Women's Action Alliance Records
The Women's Action Alliance (WAA) was founded in 1971 to coordinate resources for organizations and individuals involved in the women's movement on the grass-roots level. Founders included Gloria Steinem (see also the Gloria Steinem Papers), Brenda Feigen, and Catherine Samuels. The organization's original mission was "to stimulate and assist women at the local level to organize around specific action projects aimed at eliminating concrete manifestations of economic and social discrimination." Conceived of as an advisory service that could provide back-up support, "the choice and objectives and basic strategy" of such initiatives would be "made by the group in every case."
In the early years, several well-known figures - including Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Maya Miller -- were appointed to the Alliance's board of directors. While these figures contributed largely just the weight of their association, other board members -- like Franklin Thomas and Cory Eklund -- gave a great deal of energy to the Alliance. Over the years, Gloria Steinem's efforts were considerable, and at times crucial, to the organization's very survival. Steinem chaired the board from l97l to l978 and subsequently assisted on fundraising projects benefiting the Alliance.
During the first three years of the Alliance, the executive directors changed almost annually, with Brenda Feigen, Grace Helen McCabe, and Marlene Krauss serving. In l974 the WAA hired Ruth J. Abram, formerly a project director with the American Civil Liberties Union and executive director of the Norman Foundation. Abram, who served for five years, had close ties to the foundation and corporate grants community. Her fundraising expertise enabled the WAA to start and maintain various projects in child care, job training and placement, legislative action, and political lobbying (outlined below), but the organization's desire to avoid any administrative practices that appeared to replicate patriarchal hierarchy caused a host of administrative problems throughout the 1970s.
In l979 Abram was replaced by Arlie C. Scott. While Scott lacked Abram's strong fundraising connections, she came to the WAA after a long association with the National Organization for Women, including a term as national vice president, and so possessed greater credibility in feminist circles. Always short of funds, Scott saw the Alliance through a period of increasingly shrinking budgets. Staff and project plans shrunk as well. In early l982, after two years as executive director, Scott took an extended leave of absence from the WAA, never to return.
Sylvia Kramer was hired as executive director in the fall of l982. As the Alliance started its second decade, Kramer, a former teacher, placed greater emphasis on educational programs directed at older children (e.g. the Computer Equity Project and the Portable Women's History Project). The organization continued to focus on women's centers and economic opportunity for women as well. By the late 1980s, the WAA had three major arms: the Non-Sexist Childhood Development Project (under whose auspices projects like the 1988 study of "Children of Single Parents in the Schools" were carried out), the Women's Centers Project (the WAA helped establish the National Association of Women's Centers in 1986), and Information Services, which continued to provide reference and referral services for WAA's broad constituency.
Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing on through the 1990s, the WAA began to place greater emphasis on women's health issues, launching initiatives such as the 1987-88 Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Project, the Women's Alcohol and Drug Education Project, the Resource Mothers Program, and the Women's Centers and AIDS Project. Shazia Rafi became Executive Director in 1991.
Karel R. Amarath became the WAA's final executive director in 1993. Amarath worked with the Board of Directors to restructure the organization, making it more internally organized and fiscally aware. Gender equity initiatives continued to emphasize education and health care. The Computer Equity Expert Project (C.E.E.P) targeted more than 200 schools nationwide, reaching nearly 10,000 educators and almost 80,000 students. The Task Force on Integrated Projects (T.F.I.P) worked with pregnant and parenting adolescent and adult single parent mothers and their children, while the Women's Alcohol & Drug Education Project continued to assist African-American and Caribbean women, and Latinas, reaching more than four hundred women and girls annually.
By the mid-1990s, the WAA had become largely dependent on New York City and state budgets for its funding. The organization was dealt a severe blow in August 1995, when, on the eve of their twenty-fifth anniversary, their funding was cut by 65% with just thirty days notice. The Women's Alcohol and Drug Education Project, for example, one of the WAA's most successful programs at that time, lost $350,000 in funding, spelling the end of some twenty training sites in New York State. With more than half of their support removed, the organization hired development consultants to try to replace the funding, meanwhile looking for "neighbors" with whom to share space and rent. However, the WAA ultimately found it impossible to recover; in June 1997, by a vote of the Board of Directors, the Women's Action Alliance was dissolved.