Business & Professional Women’s Groups

In the Beginning

In the first decade of the 20th century, many began to fight the battle of women running businesses or trades as a profession.  A 1902 city directory began to list women’s occupations as stenographers, telephone operators, or business owners such as milliners, florists, or hair “dressers.”

Heading from a 1912 Alexandria Times-Tribune Column

Around the 1920s, women in the community began to voice their interest in being included in business-related groups. A June 16, 1923, article on the Alexandria Business Association in the Alexandria Times-Tribune noted that “…two very charming and handsome young businesswomen” were not invited to a business luncheon hosted at the Lippincott Glass Factory. When these women voiced their concerns, the article noted that the oversight was “a fatal mistake on the part of the president and secretary of Alexandria Business Association.”

Women Organized

In 1925, the women of Alexandria formed the Business and Professional Women’s Club. Ethel McKinley was elected its first president, Dr. E.P. Stackhouse as vice president, Mrs. C.E. Richmond as secretary, and Edith Perdue as treasurer. This group focused on the various women’s civic and educational clubs.

The Women’s Business and Professional Association of Alexandria began in 1935. This group was a local chapter of a national organization with a motto of “Better Business Women for a Better Business World.” Their goal was to set a clear “understanding of women’s problems in business and professional pursuits.”

Photo: Indiana Bell Office, Alexandria, IN, ca 1900

Elsie Foster was the original temporary chairman, and Louise Miller was the secretary.  This organization was later known as the Business and Professional Women’s Group or BPW.

In its early stages, the BPW held meetings on “Our Town’s Business” and “My Business and Yours.” These programs focused on the local economic life and how women and their fortunes were closely tied to the economic and social forces in the community.

Another BPW topic in the 1940s was “Intelligent Voting.” This program discussed the need to “…break away from all family prejudices” to form an “intelligent study of factual data concerning a candidate’s previous political record.” The goal was to learn how to separate political propaganda from the facts.

The BPW has recognized a Woman of the Year for women who distinguished themselves as business and civic leaders. Examples of past recipients include Erlene Burdsall, Alma Jones, Nancy Norris, Marilyn Moore, Ferman Johnson, and Carol Sue Smith. They also recognized specific women civic leaders (such as Daisy Barnett) with a Humanitarian of the Year award.

The American Association of Business and Professional Women formed in Alexandria in 1978. Over the years, this local chapter of a national group has offered programs and many scholarships to local high school students.

The 21st-century women owe much to these forerunners of the business and professional world. We look forward to seeing how the next generation of professionals changes and grows as our local economy intersects and intertwines with ever-growing national and global economies.