History: Fighting for the Right to Write

Siggy Buckley
Jacksonville Florida Branch

 

The National League of American Pen Women, Inc. is a professional organization of women in creative fields to support and promote creative excellence and professional standards in the Arts. The League reaches back for 120 years with a rich history of outstanding members and a colorful tapestry of talents in the fields of writing, art and music. In fact, the organization is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year with many events all over the country.

It was founded by five adventurous and ambitious female writers in 1897 because the literary world they wanted to conquer as journalists was an exclusively male domain like so many others. Let’s not forget, this was an era when women’s right to vote did not exist yet. Their indignation about such discrimination led them to act.

Now there are branches all over the United States with distinguished programs, such as competitions for young artists and writers, to fulfill our nonprofit mission to promote the arts.

With the League’s membership expanding, it appointed a Music Committee in 1916.

Pen Women have made history since their founding days. Pen Woman Anna Kelton Wiley went to jail in 1917 with 98 other women in an attempt to convince President Woodrow Wilson of the need for Women’s Suffrage.

25 years after its inception/foundation, the League’s artistic membership had sufficiently grown to warrant a League Art Show. One of its art members was young Vinnie Ream, the sculptor of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln still admired in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

It took until 1971, however, for women to be eventually approved for membership in the National Press Club (founded in 1919). “On February 22, 1971, 24 newswomen were approved for membership in the National Press Club, ending the all-male member’s tradition,” Mary Manning writes in her contribution to the Centennial Celebration Pen Woman magazine. This small version of the magazine is a priceless testimonial to the many accomplishments of the League; it gives a detailed overview of the Pen Women’s renowned history and endeavors.

In 1951, a mansion was purchased in Washington D.C which became the splendid Pen Arts Building. Within walking distance of the White House, art museums, and just down the street from the National Geographic Society, its location has a historic designation. Members are encouraged to visit it and its art collections, library and archives. Currently, there is an initiative to raise funds for much needed building repairs. (Read more about the Pen Arts Building and Art Museum.)

The Pen Women are proud to have many famous artists of international renown like Pearl Buck and Dorothy Parker among their ranks as well as several First Ladies like Florence Kling Harding, Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who are Honorary Members.

Once a Pen Woman – always a Pen Woman. Paula Harding, journalist and author, one of our own members here in Jacksonville, FL was a distinguished member for over 50 years. She held every office except that of the Treasurer, “because she had no talent for that.” She met personally with Honorary Member Pearl Buck when she visited Jacksonville. She is the perfect example extending her hand into the community well beyond her retirement writing a newsletter for the community she lived in until, sadly, she passed away in 2013.

“It’s a good feeling to belong to an organization as established (78 years!), as large (5,800 talented women!), and as prestigious as the League…not just the honor of being associated with some of the most talented creators.., not just the thrill of recognizing so many famous bylines…There is a delight…such a glow of admiration and affection that makes me proud to be able to say, “I am a Pen Woman”   – Elizabeth Shafer, 1975

The Pen Woman Centennial magazine revealed another true gem, the term “Penguin” and Penguin Parade, referring to the husbands of the Pen Women. When attending one of their famous dinners in evening gear, what should one call the attending spouses appropriately? Liboria Romano who was president of the Manhattan branch at the time, in 1949, came up with the idea to call them “Pen-guins.”

So much has changed since the first communication bulletin was printed and distributed in 1916 and the first quarterly magazine was issued in 1920. (These magazines can be read in the Pen Arts archives!) These days the League has fully embraced the digital era with a wonderful, informative national website (www.NLAPW.org). Most local branches have their own websites, e.g., Jacksonville, Florida Pen Women at www.JaxPenwomen.com.

“In an age where striving for excellence is a rare thing, what a privilege it is to belong to THE NATIONAL LEAGUE OF AMERICAN PEN WOMEN. TO THE FUTURE!”
– Sacramento branch, The Pen Woman Centennial magazine

This still holds true today. “One for all and all for one” is after all, our motto. And the owl is our mascot, the symbol of wisdom and femininity since ancient mythology and sacred to Athena, the Greek goddess of learning.