Branch History

The Houston branch of American Association of University Women was organized in April, 1937, with 12 charter members. It was decided at the charter meeting to hold regular monthly meetings from September through May; and, on advice from National which had organized in Boston, Massachusetts in 1881, to accept only national members in the Houston Branch. Lois Kemper was elected the first president In the beginning, each president served only one year,1937-38, but starting with the 1943-45 term, Opal White served two years.

Even so, on June 1, 1938, the Branch met and appointed its first committee chairmen for the six departments advocated by National; study group leaders were also appointed at this meeting. Those groups were Art, Literature, International Relations, Gardens, Child and Family Care, Fellowships, Status of Women, Consumer Problems and Current Legislation.

During World War II, the Houston Branch was, of course, involved in the War effort. Members enrolled in a Red Cross First Aid course. One of the most important war time activities was the formation with the YWCA of the Victory Housing Project for girls in Defense jobs. This project called for the Branch to carry on a room registry service, which involved the investigation of available housing to be sure it was safe and respectable. Since many of the girls coming in from rural Texas and Louisiana were incredibly naïve, the service also became something of a counseling service.

The Houston Branch gave annual scholarships. In 1947, it was decided to offer those to a Houston teacher for graduate study. A Branch member used it.

The highlight of the 1947-48 year was Houston Branch’s sponsoring the Inter American Conference at the Rice Hotel January 9-10, 1948. Reciprocal lecture-travel awards resulted for the Mexican Federation and five Southwest Regional branches.  Houston Branch’s own Winifred O’Hara, the first recipient, traveled, and reported as did Dr. Maria de la Luz Grovas.  Winifred later led the Houston branch as its President 1948-1950.

Houston Branch integration began in 1949 when its first black member. Director of the Blue Triangle Y.W.C.A., Mrs. Sylvia Coleman, joined.  In the 1950’s, Houston Branch accepted for membership those who today are fifty-year members and designated as such in the Directory/Resource Book.  Note: Houston Branch had member Lou Nora Spiller, first woman appointed a U.S. District Attorney assistant in Houston while at the same time being elected President of the Federal Bar Association and being its only active woman member.

Houston AAUW Study groups hosted (hostessed) local politicians, e.g. Judge Bill Elliott and Senator Chet Brooks who were at the early stages of their political careers. The Branch contributed regularly to the Library Association, the Cancer Society, the Red Cross, and the Museum of Fine Arts.  When discontinuing support, each individual member was urged to privately participate.

1960s Houston Branch used book reviews-sales, style shows, bridge parties, calendar sales, stationery sales, dinners with well-known authors, and silver teas to raise money. A list of fundraising sites includes the clubhouses of Briargrove, Houston, Geo, River Oaks, Braeburn, Houston Country, Willowisp, and Memorial Country Clubs and private homes of members Bernice Phillips, Arlene “Tomi” Nelson, Shirley Felcman, and Ellen Garland.

Branch meetings took place at both Museum of Fine Arts and Natural Science, Energy Information Center, Home Management House, Jewish Community Center, Garden Center, Forum, Rice Hotel, Autrey House, St.Thomas University, Bellaire City Library, Oberholtzer Hall of the University of Houston, University of Houston Student Center, M.D. Anderson library, Fondren Library of Rice University, and later, at the library of Houston Baptist University.

Note: Houston Branch hosted the first regional AAUW conference twenty years before it would host the Association convention in 1987.

According to Texas University Woman contributor Linda Conger, AAUW Houston Branch was at its zenith in the 1970s.  There were four hundred members. Alice Church, President 1974-76, implemented formation of suburban branches in North Harris, West Harris, and Fort Bend counties.  Those paying dues to Houston and any one of these were note D= Dual membership in the branch directory.

In 1977, Houston Branch both turned “forty years” young and hosted a Division convention.  Members continued support and worked for the ERA’s passage(Equal Rights Amendment) to the U.S. Constitution (35 of required 38 states approved).

1980s Historian Janet Richardson saw to it that, at most, a decade of labeled and chronologically entered archives were posted in three ring notebooks.  She shipped these to the Blagg-Huey Library of Texas Women’s University, in Denton, Texas. Four-time President of Houston Branch Pat Donnelly acknowledged these and proposed contracting a paid clerk to further organize these.

Alice Church served Houston Branch as President from 1974-76. Then, Alice served as President of the State of Texas AAUW 1979-1981. While doing so, Alice co-chaired with Margaret Ann Carlson for the Houston Branch hosted Association convention in 1987. 1500 attended what volunteers thoughout Texas had prepared.

Also, in 1987, fifty-year Life members could be noted (year one was 1937). These continue today to designated by the numerals 50 in the Directory/Resource Book. See six (below) reaching that in 2004.

On October 9, 1987, President of Houston Branch Ellen Garland arranged a spectacular gala at the Houstonian Hotel, 111 North Post Oak Lane.

In the 1990s, in order, Bobbie Hamilton, Helen Yingst, Bernice Phillips, Patricia Donnelly, Susan Hesser, Pat Thomsen, and Faye Vamvakias served as Houston Branch President.  Overlap with skills learned had several go on to leadership roles in Greater Houston Area Interbranch Council. One was on the National board.

Again, Blagg-Huey Library Librarian Assistant Ann Barton accepted two boxes of material to be added to the Houston Branch collection. Included were four 3-ring binders of records covering the years 1993-2001.

Alice Church, Houston Branch member 1960- present, was awarded Outstanding Member Award in 2004 at the April 2004 State Convention in El Paso. Alice came from a 1940s Chemistry graduate degree and being first woman in the oil field. As noted above, Alice was instrumental in forming suburban branches, was AAUW Educational Foundation Finance Committee member, co-chaired the 1987 Association convention, served twice as President of the Houston chapter of the United Nations Association-USA, was President of the Houston Chapter of the National Association of Investors’ Corp., and sharing friend to Lois Johnson in their Heart to Heart Award as “extraordinary supporters of CCSC” (Christian Community Service Center).

In 2004, six Houston Branch members were recognized as fifty-year members: Winifred O’Hara, Claudia Hayward, Margie Crook, Bernice Phillips, Helen Yingst, and Shirley Felcman. In 2005, a merger between Houston and West Harris County Branches was tried, but failed.  Among many other traits, the former brought statesmanship and a generic name. The latter brought suburban youthfulness and a great track record for its annual EYH, Expanding Your Horizons, a weekend all-day mission to career-and-college bound teens.

Note: 1930-90s information compiled Sept. 12, 1993 by Bernice G. Phillips, Houston Branch President, then condensed and added to August, 2005 by Janet Richardson.