Recently someone wrote about the many feminist organizations that kind of grew out of NOW. The ones that come to my mind immediately are the National Women's Political Caucus, the Women's Forum and the New York Association of Women Business Owners, because I had something to do with the founding of these three. The first two, formed with Betty Friedan when I was an officer of NOW, I left once they were off and running. (right: Mary King, 1975)
In 1975 some New York NOW activists who'd been leaders in the chapter, including image committee head, Midge Kovacs; membership chair, Elayne Snyder, and the founder of Staten Island NOW, Gerry Gibney were forming their own businesses. I, too had my own business, a Public Relations firm. Now part of the world we'd helped to create, feminist activists needed networks to help one another.So when I got a call from a young Vicki Moss about forming a business alliance, I was on board immediately.
New York's may have been the first, but women's business groups
were popping up all over the country. When President Carter noticed what was going on he appointed Mary King to organize a national association of women business owners. King, a political scientist, was directing the worldwide operations of the Peace Corps and national volunteer service corps programs in the United States. With Casey Hayden she had co-authored "Sex and Caste," viewed by historians as tinder for the second wave of feminism. Today Dr.King is Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace, and a Distinguished Scholar at the American University Center for Global Peace. In 1992 she was Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. In 2007 VFA presented her with our medal of honor.
We founders of the New York Association of Women Business Owners attended the founding in DC in 1975 of the National Association of Women Business Owners, so are co founders of the national association. Today NAWBO is the voice of America's more than 10 million women-owned businesses - the fastest growing segment of the economy. With over 7000 members and 80 chapters, it has far-reaching clout and impact, and is a one-stop resource to propelling women business owners into greater economic, social and political spheres of power worldwide. This year, 2010, marks the 35th anniversary of the NY and National Association of Women Business Owners and VFA rejoices and celebrates with them.
THE STORY OF NEW YORK WOMEN BUSINESS OWNERS By Vicki Moss
Front row.. Beverly Olman, Sharon Berman, Reva Calevsky, Karen Olson,
Ava SternBack - Donna Ferrante, Vicki Moss, Jacqui Ceballos, Bernice Malamud
The bank was silent at midnight. The women had all gone home and it was my job to get the board room back in order and close up shop, making sure the two doors in front were locked behind me. This seems very odd to me now, thirty-five years later. Why would the president and the board trust a new employee in an empty bank? There wasn't any money in the vaults; the Brinks trucks had taken it away hours ago. But still . . .
The security guard had taken off at five on the dot like everyone else, before tonight's 20 or 30 students showed up. Five of us prepared the long table, setting up the coffeepot, laying out material for the lesson-money management for women business-owners. We made sure we were ready for tonight's class-and for the tv crew. This week we were being filmed by one of those new cable stations.
I ran the seminars, but they were also my own education. In my new role as Central State Bank's New Business Developer, I'd recently met dozens of women on the verge of entrepreneurship, a new role for them as well. A contemporary marvel-women starting and operating their own businesses; other women teaching them the intricacies of running them. These seminars had brought the bank a flood of publicity: articles in every newspaper, on many radio and tv shows; speaking engagements all over the city.
Now that tonight's filming was over, the excited talk silent and the board room back in shape, I needed to get ready for the next day before going home. My heels clicked up the stairs from the basement to the main floor where my desk was nestled in an out-of-the-way corner. As I turned off the downstairs lights in the supposedly empty bank, I heard a noise. I stopped and there, coming out of his office, was the chairman of the board. Seeing me, he stopped too, startled.
"Who are you?" he asked. Never mind that my picture had been plastered all over town and my name posted on a huge chartreuse sign on his own bank's window. A little flustered, I said: "I'm your new business developer. I run the seminars." "What seminars?" he wanted to know. "For the women." "The women?" He looked puzzled. "What women?"
That's what it was like in 1973. (left:Vicki Moss)
Over the years, things have certainly changed for women business owners. Not only are we no longer delegated to basement rooms for clandestine meetings but we are prominent in the business world. In the last four decades, businesses conceived of and operated by women have become an integral component of the American economy. Unlike the 1970's when the relatively few women running their own businesses were mainly wives and daughters, sisters who inherited already going concerns, today (according to the U.S. Bureau of Census and surveys conducted by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners), women-owned firms generate more than $3.6 trillion in sales.
I'm glad to have been part of this revolution.
While we were not yet recognized as a group to contend with in the 1970s, the Second Wave saw advances in employment, housing, education and health research, as well as help seeking justice in cases of rape and domestic violence. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, among other bills, made it easier also for women to own and operate their own companies.
My personal journey was also about to take a new turn. I was about to join a new statistical group: women influencing a changing workforce. I was about to crash into opportunity, though I hadn't known I was looking for it.
Until I was hired in 1973 by Central State Bank, a now-defunct small commercial institution in Manhattan with three branches in Brooklyn, the world of commercial enterprise wasn't on my radar. As a doctoral student in philosophy, I saw myself as part of the ivory tower aerie of higher education. I'd just finished my third year as a student at the CUNY Graduate Center and was a part-time faculty member of the Philosophy Department, a job that didn't support my family. After my divorce, I knew I would have to leave my studies to look for work that did. It came as a shock, though, when I realized I had few, if any, marketable skills.
A neighbor who'd recently been appointed president of Central State, offered me the sales job, but I didn't want to spend my time computing numbers or selling financial services-and more important, I didn't think I could. But I took the job anyway because I needed the money, figuring I'd do my best to learn.
It turned out I learned a lot-and fast.
In my first weeks at the bank, I discovered a small women's newspaper, Majority Report, which listed women-owned businesses in the city. Imagine! Women-owned businesses in New York City were so few they could be listed in a small women-owned and operated newspaper published in Greenwich Village. Today in New York State they number some 427,550-and more keep starting up.
During my training period, my new boss, Mert Corn, the bank's president, had told me to find a group that was treated badly by banks and to bring them into Central State's fold. He had in mind such stigmatized operations as manufacturers of jukeboxes and cigarette machines.
With women then typically denied credit with no more than "because you're a woman"; having recently myself experienced the insult of being denied a credit card in my own name; when women had to take on not only their husband's names but their credit ratings as biological colorings, I thought of women as that group. That was the beginning of what soon became a whirlwind experience.
My initiation into the women's movement had been slow: a local consciousness-raising group in the late '60s raised my political awareness a smidgeon and a short stint in the newly forming Society of Women in Philosophy (SWIP) in the early '70s kicked my evolution into higher gear. But my real awakening came through the work I was about to do at Central State Bank. Meeting and working with women business owners would blow open my feminist mind. (NY Association of Women Business Owners Bulletin)
Through the Majority Report lists, I began to meet women who worked as financial consultants, insurance representatives, attorneys, investment counselors-and hundreds who were starting and running their own businesses. These women, already a fast-burgeoning group, were fulfilling their own dreams, not inheriting anyone else's. I met women like Donna Loercher (née Ferrante), who owned the Feminist Book Mart; Jacqui Ceballos, already a well-known publicist; Stephanie Marcus and Rose Fontanella, owners of Liberation Enterprises; Mildred Tuffield, a financial consultant; and many others. I met women who ran mail-order businesses, retail establishments, small manufacturing operations; physicians running their own practices.
I met a woman who provided services with a difference: Bernice Malamud, who persuaded the insurance industry to write policies covering women, whose insurance needs often differ from those of men. I met a woman who put on the market what were then unusual products: Dell Williams, who started and ran Eve's Garden, which sold sex toys designed for women's fantasies, then a novel idea. I met women who were about to inject into the American economy a new energy and who illuminated alternative ways of doing business-giving precedence, for example, to creativity rather than conformity, and seeking consensus rather than hierarchical control.
As I listened to their stories, my perceptions did a 180-degree turn. Now, rather than seeing business owners as hucksters or number-crunchers, I began to see them as high-class dreamers whose concrete establishments were transforming the public interchange of goods and services.
However, because many women then were as new as I was to this teeming world, and because the world of business was not the most hospitable place for women, a large number needed help in operating and managing their sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations. They needed advice on the legalities of starting up and getting going, the intricacies of insurance protection, the availability of lines of credit, how to incorporate, how to go public, and many other nitty-gritty details of self-ownership. I took a Dun and Bradstreet home-study course to understand how to read profit and loss statements and evaluate assets and liabilities-and then I thought of something I could do.
A financial adviser, an attorney, an insurance rep, an investment counselor, and I, a banker-worked together to develop a series of seminars to provide the fledgling women-owned businesses some guidance. We were given permission by the bank's president to hold classes in the boardroom after regular banking hours.
Seminars as a marketing tool might not have been new, but running them for women was, and I was surprised at how many wanted help. Hundreds soon stormed the bank clamoring to come to our seminars. We had set up and advertised only one series; pretty soon, we were planning six, then seven, then so many we had to schedule programs many months ahead.
My job description expanded when the women who attended the seminars started coming to the bank to open checking and savings accounts for their businesses and to apply for business loans. Although the bank's president was reluctant-seeing me and my clients as the small potatoes we were-he nevertheless promoted me to loan officer. Now I recruited clients, opened new bank accounts, ran seminars-and evaluated loan applications.
More and more women showed up for the seminars, for start-up loans, credit lines to meet payrolls, to expand developing operations. The clamor was publicized in the city's dailies as well as in newspapers in Canada, in magazines local and national, on local and national radio and tv news shows, and even on some of the newly formed cable stations. Central State Bank had become-in the words of its president, who was starting to see this as a possible opportunity-"the bank that's good to women."
Nevertheless, in my small niche on the bank's floor where I'd been given a desk out of the way of the bank's "real" business, I began to use the phones and copiers for what would have been regarded as covert purposes. Instead of spending all my time making calls and recruiting major business accounts (read: "men's businesses"), I stole moments to type up lists of the self-employed women who had come to our classes and who wanted desperately to learn the ins and outs of profitability. I started writing to them all-tedious work in the days before computers for someone without a secretary-and I enclosed the growing number of lists with the letters, urging them to buy from each other.
In a way, my boss wasn't wrong. Many, if not most, of the businesses owned by women who came to Central State that year were small. Having been shut out so long, having been denied credit even when they deserved it, few women then could enter a bank with dreams that would cost millions or billions to put into action-and which would lead to the creation of bigger companies with exponentially larger sales-as lots of men have always done. By necessity, most women in those days started meagerly.
Today, of course, not only do women's businesses in the United States bring in trillions of dollars in sales, they outpace overall business growth by 2 to 1, according to NFWBO studies and the U.S. Bureau of Census. But back in the 1970's, few men in charge of steering the economy saw what was coming.
Picture of the "dollar" with the Mona Lisa smile was a promotion from The First Women's Bank which opened its doors in 1975
We, however, the women who were part of the surge, were starting to understand that this rapidly emerging population would need a bigger boost than Central State's seminars or its skimpy loans. An association that would give women business owners the opportunity to network, forming what seemed almost a shadow economy, might better help pave the way to real growth.
A group of us began to meet and plot, using among other resources the lists I'd collected, to get in touch with as many women business owners as we could to hatch a plan. We envisioned an organization for New York women, where the proprietors and presidents of women-owned enterprises would institutionalize ways to buy from and sell to each other, would teach each other how and where to market goods and services, and support each other's efforts.
In 1975, ten of us became the founding mothers of the New York Association of Women Business Owners. One night after months of preparation, Ava Stern; Karen Olson; Reva Calesky; Sharon Berman; Beverly Lasko Olman; Bernice Malamud; Jacqui Ceballos; Donna Loercher and I introduced ourselves and our idea for a new organization to the several hundred women who filled the auditorium at the newly refurbished Barbizon Hotel in Manhattan.
Beverly Lasko Olman, who has since died of breast cancer, was attorney for the new alliance. She drew up the originating resolutions and the incorporation papers. Ava Stern, then publisher of a newsletter called Artemis about women and work, was elected the organization's first president.
Our audience enthusiastically applauded the plan we laid out. That night we established the first organization for women business owners.
Vicki Moss, the first to call a meeting to organize the New York Association of Women Business Owners, was, in 1975, a loan officer at the small commercial bank on West 48th Street in Manhattan, Central State Bank. Today she teaches literature and writing at the SUNY/Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She is author of three novels, The Lust Chart, Solo Flights and The Amboy Duchess; a book of short stories, Blood Memories; and a poetry memoir, Alien On the Road, all published by Horsetooth Press in Westchester County, NY. She has written five children's books.
From 1979 to 1984 she was a reporter for daily newspapers, where she won awards for investigative reporting. From the late 80s until 2000, she was a freelance business journalist. She has also earned awards from both the City College of New York and Sensations Magazine for her fiction and her poetry.
AVA STERN - Founding President of NYAWBO, Ava founded and was Publisher and Editor of the original Enterprising Women newsletter and magazine, from which the organization was spawned. With the first board of directors of NYAWBO, she produced the first and only "Women in Business Week" with 40 corporate sponsors and city institutions, and 40,000 participants city-wide, in all boroughs. The event opened at a breakfast at the historic Plaza Hotel, where Mayor Beame presented the organization with a key to the city, and continued with multiple events in numerous locations all over the city.
Later she founded a financial communications agency in NYC that was Instrumental in the marketing of more than 50 Initial Public Offerings with several Wall Street firms. She was subsequently Managing Director of BSMG Worldwide's Financial and Professional Services Group. She also served on the U.S.Small Business Administration Advisory Council, the President's Council on Women's Business Enterprise, and the New York City Economic Development Committee.
Today Ava is one of the founding principals and Executive Vice President of RainbowVision Properties, Inc., the developer and operator of the first resort-retirement community honoring diversity and welcoming the GLBT community as residents and club members in its beautiful 146-unit with condos, rentals and luxurious club on 13 acres in Santa Fe, New Mexico (www.rainbowvisionprop.com).