Women Work!’s History
In the early 70s, as the divorce rate soared, many women found themselves “fired” from their jobs as homemakers. In 1975, Laurie Shields, a 55-year-old widow unable to find work after 15 years as a full-time homemaker and mother, contacted Tish Sommers, who she heard was “doing something for older women.”
Tish, then 57 and divorced after 23 years, called herself a “freelance agitator.” She said to Laurie, “DON’T AGONIZE, ORGANIZE!”
And organize they did, joining forces with Milo Smith, the first director of the Jobs for Older Women Action Project in Oakland, California, and with Barbara Dudley, a public interest attorney. Together they drafted the first displaced homemaker legislation, introduced in 1975 in California and later in Congress by former Representative Yvonne Burke.
But it was clear that grassroots support was needed. The Alliance for Displaced Homemakers was formed with Laurie Shields as director. With intense grassroots organizing, coalition building, organizational endorsements, and skilled use of the media, the Alliance moved the issue of displaced homemakers assistance from California across the country, up to Capitol Hill and into a federal program.
In 1978 at a national conference held in Baltimore attended by more than 500 displaced homemakers, The Displaced Homemaker Network was officially born when it was recognized that this grassroots movement needed a permanent voice in Washington, DC.
In 1993, the Displaced Homemakers Network changed its name to Women Work! The National Network for Women’s Employment — recognizing the range of economic transitions women face throughout their lives.
Today, as experts on employment and training issues, Women Work! and its nationwide Network affect policy by working with lawmakers, business leaders, nonprofit organizations and labor unions to create and strengthen programs and policies for women. Women Work! is a visible and vocal advocate for increasing minimum wage, attaining fair employment benefits and ensuring training programs are available for women entering or re-entering the paid workforce.
From a kitchen table in California to a clear, strong and effective voice for American women’s economic issues, Women Work! is shaping the future for women in economic transition and all working women.