Our Fort Myers/Lee County Branch History
Fort Myers must have seemed like the frontier in 1926 when 12 college educated women “of like mind” met and chartered the first AAUW Branch here. With no state organization, only three established Branches in the state, and such a small group, they disbanded in April 1928. Then in 1961, a time of political activism, and the beginning of intense growth in this area, an English teacher at Fort Myers High, Ann Carter, reorganized the group with 26 members. Their goals included “continuing the intellectual growth of members, making the influence of educated women felt and using members’ resources, experience and training to benefit the community.”
The Branch raised money by presenting travel films to the community in the high school auditorium. Within a year they made the first of many donations to help students at the first college in Fort Myers, Edison Community College. In 1968 members of the Branch conducted an assessment of community child care centers and recommended a code of minimum standards for services and activities be adopted by the County. When the News Press reported that the board of commissioners complained that recommendations for water management couldn’t be implemented because they were “incomprehensible,” a committee of members obtained a copy of the report and appeared before the commissioners to explain the report and its importance. The Public Policy Committee coordinated with the state AAUW and went to Tallahassee to support ERA ratification. In the early 70’s when Meals on Wheels was in trouble because their snow-bird volunteers had flown North, President Virginia Bernard and members stepped up preparing and packaging meals in the kitchen at First Presbyterian Church. AAUW was acknowledged as saving the program that summer.
The Cape Coral Branch was founded in 1980. Joan Krick, a past president, described the branch as working women who met at night and were serious about equity for women in the work place. In 1988 the Fort Myers and Cape Coral Branches together presented a seminar at Edison Community College “Women’s Work/ Women’s Worth” featuring a discussion of “The Race Around the Desk and Other Problems of Working with Men” and Rusty Brown’s “How to Ask the Boss for a Raise…And Get It.” In 1990 our president was asked to join a Lee County Task Force on Rape. When the Cape Coral Branch disbanded in 1995, many members joined the Ft Myers Branch.
Although the Branch had a long history of giving financial awards to students, in 2000 they took the next step in commitment: the Branch raised $5000 to establish our first endowed scholarship at FGCU. In 2005 a similar scholarship was established at Edison State College. In 2006 with a bequest from long-time member Sue Gottcent, the AAUW-Sue Gottcent Endowed Scholarship through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation was established.
In keeping with the emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) the Branch now sponsors STEM awards for female entrants in the Edison Regional Science and Engineering Fair. In addition we make awards to graduating high school seniors; we support international programs like the Virginia Gildersleeve Fund; and we contribute generously to national AAUW Funds. The Branch has 501.c.3 tax status so members are able to make tax-deductible contributions for our scholarship commitments.
Community service has historically been a part of AAUW membership and it continues to be so. We joined the Adopt a Precinct Program of the Lee County Elections Office. Members are trained to run a polling place for state and national primaries and elections. We have supported such community projects as PACE for Girls in Lee County, The Human Trafficking Awareness Fund, the Harry Chapin Food Bank, and the National Association of Women in Construction’s “Building Blocks” program at Tice Elementary.
Researched & Written By
Judith S. Sims