A One-Woman Crusade for Justice
Editor’s note: As part of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating AAUW women of character, courage, and commitment.
Althea Kratz Hottel’s career reads like a true success story in academia. Spending most of her career in some way affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, she became the university’s first dean of women, not to mention the first female ever to hold the position of dean on the campus. After her retirement, she sat on the university’s board of trustees, only the second woman to do so. Don’t forget to add in a few honorary degrees (1947) and an award of merit (1950). So to say she accomplished everything one possibly could at Penn would not be an overstatement.
But one of Hottel’s most lasting contributions to AAUW is the one thing you won’t find on her impressive CV (which we’ve only just begun to highlight here). She assumed the presidency of AAUW in 1947, when the organization struggled with racial integration in its oldest branch, and she faced the issue of branch autonomy versus national standards for membership.
Hottel consulted with experts who urged her to revise the association bylaws so that the only requirements for membership were being a woman and having a degree from an approved institution. By changing the governing language, branches that refused to admit women based on race, religion, or other arbitrary considerations could and would be expelled from AAUW.
You see, Hottel didn’t just talk the talk about the direction she wanted AAUW to travel. She hit the ground running. She visited branches across the country, meeting with 300 of them in just over a year. She made speaking appearances in nine AAUW regions to explain why the bylaw revision was necessary; her story reads like a one-woman crusade for justice.
At the 1949 National Convention in Seattle, Washington, AAUW members voted overwhelmingly (2,168 to 65) to revise the bylaws. In reflecting upon the decision to open membership to all, Hottel told the New York Times, “This will open a new era … and we will welcome them with open arms.”
Ferebee, a physician, health care advocate, and AAUW board member, tirelessly worked to ensure access to health care for underserved communities.
AAUW members Esther Brunauer and Dorothy Kenyon vigorously refuted the accusations that they were tied to communist front organizations or that AAUW operated in such a manner.
As one of the first black women to receive a college degree, Mary Church Terrell forced AAUW to take a hard look at its membership policies.