Astoria AAUW has provided friendships, lifelong learning, educational equity, and social action since 1927.
We shared our slightly slanted history of the Astoria Branch of AAUW, the fourth branch to be formed in Oregon, on the occasion of our 90th Anniversary when on May 23, 2017 we produced a Readers Theatre called “Through the Decades” highlighting achievements of this organization and revisiting a lot of history.
In the beginning Astoria had abundant natural resources and economies of fish and timber, as well as the selfishness of men who always wanted more. Except for the natives, we were and are all immigrants seeking a better life. We have always been a people who worked hard, drank and gambled, or prayed and wanted our kids to have a basic education. We have our dreamers and scammers, our very rich and others. Politically we citizens have had eery attitude – communists, to tea party and we proclaim those views.
Astoria claims to be the oldest city in the West, and celebrated their Centennial in 1911. The population was 10,000.
Suffrage came to Oregon in 1919. Astoria men had supported the vote four years prior to the final passage! Around that time two men of the Knights of the Klu Klux Klan came to the county. Too soon they created a following of townsmen, uniting Christian voters and temperance folks who had been rallying against Catholics, Jews, alcohol consumption, prostitutes and unions. The Klansmen’s promises of honest, good governance got them elected in November, 1922. One month later, on December 8th, 1922, a horrendous fire burned 32 city blocks, destroying businesses, buildings, roads, and infrastructure in less than 12 hours. The newly elected officials were overshelmed until the financial and business leaders mobilized to assert and organize themselves to rebuild. Because the economy was sound, Astorian re-energized themselves and by 1926 we had rebuilt a fire resistant downtown and created a City Manager form of governance.
From this historical background of mostly men working in our natural resources, our Branch formed in May 1927. Fifteen educated women agreed to meet regularly in support of friendships, educational growth and social service. That number soon grew to 25 and included three community members. These women were wives and teachers and they met in members homes. These gals were “doers” and in spite of the depression that financially staggered the nation, the women put on a fashion show of evening gowns to raise money for scholarships. In 1934 they also hosted the State AAUW convention in Gearhart.
Our Branch continued to raise money for national scholarships. Fifty cents of the $2.50 dues helped to send at least $45.00 yearly to help women gain advanced degrees. Programs were based around social and educational issues. During WWII, meetings were rare, as efforts went to making bandages, and Red Cross welfare kits, or taking on some of the roles traditionally held by men. Gas rationing was one good reason for the Seaside members to form their own Branch.
Astoria AAUW became more active during the 1950 and 60s. Our members (72 one year) were involved in many efforts of study and action. We worked hard to help bring kindergarten and high school history classes to Oregon Public Schools. Members promoted bonding efforts for a county library system and when that failed, they helped get the Astoria Library built and then provided volunteers for the Saturday Children’s Reading programs. We continue to volunteer with the Children’s Summer Reading Time. We studied and then opposed efforts to build an aluminum plant just out of town. We were the first organization to hold public forums on proposed sewage improvements and worked to bring City, County and other decision makers activities to the public via programs and forums.
When Clatsop County formed their Economic Development Committee, AAUW had two representatives, an acknowledgment for our value! We were most supportive as Clatsop Community College was forming in 1958 (the first community college in Oregon) and continued to help stock their library and promoted the 1963 Women’s Day at College. We became recruiters via our WINGS Conference (Women Interested in Going to School) since 2003.
We organized the first Historic Home Tour in celebration of our first Sister City exchange with Waldorf, Germany and the opening in 1966 of the Astoria Megler Bridge.. Then after two more years, we handed over this popular tour to the Clatsop County Historical Society. Since the 1970s, we have held Candidates Forums which are now an anticipated and expected event. Our County Mayors were not really supportive of each other, and for two years we held “State of the Cities” forums – and one result (we like to claim) is that our five mayors now meet on a fairly regular basis!
In 1985 our Branch had wonderful chefs who prepared a dinner in conjunction with the Readers’ Theatre. We brought a “Dessert Readers Theatre” to Astoria at a time when the arts were very limited. It was an outstanding cultural evening in an era when music,theater and evening events were rare. This cultural icon continues as our scholarship fund raiser.
The environment became an important topic in the 1990s. We took up AAUW State’s promise to stop using plastic and foam products and we “lugged our mug” to meetings.
For years we promoted Womens’ History Month by honoring local women, hosting dinners for women’s groups, and presenting women -oriented books/art to school libraries. Our contribution to our cities Bicentennial was a booklet honoring the accomplishments of 100 Women Who Helped Make Astoria Unique. We had a big ceremony and for five years we continued gathering with those women and hearing their stories.
In our 90th year, we are 34 strong, brag that we have two dual members in State leadership, as well as a Mayor and commissioner with three members serving on other Boards. Eighteen of us are retired, four are students, and realtors, educators, business owners, and administrators make up the rest! In addition to monthly programs, we keep very busy with WINGS, Readers Theatre, Candidates Forums, Children’s Summer Library Program, Scholarships and our 90th Party in June 2017. We are embracing this digital age with our facebook page and help from the younger folks!