Established in 1924, the Mississippi Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (BPW/MS) is a voluntary federation with an average membership of thirty clubs and is affiliated with the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, the first and largest US organization of career women. Many local clubs that eventually joined to form the BPW/MS grew out of the efforts of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). One of the first organizations catering to the needs of working women was established in Laurel in 1912 by women associated with the YWCA, with similar business clubs established in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Gulfport, Vicksburg, Clarksdale, and Meridian soon thereafter. Eighteen members from Mississippi clubs participated in the national federation’s 1919 charter meeting, and Mississippian Earlene White was elected vice president of the national organization.
The BPW/MS was formed to advance the cause of women working in white-collar jobs and to use their gains to help other women, their communities, and their country. Women had just won the right to vote, and the national and state BPW groups believed that organizing would enable women to take advantage of the opportunities available through the political process.
The organization sought to elevate the standards for women in business and in the professions, promote the interests and cooperation of business and professional women, and extend opportunities to business and professional women through industrial, scientific, and vocational education.
The BPW engaged in political activism, civic activities, health and wellness pursuits, and educational efforts. In the 1930s the BPW/MS worked to achieve gender equality in civil service and merit exams, gain equal pay for women, and restrict child labor. In later decades the organization took on issues such as increasing the number of women in public office and serving on juries, promoting laws against obscenity, and providing civic education via legislative forums on public safety and the environment. However, the BPW/MS remained silent or did very little in the civil rights movement, and although the national organization strongly backed passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, the Mississippi branch offered only tepid support because many of the women did not want to be dubbed feminists or “women’s libbers.”
The BPW/MS worked to improve health care facilities and create new ones and conducted educational sessions regarding health issues. In addition, members lobbied for the creation of a state medical school, efforts that reached fruition with the 1948 creation of the University of Mississippi School of Nursing and School of Medicine. The group also has a long tradition of encouraging women’s involvement in local school systems.
- Geline MacDonald Bowman and Earlene White, A History of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc., 1919–1944 (1944)
- Mariwyn D. Heath, A History of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc. (BPW/USA), vol. 3 (1994)
- History of the Mississippi Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, 1919–1950 (1951), 1950–1960 (1961)