AAUW’s “Uncanny Foresight”: A Fellowship for Latin AmericaSeptember 24, 2014
“Anyone who reads the history of the AAUW is struck by the almost uncanny foresight of AAUW leaders. One outstanding example is the establishment of the Latin American Fellowship.”
— “Latin American Fellows in Medicine,” AAUW Journal, Fall 1942
The above quote was written a quarter of a century after the establishment of the AAUW Latin American Fellowship. The idea for what became our first International Fellowship began in 1916, shortly after the Association of Collegiate Alumnae members participated in the Women’s Auxiliary Conference of the Second Pan American Scientific Congress held at the Pan American Union building in Washington, D.C.One of the outgrowths of the conference, in addition to bringing women together from the two regions in a call for greater solidarity, was the realization that the women of Latin America would benefit from greater professional contacts with women in other parts of the world.
In 1917, ACA leaders announced the establishment of the Latin American Fellowship to support Latin America women’s study in the United States. Applicants were preparing for careers in various forms of public service and had to meet certain requirements: They had to be natives of Latin American republics, 21 years old, and have received the equivalent of a college or normal school education in their country.
Public service is broad in definition, so naturally applicants came from a wide range of disciplines including education, librarianship, social service, public health, medicine, and art.
In the early years of the fellowship, there were barely enough applicants. Awards were frequently granted to the same recipient for two or more fellowship years. Then in 1925, in a departure from course, the ACA granted the fellowship to Mary W. Williams, an expert on the history of Latin America from Johns Hopkins University. She studied the status of higher education for women in Latin America and made recommendations to the Association to formulate better policies for the fellowship. Williams’ suggestions turned the program from failure to success; in a few short years, there was a healthy increase in the number of applicants.Latin American fellows represent an impressive group of women. Maria Teresa Mora de Nochera of Puerto Rico received the fellowship in two subsequent years, 1921 and 1922. With the funds, Mora de Nochera completed her medical degree at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She returned to Puerto Rico as the only female doctor in a city of 70,000. She led the country’s public health unit and directed several clinics for prenatal, infant, and maternal health and tuberculosis.
From Argentina, Perlina Winocur, a member of the faculty of Buenos Aires Medical School, received the fellowship in 1935. Winocur conducted research at Johns Hopkins on hemolytic anemia and returned to Buenos Aires to continue her research and run a successful nutrition clinic.
Chilean Margarita Mieres-Cartas de Rivas received the fellowship in 1923 to study philosophy and librarianship at Columbia University. She returned to Chile and became chief of the children’s section.
In fact, it was “uncanny foresight” that on the eve of World War I, when all eyes of the world were on Europe, ACA leaders looked to Latin America. They knew that positive relationships between nations would serve as a bulwark to the instability mounting in rest of the world. As one recipient aptly stated, “This interchange of friendship among North and South American women will help greatly in making this hemisphere safe for peace and democracy.”
In 1940, Bolivian artist Marina Núñez del Prado received a Latin American Fellowship to study sculpture in New York at the Art Students League.
Raised in Nigeria, AAUW grantee Nnenna Agba gained popularity when she went on the widely watched television show America’s Next Top Model. She holds degrees in chemistry and urban affairs, and she is the face of an NGO that provides Nigerian girls with scholarships.
Learn more about the vibrant history of AAUW fellowships through this timeline.