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Nonprofit Advocacy’s History is Herstory

Long before women in the United States could vote, own property or have a bank account, they could champion a cause. 

Consider just a few examples from history.

  • Mercy Otis Warren used anonymous political writings in the 18th century to embolden American colonists to end British injustice. Women also banded together to boycott British goods, using their purchasing power to weaken the foreign government’s stronghold.
  • Mary Ann Shadd Cary recruited Black soldiers to fight in the Civil War and published a newspaper, The Provincial Freeman, to advocate for the abolition of slavery. She went on to found a school for children of freed slaves.
  • Frances Willard and Carrie Nation led the female-strong temperance movement in the 19th century – organizing rallies, staging protests and demanding government action. The exclusively female Women’s Christian Temperance Union trained women on public speaking and leadership.
  • Frances Perkins led the charge for safer workplaces after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire set off a national debate about labor conditions. She became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet position.
  • And decades after Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention, Alice Paul orchestrated the historic Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, DC. The women mobilized advocates who ultimately secured American women’s right to vote.

And the list goes on.

History shows that women have, for generations, advocated for causes of personal and societal importance. They have instinctively identified and empowered advocates, often fellow women. They have blended disparate voices into unified narratives. They have stirred the public conscience and propelled leaders to action.

In turn, the advocacy and nonprofit sectors have empowered women. Here women have found a place to create, to excel, to think critically and to collaborate toward meaningful change. Today, women make up 73% of the nonprofit workforce.

For Woodberry Associates, Women’s History Month offers a chance to look back, with gratitude, at the women who have shaped advocacy. May public affairs continue to build on the powerful instincts, talents and leadership of trailblazing women.   

Amanda Conschafter, Josie Cooper, Susan Hepworth and Lindsay Videnieks are partners at Woodberry Associates.