Early Years (1974 – 1987)
Although there is scant information on the first years of the Clearinghouse, it is believed that Abigail McCarthy, wife of former Senator Eugene McCarthy, was the founding president, as reported among her accomplishments in her obituary in the February 2001 Washington Post.
The article noted that McCarthy had been interested in women’s and human rights issues for most of her life, also serving on the board of the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL). A 2001 issue of the CWI newsletter carried an article on McCarthy’s death and included the following information on the founding of CWI in the early 1970's: Daisy B. Fields, who later served as a CWI president and editor of the CWI newsletter, was involved in CWI in the early 1970’s. She reported that Arvonne Fraser organized a group of friends (McCarthy among them) who were interested in women’s issues. Fields and Catherine East then joined the informal group as did Mary Keyserling, who later served a term as CWI president.
Arvonne Fraser was subsequently director of the Women, Public Policy and Development Project at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; Daisy Fields was active in Federally Employed Women (FEW); and Mary Dublin Keyserling was a former director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor. They and others met informally to discuss women’s issues and to take the information back to their various organizations.
Gloria Johnson, long-time president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and also a founding member of CWI, remembers very distinctly that the Clearinghouse was, “unlike any other organization at that time.” She recalled that the founding members wanted a forum to raise and discuss issues of importance to women. Johnson lauded the range of issues that CWI covered at such an early stage of the women’s movement and also enjoyed the fact that members could suggest specific topics to be discussed, thus creating a cooperative yet challenging environment for the meetings.
Keyserling, then a consulting economist, became president of CWI in October 1981. She said that she did so despite an already heavy workload because, “I feel strongly that the CWI now confronts exceedingly urgent challenges.” Her goals consisted of working, “actively together to strengthen CWI and mobilize our efforts to the fullest extent possible to educate the public on where women are, what has been affecting their basic interests, and to do all we can as individual and organizational members to achieve gains and knock out losses. This is no moment for CWI to weaken or disappear.” Keyserling proved to be a strong and inspirational leader of the organization, serving as a board member until 1988.
At the December 1, 1981 CWI meeting Keyserling spoke about "Where Working Women Are in Our Economy – The Outlook." She ended her presentation of statistics and trends with these words: "The CWI has many challenges to respond to. We should do much to inform national, state and local organizations about where women are, are going and should be going in the interest of equity and justice and society. The Board will do all it can to expand CWI membership, increase its funds, and extend its outreach." CWI boards have continued to follow her path to the current day.
Ruth Shinn, a former CWI board member, began attending meetings immediately after the group was formed. Through her position at the Women’s Bureau, she was able to provide CWI members with crucial information on upcoming legislation affecting women. She found CWI meetings extremely helpful because of the exchange of knowledge among members, many of whom worked in various organizations at the forefront of the feminist movement. Even in its earliest days, she added, CWI had a very important role in the dissemination of information on women’s issues. The high quality of speakers was a great draw for participants from government as well as non-government organizations, she said, noting that the excellent quality of programming has continued over CWI’s 30 year history.