During most of the 19th century, few women completed high school
and only daughters of the privileged or well educated had an
opportunity for a higher education. In 1881 seventeen women met
in Boston, Massachusetts, to discuss forming an association to help
other women. By earning a college degree, each had greatly
exceeded the educational prospects available for most women of
that time. This group formally organized a month later as the
Association of Collegiate Alumnae (ACA) . Its mission was to band
together to encourage other women to pursue the goals of a
college education, equity for all women and girls, lifelong
education and positive societal change.
The first ACA research survey studied the impact of higher
education upon the health of women. Contrary to statements
made by a prominent Boston physician, the study reached the
conclusion that a woman's health was not adversely effected by
attending college. ACA offered to admit branches as local
chapters of the parent organization, and South Dakota's first
branch was organized at Huron in 1917. Later the national
association's name was changed to American Association of
University Women (AAUW)
.In 1923 Lorena King Fairbanks invited 11 women to her home for
a March 18 organizational meeting. Included was Claire
wife of the president of Sioux Falls College. Sioux Falls became
the third branch in the state, and Lorena was elected its first
president. Early action by the new branch included a letter to
President Calvin Coolidge endorsing America's participation in
the League of Nations and the World Court.
In the 1930's the branch began a children's theater project,
surveyed recreation facilities available to girls 13 to 25, and
hosted local young women who were first-time voters. Some
branch meetings were held in nearby Glidden Hall. In the 1950's
one branch survey led to the opening of the Minnehaha Mental
Health Center, the first in the state, while a second survey
prompted the beginning of the public junior high school system.
With support from the branch, the first woman was elected to the
Sioux Falls School Board. Over the years the branch has raised
more than $200,000 for scholarships for women to attend the
University of Sioux Falls and other colleges.
Since its modest beginnings in 1881, AAUW has been a catalyst
for change. It continues to contribute to a more promising future
for women and girls and to promote a powerful voice on their behalf.