History

In June 1978, a group of North Florida women were inspired to establish The Jacksonville Women's Network when they received a call for women leaders from a Tampa group called The Athena Society. Those women were:

Pat Ashworth*
Cecilia Bryant
Rosanne Hartwell *
Edna Saffy, Ph.D.* - a well-respected college professor, political activist and ardent feminist

All of the women were invited to a meeting in Tampa by Betty Castor, then a Florida State Senator.

Ms. Castor and others were looking to network with other women through the state to "ensure that succeeding generations (of women) have freedom of choice to devote themselves to being wives and mothers, to pursue a career, or to combine the two." So the group set off to Tampa to learn more.

In Dr. Saffy's words this is what followed:

Pat Ashworth, Cecilia Bryant, Rosanne Hartwell and Edna Saffy attended that meeting in Tampa and there met the women who were the leaders of the 1970's-businesswomen, political leaders, women whose names were known statewide - all in the setting of a luncheon at the Tower Club of Tampa.

The Tower Club, a place that only recently had allowed these Tampa women to become full members.

Now when we think back to those times - the 1970's - we recall that:
• In Jacksonville, the University Club was the only private club to allow women full membership
• The River Club, the Florida Yacht Club, Timaquana Country Club, the Seminole Club did not allow women members.
• Women were not even allowed to join the Civitan or Rotary Clubs!

In 1978:

• Women earned $.57 for each $1.00 men earned.
• Delores Pass Kesler was the only local woman who was president of a large business.
• Few women were members of the larger law firms since women had been admitted on an equal basis to the University of Florida Law School only during that decade.
• The "right to choose" - a woman's right to a legal abortion - had become a choice by the Supreme Court decision five years earlier in 1973.
• And the big issue of the day - the one that was the initial reason for the letter - The Equal Rights Amendment, "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied nor abridged by the United States or any other state on account of sex," was being debated.

Of course there were multiple organizations attempting to pass the ERA in Florida--groups like the National Organization for Women, the National Women's Political Caucus, Church Women United, and Planned Parenthood, but success did not seem eminent.

So the call came "to draw together a group of women who are not considered radical feminists, who can discuss women's issues with males without raising their hackels..." to quote Betty Castor's letter.

And it all started with lots of questions:
• We needed to talk to women from the public sector, women from the home front, women in business, in banking, in politics.
• Let's have a cocktail party (you remember cocktail parties).
• What about money needed to put together an organization?
• What about all this paper work, what about all the time we have to commit?
• Which women do we ask?
• Who do you know who is an effective woman? A well known woman? A woman for women?
• And she must be well thought of. She must be well placed. Must be successful. Not too radical, though.
• And she must be a woman "around whom other women rally."

And the four women - Pat Ashworth, Cecilia Bryant, Rosanne Hartwell, and Edna Saffy, worked hard, found the time, did the paperwork, underwrote the cost. Our group was committed, and we found the wonderful women.

We made organizational mistakes early on.
• We thought the four of us could act as a group presidency. That didn't work.
• We were drowning in paperwork. Then we had a brilliant idea! Cecilia Bryant was the attorney for Voyager Insurance and she was the only one among the four of us who had a secretary; consequently the four of us decided Cecilia would become the first president of the Network.
• At first, the four of us acted as an Executive Committee and one of our duties was membership. That didn't last long either. We learned quickly that the women in the various membership classifications should make those decisions.

We learned and the Network grew and flourished.

Years later our membership includes county judges, circuit judges, U.S. appeals judges, city councilwomen, congresswomen, attorneys, academics, physicians, stockbrokers, presidents of corporations, presidents of businesses, business owners, executive directors, public relations directors, media women, college presidents, authors, athletes and artists.

Thus, we met the call of the letter from Tampa, for we have created a network of Jacksonville women. We united a group of women leaders.

 

*Deceased