The legacy of Business and Professional Women USA began in 1919. While mobilizing for World War I, the U.S. Government recognized the need for a cohesive group to coordinate identification of women’s available skills and experience. A Women’s War Council, financed through a federal grant, was established by the War Department to organize the resources of professional women. It was guided principally by executives of the Young Women’s Christian Association(YWCA). The National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs was founded on July 16, 1919, at a meeting led by Lena Madesin Phillips of Kentucky. In the 1930s it became a charter member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women.
BPW/USA became the first organization created to focus on the issues of working women. BPW worked throughout the 1930s to prohibit legislation or directives denying jobs to married women and lobbied successfully to legislatively end the legal practice of workplace preference for unmarried persons and, in the case of married persons, preference for males. BPW/USA was one of the first women’s organizations to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment in 1937.
At the advent of World War II, BPW developed a classification system for women with specialized skills critical to the war effort and supported the formation of women’s branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. While wage discrimination has existed in the U.S. since women and minorities first entered the paid workforce, its prevalence was not felt until the massive influx of women sought work during World War II. Immediately following the war, the Women’s Pay Act of 1945 – the first ever legislation to require equal pay – was introduced in the U.S. Congress. It was another 18 years before an equal pay bill made its way to the President‘s desk to be signed into law.
BPW Foundation was incorporated in 1956 as the first foundation dedicated to providing resources to and about working women. It included research, information, career development programs, workshops and other training opportunities. The Marguerite Rawalt Resource Center, established in 1980 and put on-line 2006, is a major resource for information and documents on the history of women and women in the workplace.