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General Federation of Women's Clubs


GENERAL FEDERATION OF WOMEN'S CLUBS. The GFWC was founded in 1890 at the initiative of newspaperwoman Jane ("Jennie June")Cunningham Croly at a meeting in New York City of representatives from more than sixty women's clubs from around the country. For several decades before, women in the United States had been forming voluntary organizations such as literary clubs, local and municipal improvement clubs, suffrage groups, and women's professional, religious, and ethnic organizations. The GFWC was to be an organizational umbrella under which all types of women's organizations could gather to discuss and identify common concerns and work together to implement social and political changes on the local, state, and national levels. The GFWC was chartered by Congress in 1901. By 1910 it had more than one million members in affiliated clubs on the local level and in state federations of women's clubs.

To conduct its business, the GFWC held biennial national conventions in different locales throughout the country. It established national working committees to gather information on matters of most concern to women's clubs, such as civil service reform, public education, pure food and drugs, child labor, juvenile justice, and public health. Through these national committees and publications such as the Federation Bulletin, the GFWC disseminated information to its member clubs and helped coordinate their activities. It also coordinated its activities with those of other women's organizations such as the National Consumers' League and the National Congress of Mothers.

Shortly after its founding, the GFWC faced controversy over whether to include African American women's clubs in the Federation or even support the membership of African American women in affiliated clubs. When the GFWC executive committee approved in 1900 admission of the Women's Era Club of Boston headed by African American activist Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, southern women forced the convention to rescind the admission. Member clubs such as the Chicago Women's Club, which in 1894 had admitted African American clubwoman Fannie Barrier Williams, objected to the convention's decision. But African American women continued to organize themselves and work through the National Association of Colored Women (NACW)rather than the GFWC.

In the 1920s and 1930s the GFWC supported the work of the Women's Bureau within the Department of Labor, backed passage in 1921 of the federal Sheppard-Towner Infancy and Maternity Protection Act to promote the health and welfare of mothers and infants, created an Indian Welfare Committee, and protested the provisions of the New Deal's National Recovery Act that allowed lower wage rates for women workers and exempted handicapped and home workers from its protections. In the 1970s the GFWC supported the Equal Rights Amendment and at the end of the century was still engaged in women's health issues.

The GFWC expanded its work into the international arena when it supported the founding of the United Nations. At the end of the twentieth century the GFWC had affiliated clubs in twenty countries. Its international programs concentrate on issues of special concern to women and children, on literacy campaigns, and on human rights and environmental issues.


General Federation of Women's Clubs. Home page at

Scott, Anne Firor. Natural Allies: Women's Associations in American History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Skocpol, Theda. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Maureen A.Flanagan

See alsoConsumers Leagues ; National Association of Colored Women ; Women's Bureau ; Women's Clubs .

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