Our History

AAUW’s story begins in 1881, when a small group of female college graduates banded together to open the doors for women’s career advancement and to encourage more women to pursue higher education.

The history of the American Association of University Women mirrors the progress of women in the United States. As the number of women graduating from college grew, so did our membership.

We’ve published hundreds of research reports, from an 1885 paper disproving a prevailing myth that college impairs a woman’s fertility to, most recently, a study documenting the economic impact of workplace sexual harassment. We have supported the academic achievements of many thousands of scholars, from scientist Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, to astronaut Judith Resnik, the second woman in travel in space.

Our advocacy efforts have propelled countless new laws, including the Equal Pay Act, first proposed in 1945 and finally passed in 1963; the Title IX amendment in 1972; the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009; and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was passed by the U.S. Representatives in 2019 but is awaiting action in the Senate.

We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.  In many ways, the fight for gender equity is just getting started.  Join us!

AAUW Heroes

More Faces of AAUW
Marie Curie's 1903 Nobel portrait

Dr. Marie Curie

The first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Astronaut Judith Resnik, 1978

Judith Resnik

The second American woman in space.

A young AAUW staffer with Lily Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter

Equal pay advocate

1880 to 1910

The Roots of a Trailblazing Mission

AAUW was founded by Marion Talbot, who became the Dean of the College of Women at the University of Chicago and a leading figure in higher education, and Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman to earn degree in chemistry and a leader in the field of home economics.

1920s to 1950s

AAUW’s Formative Decades

Throughout the economic boom of the 1920s, the Great Depression and the New Deal o the 1930s and the WW II and post-war era of the ‘40s and ‘50s, AAUW continued to thrive. Our influential network helped to increase the number of women attending college and universities and supported women in their career development.

1960s to 1980s

The Civil Rights and Feminist Era

The 1960s ushered in an era of significant social progress in the U.S., and AAUW played a pivotal role. Throughout the decade, we became grew increasingly engaged in the Civil Rights Movement: AAUW President Blanche Dow was on the Steering Committee of the National Women’s Committee for Civil Rights.

1990s to the Present

The New Millennium & Into the Future

AAUW has continued to trailblaze for women, breaking down barriers and making the world more equitable for future generations. We are a prominent voice in the national conversation about the gender pay gap, anchored in the annual publication of The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap.