor Art Fair on the Green was sponsored by the Fine Arts Association of La Crosse and it was hoped to become an annual event. Twenty-four of Wisconsin’s leading artists offered their oil and watercolor paintings for sale.

In 1960, artists were charged $1 entry fee and 20% of sales. In 1961, Dr. Dale Kendrick, a first year art professor at the college, joined the Fine Arts Association. To draw attention to the event, rising like a circus tent above the entrance to the Art Fair at State Street, was a huge parachute. It belonged to Dale and he facilitated its use throughout the 60s. What an eye catcher that must have been!

From 1962-65, the art fair was included in the Coulee Region Arts Festival. The entry fee was raised to $5 with 10% of sales. In 1966, the Fine Arts Association was dissolved and the college probably sponsored the fair.

Then in 1967, AAUW takes over. The first chairman of the Art Fair was  Joan (Mrs. Edward) Koonmen, an artist and mother of our Erica Koonmen.

In 1969, rain on Saturday forced the 40 artists into the corridors of Main Hall, but it didn’t dampen the motivation or enthusiasm and the next year’s event was bigger and better. 1970 brought clear skies and 2400 people attended, each paying fifty cents to attend and there was a $900 profit. In the 1970s, the number of artists and the proceeds continued to grow. In 1977, a location move was made from the green in front of Main Hall to the larger space that we now occupy.

During the 1970s and 80s, the Art Fair was not the only source of scholarship funds. Home tour, Scholarship Bridge and other projects funded scholarships. However, Art Fair proceeds continued to pay for three high school girls to attend summer art camp and for grants each year throughout the decade to three Viterbo and three UW-L female art majors.

When in 1976, one of the UW-L scholarships went to a music student, the art department vehemently objected. The AAUW board passed a resolution that two scholarships would be granted the art department and that the third would be given to a student in the arts at the discretion of AAUW. A delicate balance was reached for our giving.

In 2007, Art Fair made about $15,000, with $1,500 going to the general fund and the remaining to our Foundation for scholarships.

2008 was the 50th anniversary of the Art Fair and we hosted a celebration for the artists and members on the Saturday evening of the event at the Pump House. At the Fair itself that year, approximately 100 artists participated. This was especially exciting because we were down to about 40 artists in 1998.

Over the years, our scholarships have changed and how we fund them, but we continue to provide opportunities for higher education to talented and deserving students. Today our chief fund raiser for scholarships is the Art Fair on the Green. Since our scholarship program began in 1935, we have provided over a half million dollars in scholarships.

In 1967, the branch set up our own Educational Foundation as a Wisconsin non-profit corporation. And in 2010, the La Crosse AAUW Foundation became the AAUW La Crosse Branch Fund at the La Crosse Community Foundation. The Branch Board of Directors and the Scholarship Committee serve as the Fund Advisory Committee.

In the early 1970’s a May scholarship brunch was initiated so members could meet the scholarship recipients. At the 2012 May brunch, we awarded $23,000. In addition to scholarships, we award grants to programs or projects that match our mission. We have also sponsored several local students to attend the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders annually held in Washington, DC.

Branch Meetings and Study Groups

We haven’t spent all of our time and energy on fundraising, even if at times it feels like it. There were also monthly branch meetings with stimulating and entertaining programs, and study groups to insure our life-long learning.

BookFellows is our longest running study group. Helen Dorset was a founding member of La Crosse AAUW from a pioneering family in La Crosse. She received a B.A. from Stanford and a M.A. from Columbia. She was an English teacher and scholar, and most probably a single lady because there was no male name associated with hers. She initiated Bookfellows in 1935 for women who enjoyed delving into literary subjects. Helen was the president of the group from 1935-65.

Each year a theme is selected and then members choose an author or book within the theme and present a paper for discussion. Over the near- 80 years, there have been some second generation Bookfellows carrying out the tradition of their mothers.

The current Contemporary Authors Study Group is an offshoot of Bookfellows according to Pat Sheehan, the current contact for Bookfellows. Alice Ross, the current co-chair of Contemporary Authors, recalls that the group meets at 2:00 PM like Bookfellows because that was good time to find college students to babysit.

The Vital People Study Group was formed in 1958 and its goal was to be a welcome group for new AAUW members to acquaint them to the La Crosse area. Reports were provided monthly on La Crosse, its history and people. After about three years, the reports expanded to include vital people in general and ranged from Jane Addams to Nancy Reagan.

Probably in the 1980’s, Vital People and another long-standing study group, Art Study II, merged because there were many overlapping members. This group disbanded about 2006.

Hearth and Home has been active for over 30 years. Members get together to enjoy each other’s company and visit interesting places. One of the group’s favorite meetings is in February for Valentine’s Day.

Our newest study group, AAUW in Action was initiated in 2009 by Erica Koonmen as a springboard for community service activities that promote AAUW’s mission. They have worked on a variety of projects, including but certainly not limited to, cyber-bullying, women’s history, literacy, and with YWCA’s transitional housing.

In 1981, our branch had 17 study groups and over 300 members. Today we have five study groups: Bookfellows, Contemporary Authors, Bridge or Card Games, Hearth and Home, and AAUW in Action.

Issues and Projects

AAUW has always championed civil rights along with women’s rights. On February 16 of 1953, Mrs. Wesley Bertelson, president of the branch, sent a letter to the La Crosse Tribune deploring the fact that a black woman student from the La Crosse Teachers College had been barred by Stoddard Hotel management from serving as a waitress at an AAUW luncheon because of her race. Ironically, the speaker at the luncheon had been James Dorsey, a well-known Black Milwaukee attorney, whose topic had been brotherhood.

In her letter, Mrs. Bertelson pointed out that the AAUW policy since the 1940s was “No woman who holds a degree from an accredited institution will be excluded from AAUW on account of her race, color, or creed.” She went on to say, “The mouthing of fine sentiment means nothing unless we are willing actually to put into practice the Golden Rule. There is no room in free America for the sort of doctrine that proclaims we are first-class citizens, but anyone who differs in color is a second-class citizen and, therefore, subject to discrimination.” The Stoddard Hotel management must have changed their policies because AAUW continued to have their Christmas ball there into the 1960s. Once again proving that a strong voice can make a difference!

In the 1960s, branch members pioneered volunteerism in area public schools, including a series of lectures on fine art. In the 1970s, we fought for adoption of Title IX and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Locally, we worked to change the school board from appointed to elected positions and several of our members have served on the school board.

We also helped to establish New Horizons, a shelter for women and children. In 1977, we were supporting members of the Pump House, a showcase for area artists and thespians and a meeting place for arts related organizations. In the 1980s, branch members volunteered hundreds of hours to help Hmong refugees, especially women, with language, shopping, and social customs. And over the years, we have delivered thousands of mobile meals. We have a rich legacy to be proud of!

To achieve positive societal change, we have often joined forces with other like-minded organizations like the League of Women Voters on voter education and candidate forums, hosting international travelers, and a speech by no other than Susan B. Anthony.

Examples of Recent Community Projects

In coordination with AAUW Louisiana and the La Crosse community, we provided the Plaquemines Parish Libraries in Louisiana with over $5,000 to help rebuild their holdings and services after Hurricane Katrina.

We helped facilitate the Pennies for Peace program that works to build and supply schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The multi-county initiative raised $42,000.

”25 Books for 25 Years” was started last year and is planned again for this year. It involves giving books on women’s history to women and girls in difficult situations so the stories will inspire them.

In 2010, we received the Emily “Sis” Hutson award for volunteerism by the YWCA. This says a lot about our group and what we mean to the community! This is part of legacy and our future!

Other Anniversary Celebrations

We have had other anniversary celebrations in the past. At the 30th birthday party in 1952, a skit called “I Remember” was presented. In the La Crosse paper, there was a photograph of Mrs. George Bunge, founding member and first secretary of the branch and president from 1923-27 and 1930-32, cutting the cake with Mrs. Chandler Campbell, the daughter of Mrs. Kenneth Salzer, a charter member. It is noteworthy and foreign to us today that despite three women in the photo, there was no mention of a feminine name–only their husbands.

It wasn’t until 1972 that the La Crosse Branch board officially decided to refer to members by their given names in the minutes and in the yearbook instead of by their husbands.

According to Lou Smith, a past president, “It always seemed strange to me that we had Art Hebberd’s name in our minutes when Mary was doing all of the work and did Bob Stanley run for school board or was it his wife? “ It still took several years before we totally lost the male name from our branch president listing. In 1976, we still said Mrs. Kenneth (Jean) Scheid. In 1978, we listed the branch president as Mrs. Janet Schilling. By 1986, we said Dr. Judith Green, and in 1988, it was simply Lou Smith.

Now back to our celebrations. The 40th birthday party was a tea held at the Hixon House. Very appropriate since Mrs. F. P. (Alice) Hixon was one of the charter members.

Our 80th birthday celebration was an old-fashioned tea party held at the Congregational Church in Sept. of 2002. Honored guests included Nancy Rustad, the Association president, Ann Gustafson, WI president, and 16 of our honorary life members. La Crosse Mayor, John Medinger, was also in attendance and proclaimed the week AAUW Week and shared his thoughts on education.

What Does Our Future Hold?

AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. By joining AAUW, we belong to a community that breaks through educational and economic barriers so all women have a chance. La Crosse AAUW is just such a community!

At the 1989 National Association Convention in Washington, DC., National president Sarah Harder from Wisconsin and recipient of assistance from the La Crosse branch, stated “We must look beyond business as usual and know that we are making history. What we do or don’t do today will become the record of our time. AAUW’s very special power is the credibility inherited from those who came before. Will those looking back wonder why we sat on the assets of this great organization? Or will they see that we have risked what is necessary to secure gains for women tomorrow?”

Dottie Dedo, branch and WI state president, wrote in 1981, “Membership in AAUW is a commitment to excellence. We are asked to give the very best of ourselves… Excellence serves to inspire and electrify each member… A frame of mind put into action. It is the best road map for our success into the future.”

We need to make sure that we have the enthusiasm and courage of those 48 La Crosse women back in 1922 to move us forward to 2022. It is only 9 short years until we reach the century mark. How impressive a record we have had for the last 91 years! Now we need to move the vision of our foremothers forward!