The AAUW Founders’ Book

August 03, 2012

This post was written by AAUW Archives Intern Kelsey Conway.

The Founders’ Book “will be made up of sheets of parchment paper, 11 by 14 inches, lettered and decorated, we hope, by individual members or the art department of colleges. The binding … will be done by a college woman who is a master craftsman in binding. It will be kept permanently in the headquarters and Clubhouse.”

AAUW Journal, Vol. 17

AAUW’s former national headquarters at 1634 I St. NW

Between 1924 and 1928, AAUW held a fundraising campaign to pay for our new national headquarters building at 1634 I St. NW in Washington, D.C. To commemorate the founding of the headquarters and to recognize the contributors, AAUW compiled the Founders’ Book, a list of the individuals, branches, and organizations that supported the cause. A fundraising quota was set for each branch — $14 per member, on average — and for four years, members faithfully strove to claim full ownership of their organization’s national home.

All who gave were considered founders, and inclusion in the Founders’ Book represented a significant achievement of commitment and dedication. A total of 112 branches contributed to the campaign, and while individuals and organizations such as affiliated colleges also had the option to give, the most fascinating pages in the Founders’ Book tell the story of branches that gave as communities. Each page was individually handcrafted by the contributors, whose personal investment in AAUW and sense of branch identity is evident in the carefully detailed, elaborate designs. The book comes to life as more than just a roster, and the pages sing “in many instances of the part of the country from which they came … [telling] in themselves a story of the varied background of our association.”

“It will be a fitting and beautiful record of splendid achievement by a group of university women, each of whom did her part in reaching the splendid total of the fund.”

AAUW Journal, Vol. 21

The value of the Founders’ Book is undeniable, but what does one do with a 50-year-old, 500-page handcrafted book? The easiest archival option is a custom-made, acid-free storage box designed to fit the book’s particular measurements to eliminate sliding, which breaks corners, and squishing, which destroys the spine. But the book was meant to commemorate our history, so it was removed from the archives and put on display at the AAUW national office.

The Founders’ Book in its new case

In 2011, the Archives Task Force determined that the Founders’ Book’s lifespan would be prolonged and its viewing enhanced by a new protective case. This case allows the book to sit at a gentle angle on a stand that carefully supports the spine. Long pieces of clear, acid-free polyester wrap around the book and gently hold the pages open. Ultraviolet-filtered glass protects the artifact from dust and harmful rays — anyone who has ever left a newspaper in the sun knows what light does to paper — and the pages are turned once a month to limit any possible exposure.

With this renewed protection, the Founders’ Book, just one of the many wonderful treasures found in the AAUW archives, remains carefully and prominently displayed to commemorate and symbolize the pride AAUW women of the past, present, and future feel for their organization and its purpose.

By:   |   August 03, 2012


  1. Therese Lowe says:

    Geraldine, we think this is a great idea too and certainly have plans to digitize some of the pages. Thanks to technology we can share the beautiful artwork and honor the members and branches who contributed so much to AAUW.

  2. Geraldine L. Oberman, Ph.D. says:

    I appreciate learning about this and other historical facts about AAUW. What a valuable document for younger members to know about. This concept could be replicated (digitally) to recognize states and branches of the 21st century.

  3. Caroline Pickens says:

    How wonderful to know the history of this book that I have seen often but didn’t know so much about it. The pages in it are beautiful.

  4. Jessica Kelly says:

    Fun fact! Many AAUW staff members still frequently visit the old national office location at 1634 I St. NW. It is now home to our favorite frozen yogurt shop 🙂

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