The Montevallo Branch was chartered in 1927 as the Alabama College Branch of AAUW. There were 33 charter members. Dr. Leah Dennis was President of the newly chartered branch, and Dr. Hallie Farmer was Vice President. In 1931, the name was changed to the Montevallo Branch in order to better reflect the branch’s community membership.
A rather extensive early history of the Montevallo Branch is included in the book A Half-Century of AAUW in Alabama 1927-1977, a compilation of reports of Alabama Division Presidents and histories of branches in the state. The book was compiled by Ms. Fidelia Gormley, who chaired the Committee on History of the Alabama Division and was also a member of the Montevallo Branch. A short history of the branch from 1977 to 1991 has been compiled by Ms. Rachel Polhill, retired University of Montevallo Reference Librarian and member of the Montevallo Branch.
In addition to extensive involvement in the war effort in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, the Montevallo Branch began a tradition of state leadership in the organization. There have been seven presidents of the State Division (now called AAUW of Alabama) who were members of the Montevallo Branch:
- Dr. Hallie Farmer, 1937-1939
- Dr. Anne G. Pannell Taylor, 1942-1943 (later a member of the Tuscaloosa Branch)
- Dr. Katherine Vickery, 1948-1950
- Dr. Lucille Griffith, 1962-1964
- Dr. Besse T. Terry, 1970-1972 (also a member of the Tuscaloosa Branch)
- Dr. Elaine Hughes, 1999-2003
- Dr. Thomasyne Williams, 2004-2006
Two of these Division Presidents also became national officers. Dr. Anne G. Pannell Taylor was national Association President 1967-1971. At the time of her death, Dr. Hallie Farmer was serving as Association First Vice President. Dr. Elaine Hughes has recently completed a term as Public Policy Chair for the national Association, and Dr. Thomasyne Hill Smith currently serves as Director at Large for the national Association.
Largely because of the leadership of people like Dr. Hallie Farmer, Miss Josephine Eddy, Dr. Katherine Vickery, and Dr. Lucille Griffith, the Montevallo Branch has consistently sought to influence public policy. During the second decade of its existence, the branch fought for a secret ballot in Alabama, for prison reform, and for abolition of the poll tax.
In the 1950’s, members took up their pens to write their senators when Senator Joseph McCarthy labeled AAUW a “subversive” group. McCarthy also attacked Judge Dorothy Kenyon of New York City and Dr. Esther Caukin Branauer of Washington, D.C., both of whom had a long association with AAUW.
In the 1960’s, the Branch responded to nationwide criticism of the schools, seeking to understand and respond to the problems. Dr. Maxine Couch Davis of the Montevallo Branch led this effort at the state level. Another initiative was an effort to get federal funding for libraries. Although that was not successful, Dr. Lucille Griffith led a highly successful local effort to get a town library in Montevallo. Beginning as a room in the Montevallo City Hall, the library moved into a new building in the late 1970’s. In 1999, as the library undertook an expansion of that facility, the Branch honored with an inscribed plaque five members of Montevallo Branch who made significant contributions to establishing, maintaining, and enhancing the public library facilities in Montevallo: Lucille Griffith, Anne Hamilton, Elizabeth Rodgers, Lillian Ward, and Mayme Yarbrough. In 1998, Elizabeth Rodgers led the effort to establish the Parnell Memorial Library Foundation to raise funds for a new library and community cultural century. She serves as President of the thirteen-member Foundation Board.
In the 1960’s, as colleges faced teacher shortages, the Association and the Rockefeller Foundation established a program in which women thirty years and older could return to campus for graduate study and thereby prepare for college teaching. When Alabama was one of eleven states chosen to participate, Mrs. Besse Terry entered the University of Alabama and then came to the University of Montevallo to teach after she received her doctorate. She also became a leader in the Montevallo Branch and was soon elected Division President.
Branch concerns of the 1970’s and 80’s were often legislative, such things as efforts to implement recycling or save wilderness areas, to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and to increase funding for libraries and schools.
From 1990 to 2007, the Montevallo Branch has continued to provide leadership at the state level. Elaine Hughes served as President of The American Association of University Women of Alabama 1999-2003; Cynthia Shackelford edited The Daybreak and Karen Neal was Communication Chair during this time. Thomasyne Hill Smith served as President of AAUW of Alabama, 2003-2005, and Sandra Lott was state Membership Vice President, 2003-2007. Currently serving in state offices are Dorothy Grimes and Helen Moshkovich, Webmasters, and Judy Rogers, By-Laws Chair.
As mentioned above, on the national level, Elaine Hughes served as Public Policy Chair of the National Association, 2003-2007, and Thomasyne Hill Smith has served on the Diversity Taskforce. She currently serves as Director at Large for the national Association.
The Montevallo Branch continued in the 1990’s to work for voter education and to advocated for AAUW’s key issues, especially those related to education reform and gender equity. The Branch has worked in various ways to support the efforts of Alabama Arise, a coalition group dedicated to overcoming poverty in Alabama through constitutional reform and tax reform. In recent years, the branch has also worked in coalition with the Black Heritage Committee of the University of Montevallo and with the Alumni Association to sponsor programs on diversity issues and leadership development.
Branch membership has remained relatively small through the years, but recent years have seen significant growth in membership. Programs and activities of interest to the larger community have been instrumental in this growth. In 1998, under the leadership of Sandra Lott, the Montevallo Branch pioneered its highly successful Adelante Book Group project designed to bring together people of diverse generations and backgrounds for a series of discussions about books which address key concerns of our population. Each year the steering committee selects a group of books from a variety of cultures and time frames which relate to issues of special concern to women and their families. In the second year of the project, the branch received a grant from AAUW of Alabama to include non traditional college students in the project. In the fall of 2000, the project received national recognition in the Association’s publication AAUW in Action. Since 2001-2002, the book group session has been set up as woman to woman dialogues, focusing in each session on two books from different cultures and/or time frames but with similar themes.
In 1999, the Montevallo Branch established the AAUW Pathfinder Award, given each year “to recognize members of the Montevallo Branch of AAUW who, through longstanding membership and continuing service both to the organization and to the community, have come to represent most clearly the principles that AAUW stands for, including equity for all women and girls, life-long education, and positive societal change.” Pathfinder Award Recipients are Leila Galloway and Sarah Head, 1999; Elaine Hughes, 2000; Barbara Belisle, 2001; Mary Frances Tipton, 2002; Sandra W. Lott, 2003; Elizabeth Rodgers, 2004; Dorothy Grimes, 2005; Julia Rogers, 2006; Becky Cox-Rodgers, 2007.
In 2006-2007, the branch had 93 members. The Montevallo Branch received national recognition in the Association’s Five Star Recognition Program in 1998-1999, 1999-2000, and 2000-2001. The Association began its Twenty-First Century Recognition Program in 2002, and the Montevallo Branch consistently received the highest level of recognition. The branch’s tradition of achievement has continued since 2005 when the state division rather than the Association assumed responsibility for branch awards.
Presidents of the Montevallo Branch of AAUW
|Mary Beeler Napier||1931-33|
|Lillian Worley Stimson||1941-43|
|Maxine Couch Davis||1951-53|
|Mary Ellen Priestley||1961-63|
|Mary Ellen Priestley||1963-65|
|Mary Frances Tipton||1969-71|
|Laura Frances Mathison||1971-73|
|Jerry Ann Harris||1976-78|
|Gertrude M. McGuire||1980-82|
|Sandra W. Lott||1984-86|
|Elaine W. Hughes||1986-88|
|Elaine W. Hughes||1988-90|
|Sandra W. Lott||1998-2000|
|Sandra W. Lott and Rachel Polhill||2000-2002|
|Sandra Lott and Judy Rogers||2004-2008|