The Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues was incorporated in 1974 in Washington, DC, by a diverse group of women and representatives of women’s organizations to provide a channel for exchange and dissemination of information on a variety of issues of mutual concern. At the time that CWI was organized, there were few sources of easily available information on the fight for women's rights. Organizations and newsletters that addressed specific issues in the women's movement were just emerging. As a source of news on feminist progress, CWI filled an important need.
The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, the Equal Rights Amendment was sent out to the states in 1972, and Title IX was passed in 1972.
The founding year was one of preparation for the United Nations First World Conference on Women that took place in 1975 in Mexico City. CWI’s contributions to the women’s agenda through discussion and clarification of issues continued through the International Women’s Year, the UN Decade for Women, the 1980 Copenhagen World Conference, the 1985 World Conference in Nairobi, the 1995 Fourth World Conference in Beijing, and in New York in 2000, Beijing + Five. Evidence of Clearinghouse influence is to be found in the number of CWI members who helped plan and attend these meetings, as well as those who were officials and organization delegates at these historic events.
The women who formed the Clearinghouse, like the current members today, were committed to the core values of feminism: to achieve political, economic, and social equality for women. Out of this commitment came a shared dedication to social change, education, and sisterhood. For almost forty years, a changing group of people – women and some men – have participated in the Clearinghouse monthly meetings and discussions about women’s issues, sharing ideas, thoughts, and concerns about the ongoing problems that women face in America and abroad. The topics discussed during the early meetings are similar to the ones being discussed today.
CWI members and guests continue to gather on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 12 noon in Washington at a brown-bag lunch meeting that is open to the public, to learn about and discuss the continuing struggle for women’s rights. Members today are every bit as committed, energized, and excited to hear speakers who are at the cutting edge of issues related to equity and gender discrimination. Nevertheless, despite much progress in 40 years, the goals of the women’s movement remain as challenging as they have been since the founding of the Clearinghouse.
The Clearinghouse received a flow of letters from all over the country, such as from women in prison, inquiries about employment, students seeking information for term papers and reports, and requests for funding. Jean Linehan, who was the longtime corresponding secretary, responded to letters sent to the Clearinghouse and provided helpful information whenever possible. This is further evidence of the organization’s contributions both to its members and to the larger community over the years.
A striking characteristic of the Clearinghouse is its longevity. With modest dues, a minimal budget, no paid staff or formal office space, CWI has outlasted many other national and local women’s groups, based solely on committed members and volunteers dedicated to its goals and activities. Many present-day CWI members have been attending meetings since the early 1980’s, forming lasting friendships and professional associations with people they might otherwise not have met.