The Olive Tree
by Brenda Howitson Steeves, Special Collections
A recently processed collection in the Special Collections Department provides
insight into the lives of Maine women both now and in the past. The Maine
Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, established in Portland
in 1921, was modeled on and formed a part of the National Federation of Business
and Professional Women’s Clubs. This organization, formed in 1919, had as its
objectives to elevate the standards and promote the interests of women in
business and the professions and to extend educational opportunities to them.
The Maine group was formed from three separate clubs existing at the time: the
Lewiston-Auburn club, organized in 1919; the Portland club, formed in 1920; and
the State Association and Bureau of Policewomen and Matrons. The goals of the
newly formed federation, as stated in its constitution, were “To promote the
interests of business and professional women in the state of Maine; to encourage
and stimulate local organizations and, through cooperative efforts, to promote
what we believe are in the interests of the National Federation of Business and
Professional Women’s Clubs.” Dues were 50 cents, 25 cents going to the national
organization and 25 cents to the Maine federation. Regional groups were
established throughout the state and membership grew rapidly.
An educational program started in the early days led to meetings with high school girls, vocational speakers, essays on topics such as “Why I should go to high school,” and the establishment of scholarship and loan programs for young women. In the 1920s, the National Federation favored ratifying a child labor amendment, establishing a department of education, and placing home economics training on the same basis as trade and agriculture training. At the same time, the Maine Federation was holding panel discussions on the 8-hour work day and conducting surveys to learn more about the lives of working women. A survey done in 1922 found that their average weekly salary was between $26 and $27, with living expenses amounting to $11.75 to $14 per week; the average work day was eight hours. The Maine group also conducted a series of surveys of Maine women in elective and appointed office, focusing attention on the desirability of having women office-holders. Senator Margaret Chase Smith was an early member of the Maine Federation, serving as its president in 1926-1927. In 1927 she became the first federation president to bring publicity to the group by broadcasting by radio over station WCSH in Portland. She remained a member and supporter of the Federation long after her term as president had ended.
Through the years the Maine Federation has continued to engage in many campaigns to further its goals, supporting increased pay for teachers, drafting an equal pay bill sent to state legislators, promoting small business and career development, awarding scholarships through its Futurama Foundation and working for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. In a time when many civic and social groups have ceased to exist, both the National and Maine Federations continue to work to fulfill the goals set by their early members and to promote full participation, equity and economic self-sufficiency for working women.
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