Newsweek writers, Jesse Ellison and Lynn Povich, define sexism in first panel with co-Chair Kathy Rand.

Over fifty years ago Midwest feminists, led by  Katherine Clarenbach and Gene Boyer, both of Wisconsin,  joined with Betty Friedan, also a Midwesterner ( from Peoria, IL)  and started the National Organization for Women.  Among the founders of NOW was Sister Joel Read, then Chair of Alverno's History Department.  

So  VFA’s Alverno College event  in Milwaukee on September 15, 2012 was especially meaningful. And thanks to VFA board members and producers of the event, Mary Jean Collins, Mary-Ann Lupa (both alumnae of Alverno) and Kathy Rand, it was a great success. And it is a model for future VFA /college events.  Kathy Rand’s report follows:


In May of 2011 Mary Ann, Mary Jean and I met with Alverno president Mary Meehan to discuss the possibility of a VFA/Alverno event that would involve and interest Alverno students and feminist activists of all ages.  Alverno’s decision was to “host” the event rather than be a co-presenter.  Over the next 16 months  they worked to make the event a reality. 

We  created the event concept and the title, “Empowering Women:  A Tale of Two Generations,”  and structured the day with four panels:

·         Are We There Yet?

·         Learning from the Past

·         Examining the Present

·         Shaping the Future

Alverno's Congresswoman, Gwen Moore opened the "Empowering Women" conference.

We then set out to identify speakers and moderators for each of the panels.

To round out the day, Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) welcomed attendees in the morning.  The lunch was designed to honor Alverno College and present Alverno president Mary Meehan with the VFA Recognition Award. 

The evening cocktail reception and dinner were a salute to Midwest feminists.  We honored 86 Midwest feminists, some present, some alive but not present, some deceased.  We had put a good deal of effort into trying to identify and research Midwest feminists, especially those who had not previously been honored by VFA.

We worked with Alverno on all facilities and food arrangements.  We also identified and coordinated rooms with a special rate at the conference hotel, the Crowne Plaza Milwaukee Airport.  Additionally we arranged for transportation between the hotel and Alverno.

We were eager to have good attendance at the event, especially given the caliber of speakers we had, so we put forth a good deal of effort in recruitment.  Among our efforts:

·         We worked with Jan Cleary to send regular eblasts to the VFA Constant Contact list

·         We had an existing (if outdated) list from the 2004 Midwest event; we worked to update it and sent regular email notices to that list

·         We contacted all women’s organizations in Midwest

·         We contacted all NOW chapters and state organizations in the Midwest

·         We notified women’s studies programs at Midwest colleges

·         We notified all colleges in the Milwaukee area

·         We reached out to women’s history programs and women’s studies programs through H-Net

·         We reached out to Alverno students, faculty and staff


We designed a distinctive logo for the event.  We created a special website for the event: We used the site to update event details and as the major vehicle for event registration.  We also created a unique email address for contact:


Mary Jean Collins, Mary-Ann Lupa and Kathy Rand, co-Chairs of "Empowering Women, a Tale of Two Generations".

We purchased a Wisconsin media list and sent a release about the event to more than 300 media outlets in Wisconsin.  We also sent a media alert about the event right before the event, and made follow-up calls to Milwaukee media.


We also wrote and produced a 36-page program book that was distributed to all attendees as well as donors.  Additionally, we arranged for the event to be videotaped and photographed.


One of our priorities was to  ensure that the event not only covered all costs, but raised additional funds for VFA.    While we hoped to raise money from the event registration fees, we also embarked on an aggressive fund-raising campaign.  Our major approach was personal appeals asking for ads for the program book or donations in honor of Midwest feminists.  Each of us reached out to family and friends asking them for ads or donations.  We also created an ad honoring five deceased Midwest feminists -  Gene Boyer, Kathryn Clarenbach, Catherine Conroy, Betty Friedan and Dorothy Haener – and we invited people to contribute to have their names on the ad.   One of our donors made a significant contribution that enabled us to allow students to attend the event at no cost.  We also raised funds at the event through sales of books, CDs, posters and photographs, where a portion of the proceeds went to VFA.


·         A total of 133 people registered for the event.  That included 33 students, 17 Alverno faculty or staff and 14 VFA board members

·         After all expenses, we estimate that the event will raise a minimum of  $7,000 for VFA

·         Our registration form included VFA membership; the result was 17 new or renewed VFA memberships

·         Through the event, we Introduced VFA to some key people, including Marina Whitman, Lynn  Povich, Jesse Ellison, Sr. Linda Szocik, some of the young feminists who participated and some who were unable to attend.

·         News about the event appeared in the following:

o   African Views website/blog – 8/4

o   H-Net –  8/4

o   C.W. Notes – Peoria, IL – 8/12

o   Peoria NOW website – 8/12

o   Chicago NOW Action Alert – 8/14/12

o   GeNDer Studies Announcements –8/16

o   Fond du Lac Reporter – 8/27

o – 8/27

o   FRIDA facebook page – 9/13

o   FRIDA twitter– 9/13

o   IOU Sports website - 9/12

o   “Kathleen Dunn Show” radio program, Wisconsin Public Radio - 9/13

o   Laeh Bensman McHenry blog – 9/16

o    “Feminist Magazine” radio program, KPFK 90.7 FM, Los Angeles -  9/18

o   Alverno Alpha – 9/22

·         We received very positive feedback from event speakers, attendees and honorees.  Some of their comments are at the end of this report.

Young feminists answer questions on the challenges of the future, moderated by Wendy Strout.

Key Learnings


  • There is value in face-to-face conferences about women’s issues for all generations.
  • The people we approached to speak were generally quite happy to participate as long as their expenses were paid; we did not pay any speaker fees.
  • Having second wave feminists and young feminists in the room together was a highly successful approach.


  • Most of the funds we raised came from non-VFA members.
  • Our greatest success raising money was a personal appeal to friends and family asking them to honor us or someone specific.  Our approach was a positive one.
  • The concept of the ad honoring Boyer, Clarenbach, Conroy, Friedan and Haener was also quite successful, especially with VFA members.


  • A good deal of personal follow-up with other organizations is necessary to encourage their members to attend.
  • Timing is important.  The timing of classes starting at Alverno made it difficult to communicate with and recruit students.
  • Our success in getting students interested in attending was due to a major donation that allowed us to have students attend for no cost

Young Feminists

  • Young women are very interested in feminism and in the second wave.  We need to reach them and communicate with them in a non-patronizing manner.
  • Collaborating with a college is an excellent way for VFA to link with younger feminists.
  • If an event is held at or presented with a college, it is important to have a faculty member as an advocate.
  • Featuring a panel of young feminists who represented their own organizations was effective.


  • Old feminists and young women don't have any money!
  • It was difficult to get people to attend.  It's a challenge to balance VFA’s need for money with feminists' ability to pay.  There is a need to have a lower price for attendees and raise the money for VFA from other sources.
  • There was minimal interest from news media.  It is difficult to get media coverage for VFA.  Confusion over the word “veterans” makes this even harder.
  • While it is convenient to hold a VFA board meeting in conjunction with a VFA event, board meetings should be scheduled at times that do not conflict with the event.


  • Lynn Povich and her book, The Good Girls Revolt, present VFA with a good opportunity for the next year.  It frames the “two generations” concept very well, and she is eager to work with VFA.


VFA Board Chair, Muriel Fox begins her remarks about
"Learning from the Past".

Agenda for the Day

9:00 – Welcome – Mary-Ann Lupa, VFA Board

The Honorable Gwen Moore (D-WI)

9:15 – Are We There Yet?

                Lynn Povich, one of 46 women who sued Newsweek in 1970; author of The Good Girls Revolt

                Jesse Ellison, current writer at Newsweek

                Kathy Rand (moderator), former NOW officer, VFA Board

10:45 – Learning from the Past

                Muriel Fox, NOW founder, VFA Board Chair

                Mary Jean Collins, Milwaukee NOW founder, VFA Board

                Kathleen Falk, candidate for Wisconsin governor

                Katherine Turk, women’s historian

                Heather Booth (moderator), founder of Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

12:30 – Luncheon Honoring Alverno College

                Sr. Kathleen O’Brien, Alverno Senior VP of Academic Affairs

                Rhonda Ware, director, Alverno Research Center for Women and Girls

                Dr. Mary Meehan, President, Alverno College

                Sr. Linda Szocik, Chairperson of Region 9, Leadership Conference of Women Religious

                Sheila Tobias (moderator), co-president of VFA

2:00 -     Examining the Present

                Bernell Hooker, CEO, Images of Us Sports

                Anne Ladky, executive director, Women Employed

                Mary Anne Sedey, employment attorney, former NOW officer

                Sheila Tobias, author of Overcoming Math Anxiety, VFA co-president

                Lois Herr (moderator), author of Women, Power and AT&T

3:45 – Shaping the Future

                Lindsey Horvath, president, Hollywood NOW

                Betsy Hoody, FRIDA-The Young Feminist Fund

                Elizabeth Coppola, former president, Alverno Student Government

                Kat Barr, UltraViolet

                Wendy Strout (moderator), director, Emerge Wisconsin

5:30 – Cocktail reception

6:30 – Dinner recognizing Midwest feminists

                Judy Goldsmith (moderator), former NOW National president  


Feedback from Event Speakers and Attendees

What a lovely time. The Congresswoman really enjoyed herself. I saw her getting her picture taken with Sister Joel Read? Any chance we could get a copy of that picture (and any others you’d care to share)?

Rep. Gwen Moore staff


I just want to thank you for inviting Jesse and me to the VFA conference. We came back with such a high, so excited by all the feisty women there and the work they have done--and continue to do--on the part of women everywhere. What an exciting organization! I do hope if you have a New York gathering that you will invite us again. We got lots of story ideas to pitch, either at Newsweek or elsewhere, and we got a new appreciation of Alverno College, which we had never heard of. Thank you for moderating our panel so seamlessly and making all the arrangements. I shall sign up as a member of VFA as soon as I have a moment. We were sorry to miss the rest of the conference--and the singing. I'm sure the evening was spectacular.
Warmest regards,
Lynn Povich - speaker


Thank you, so much, for inviting us. Lynn and I both had a fantastic time and, as she said on Sunday, we both came back on a total high, feeling so inspired by all the people we met and great things that we heard out there. We were honored to be a part of it all, and really glad to have been invited.Please do keep in touch and do let me know if there's ever anything else I can do for VFA, or upcoming events and so forth that I may be able to take part in.Thanks again and please convey my appreciation to your fantastic team.

All best,

Jesse Ellison - speaker


Thanks for all your work organizing that great gathering of women, and one good man!

Kathleen Falk - speaker


Thank you so much for letting me be a part of that extraordinary event last weekend. Words fail me in trying to express how exciting and how gratifying it was to be with dear old friends -- and the young women! They were incredible! Our activists crossing the generations is truly inspiring, in both directions. And yes, thank you, I *did* feel the! That was both humbling and invigorating.
Judy Goldsmith - speaker

The conference was a total shot in the arm. And very inspiring for my daughter as well. I raced out and joined/signed up for everything. Kate is getting active in the WE young women's advisory group, etc.

There is no doubt that the movement was a powerful vehicle for our activism. Thanks to all!
Mary Anne Sedey - speaker

What a wonderful event. You did a spectacular job.
Thanks for including me as you did.
Heather Booth – speaker, VFA board

Words cannot properly express my gratitude for all you did to make this weekend absolutely unforgettable. As a Catholic feminist originally from the Midwest, it felt more like a true family reunion than anything I've ever experienced. Thank you for a wonderful weekend and for including us in the Conference Program and Board Meeting. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with the VFA, and I am looking forward to all I'll be able to do to support your great work.
Lindsey Horvath – young feminist speaker

Thank you so much for including me and FRIDA in the event! And thank you for organizing such a wonderful and thought-provoking event. I really enjoyed the conference and particularly enjoyed the opportunity to hear more firsthand about the strategies, energy, and experiences of second wave movements. I have been talking about it non-stop since I got back and am planning to write a blog about the conference this weekend for the FRIDA website. I will be sure to share it with you once it is up.

Elizabeth Hoody – young feminist speaker

I wanted to say thank you for inviting me to the VFA event last saturday. Although I felt the least qualified to be there, let alone present, I was so inspired by all the women have done, for me, and generations to come. With all the trials and tribulations that seem to be popping up in my life in the past couple of weeks, it was so reassuring to see that I'm not the only one who has faced obstacles when working towards change or standing up for what’s right. It was reassuring to see all the happy, lively, ladies who have undoubtedly faced worse backlashes, and come out on the other side ok:) It gives me reason to keep working towards equality and justice. Thank you again. Being at that event really meant the world to me.
Elizabeth Coppola – young feminist speaker

I wanted to e-mail you to say what a great time I had! It was really inspiring, and wonderful to meet so many of the women. Thank you so much.
Kat Barr – young feminist speaker

I was very happy and honored to participate. This was a great event overall. Thank you so much for allowing me to participate.
Please keep me posted on anything else that comes up.
Wendy Strout – young feminist speaker

I sent a $50 donation to VFA. Their conference at Alverno was extremely well done. I am so glad I was able to attend.
Barbara Joan Zeitz, Attendee – sold books at event

I had my first book-signing event this past weekend. It was at Alverno College in Milwaukee, the occasion being a gathering of the Veteran Feminists of America (Midwest division). The participants were mainly true veterans of the marches, lawsuits, and political actions of the sixties, including several founders of NOW. They invited me even though I did none of the above, in recognition of my "first woman" status in several positions. Alverno, an all-female Catholic College, has always been in the feminists trenches; some of its nuns are among the "nuns on the bus" who are defying the Vatican on social issues. The women in the photo are the younger generation who are carrying the torch, including some Alverno students and alumnae. An expensive way to sell a few books, but a fascinating event.
Marina von Neumann Whitman – attendee, honoree (facebook post)

What an amazing day at Alverno! I am still telling people all about it.
This is, of course, a very belated note of thanks to you and your colleagues for putting that extraordinary program together. It must have been an enormously difficult task. I wish to thank you, as well, for the honor bestowed upon me and my mother -- she much more deserving than I; nonetheless, I am most grateful that you would think of me and for allowing me a few moments to speak.
David Clarenbach - honoree

Thank you for recommending Alverno College for the Veteran Feminists of America Recognition Award. I was pleased that I could accept the award on behalf of the College. Thank you, also, for all your work organizing the conference and choosing Alverno as the host location. The students who attended learned so much about feminism and their often distorted views blurred by the passage of time. One of them actually reported starting as hating the thought of feminism to embracing her new role as a feminist. Please know how grateful I am to you.
Mary Meehan – Alverno President

Just want you to know that the Saturday event was wonderful! Congrats to the Veteran Feminists of America for coordinating this. Saw some students yesterday and they were still “blown away” by the experience.
Virginia Wagner – Alverno faculty

First of all I want to say CONGRATULATIONS on your fantastic conference this weekend! You all must be so proud and so exhausted.It really was a remarkable group of women (the three of you included!) and I know our students were inspired by all of the sessions.I feel so blessed that I had an opportunity to hear so many of the panelists – all were so eye-opening and showed such tremendous dedication.
Thanks so much for everything.
Lisa Pieper, Alverno staff



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