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Women's Action Alliance records

Identifier: SSC-MS-00363

Scope and Contents

The breadth and scope of the WAA projects are indicative of the diversity of the women's movement itself. The most successful projects include the Information and Reference Service, the Non-Sexist Childhood Development Project (NSCD), and the National Women's Agenda and Women's Centers Projects.

The WAA's main modus operandi was to identify a problem, question, or population with specific needs; formulate and distribute a questionnaire exploring the activities and needs of groups or individuals concerned with the issue in question; and summarize the results in a directory, guide, or manual. As a result, scattered throughout the records of the WAA and its many initiatives are caches of replies, reports, and data on far-ranging subjects.

A significant proportion of this material documents the activities of a large number of women's centers, projects, and services across the U.S. and abroad, from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. By 1974 the WAA had begun to collect and preserve files tracking such activities, while the production of the "Practical Guide to the Women's Movement" and subsequent directories, organized both by geographic location and by program area, also involved the distribution and return of questionnaires in which women's centers and service organizations outlined their services, objectives, and goals. Vertical files in the reference collections of the WAA library, organized alphabetically by state and generated in connection with the "Practical Guide to the Women's Movement," preserve these profiles together with associated correspondence and literature. Another set, generated by the Women's Center Project, is housed with the records of that initiative.

The WAA's work with women's centers illustrates the organization's Byzantine nature, in that some of the WAA's initiatives were conceived by one department, launched by another, and administered by a third, with records and files shared and transferred between offices. Thus, in some cases, records pertaining to a significant issue embraced by the WAA are distributed throughout several series. For example, from the National Women's Agenda Project (SERIES II. PROJECTS) sprung the idea to create a networking service and national directory for local women's centers across the country. When the NWAP folded in 1980, the "Women's Centers Project" was created to take its place, offering networking and technical assistance programs. Eventually, the directory was compiled and printed. The organizational profiles gathered in this effort were preserved in the WAA library (SERIES III. RESOURCES-Library-Reference collections-Vertical files), while material pertaining to the actual publication, Women Helping Women: A State-by-State Directory of Services (1981) is found in SERIES III. RESOURCES-Library-Publications.

As the organization evolved and matured, projects were increasingly launched by the WAA and then handed off to largely independent staff who carried them through. For that reason, records of some WAA programs (e.g. Buddies Exploring Science Together (BEST) and the Women and AIDS project) are either represented by a very small amount of material, or not represented at all. By 1993, for example, of the WAA's fifteen paid staff people, six worked outside the organization's Lexington Avenue headquarters, in the South Bronx office of the Citizens Advice Bureau, Brooklyn's Medgar Evers College, and even Mujeres Latinos en Accion, based in Chicago, though there are no materials preserved here from the South Bronx, Brooklyn or Chicago personnel. For these reasons, the records fully document the organization's growth and development through the 1970s and 1980s, but contain comparatively little material from the 1990s. Records pertaining to the dissolution of the WAA will not be available until 2004, after they are released by the law firm that served the organization.

In as many places as possible, elements of the WAA's filing system were preserved. For example, the general subject files kept by the Executive Director's office, as well as those kept by Ruth Abram, arrived nearly intact, and each set has been left in its original order. A large series of files containing information on potential funders has also been preserved (SERIES I. ADMINISTRATION-Development and fundraising). By and large, however, the records of the various WAA projects and programs came in different levels of organization, reflecting in part the decentralized structure of the organization. In addition, the records reflect the idiosyncrasies of an ever-changing cast of project directors and administrative assistants. The present arrangement of the records, especially in the case of administrative files, reflect our effort to achieve some consistency across and between programs.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1970 - 1996


Conditions Governing Access

For Staff files: researchers must sign Access Agreement form agreeing to not identify living persons without their permission.

  1. Researchers wishing to consult Boxes 256-267, which includes incoming and outgoing reference correspondence, must sign an Access Agreement Form in which they agree to refrain from making public any information that would identify a correspondent.
  2. Box 46, which contains information on staff terminations and evaluations, was formerly closed to research until 2020.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that they own copyright, the Women's Action Alliance has retained copyright in their works donated to Smith College. Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by the Women's Action Alliance, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

The Women's Action Alliance (WAA) was founded in 1971 to coordinate resources for organizations and individuals involved in the women's movement on the grass-roots level. Founders included Gloria Steinem (see also the Gloria Steinem Papers), Brenda Feigen, and Catherine Samuels. The organization's original mission was "to stimulate and assist women at the local level to organize around specific action projects aimed at eliminating concrete manifestations of economic and social discrimination." Conceived of as an advisory service that could provide back-up support, "the choice and objectives and basic strategy" of such initiatives would be "made by the group in every case."

In the early years, several well-known figures - including Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Maya Miller -- were appointed to the Alliance's board of directors. While these figures contributed largely just the weight of their association, other board members -- like Franklin Thomas and Cory Eklund -- gave a great deal of energy to the Alliance. Over the years, Gloria Steinem's efforts were considerable, and at times crucial, to the organization's very survival. Steinem chaired the board from l97l to l978 and subsequently assisted on fundraising projects benefiting the Alliance.

During the first three years of the Alliance, the executive directors changed almost annually, with Brenda Feigen, Grace Helen McCabe, and Marlene Krauss serving. In l974 the WAA hired Ruth J. Abram, formerly a project director with the American Civil Liberties Union and executive director of the Norman Foundation. Abram, who served for five years, developed close ties to the foundation and corporate grants community, and their grants to the Alliance were often their first to a feminist organization. Her fundraising expertise resulted in a more than six-fold increase in the organization's budget. During Abram's tenure, the National Women's Agenda Coalition, Women at Work Fairs, and the Women's History Institute were organized.

Abram resigned in 1979 and was succeeded by Arlie C. Scott. Coming to the WAA after a long association with the National Organization for Women, including a term as national vice president, Scott saw the Alliance through a period of increasingly shrinking budgets. Staff and project plans shrunk as well. In early l982, after two years as executive director, Scott took an extended leave of absence from the WAA, never to return.

Sylvia Kramer was hired as executive director in the fall of l982. As the Alliance started its second decade, Kramer, a former teacher, placed greater emphasis on educational programs directed at older children (e.g. the Computer Equity Project and the Portable Women's History Project). The organization continued to focus on women's centers and economic opportunity for women as well. By the late 1980s, the WAA had three major arms: the Non-Sexist Childhood Development Project (under whose auspices projects like the 1988 study of "Children of Single Parents in the Schools" were carried out), the Women's Centers Project (the WAA helped establish the National Association of Women's Centers in 1986), and Information Services, which continued to provide reference and referral services for WAA's broad constituency.

Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing on through the 1990s, the WAA began to place greater emphasis on women's health issues, launching initiatives such as the 1987-88 Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Project, the Women's Alcohol and Drug Education Project, the Resource Mothers Program, and the Women's Centers and AIDS Project. Shazia Rafi became Executive Director in 1991.

Karel R. Amarath became the WAA's final executive director in 1993. Amarath worked with the Board of Directors to restructure the organization, making it more internally organized and fiscally aware. Gender equity initiatives continued to emphasize education and health care. The Computer Equity Expert Project (C.E.E.P) targeted more than 200 schools nationwide, reaching nearly 10,000 educators and almost 80,000 students. The Task Force on Integrated Projects (T.F.I.P) worked with pregnant and parenting adolescent and adult single parent mothers and their children, while the Women's Alcohol & Drug Education Project continued to assist African-American and Caribbean women, and Latinas, reaching more than four hundred women and girls annually.

By the mid-1990s, the WAA had become largely dependent on New York City and state budgets for its funding. The organization was dealt a severe blow in August 1995, when, on the eve of their twenty-fifth anniversary, their funding was cut by 65% with just thirty days notice. The Women's Alcohol and Drug Education Project, for example, one of the WAA's most successful programs at that time, lost $350,000 in funding, spelling the end of some twenty training sites in New York State. With more than half of their support removed, the organization hired development consultants to try to replace the funding, meanwhile looking for "neighbors" with whom to share space and rent. However, the WAA ultimately found it impossible to recover; in June 1997, by a vote of the Board of Directors, the Women's Action Alliance was dissolved.


152.125 linear feet (329 containers)

0.01291 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



Women's advocacy organization and feminist collective. The extensive WAA records are a rich source of information about the contemporary women's movement and the dynamics of race and class within it. The organization's projects focused on such issues as coalition-building among women's groups, women's economic development, teenage pregnancy prevention, and non-sexist child development. The WAA Records document the administration of the organization, its projects, and its role as a women's information clearinghouse. Materials include correspondence, publications, resource files, photographs, and audiovisual materials.


This collection is organized into five series:

  1. I. Administration
  2. II. Projects
  3. III. Resources
  4. IV. Photographs
  5. V. Audiovisual Material

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

This collection contains materials received from the donor in digital form that are not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request access to this digital content.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Women's Action Alliance, 1987-2003.

Existence and Location of Copies

The collection was microfilmed by Lexus Nexus in 2011 and a copy is included in the collection.

Related Material

Related material can be found in the Gloria Steinem Papers, Sophia Smith Collection

Processing Information

Processed by Marla Miller and Amanda Izzo, 2000.

The contents of computer media in this collection has been copied to networked storage for preservation and access; the original directory and file structure was retained and file lists were created.

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. A full crosswalk of old to new numbers is available.

Women's Action Alliance records
Finding Aid
Marla Miller
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss76 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:23-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2020-07-02: Description added for born-digital content.
  • 2021-07-014: Content description added from accession inventory
  • 2023-02-22: Integrated inventories in appropriate series.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063