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History & Highlights

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History & Highlights

Women’s Bureau: 40 Years and Going Strong!

In 1973, Governor Otis Bowen commissioned a study on the Status of Women in Indiana. The study involved hearings all over the state. Locally, Mayor Ivan Lebamoff established the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women in Fort Wayne, under the leadership of Councilwomen Vivian Schmidt and Norma Roembke. The major recommendation after the study was to create an agency to respond to the findings of the report and to serve as an advocate for women in all areas of life including employment, government, education, social services, law and religion. As a result, The Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau was established in February of 1975 as part of the city government.

Harriet Miller had been working on the mayor’s staff since 1974 as the city’s first Weed Control Director, or “weed witch” as she was sometimes called. With the advent of the Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau (FWWB), Mayor Lebamoff appointed Harriet as the director of this new agency. The first year of the FWWB began with a budget of only $16,000.

1975 was an election year and Lebamoff lost. By the end of 1975, the FWWB was being continuously attacked by a vocal group of citizens who wanted to take away the meager budget and a new mayor who wanted to take away most of the functions. So, in January 1976, the FWWB and Harriet Miller severed ties with the city and the Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau became a not-for-profit, independent organization.

Here are just a few of the many highlights over the last 40 years:

  • Laurie Shields, national organizer and Older Women’s League President, was guest speaker at the Displaced Homemaker Conference and coverage was syndicated nationwide.
  • FWWB trainers went into the coalmines to conduct a series of training seminars for supervisors who had made the decision to hire female coal miners and integrate them into a traditionally all-male industry. Jari Himes, education specialist, developed the model program, preparing women for non-traditional jobs.
  • The first “Run, Jane, Run” event was created with radio station 97.3 WMEE. The three-day event for women in sports athletic competition grew into an 11-day, 19-sport festival attracting 3,000 participants to Fort Wayne each September. Run, Jane, Run, Inc. was established in 1986 as a separate not-for-profit agency. Over the next 20 years, Run, Jane, Run grew into one of the largest amateur multi-sport events for women in the nation, with franchises run by non-for-profit organizations in South Bend, Grand Rapids, Louisville, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tulsa and Englewood, N.J.
  • The Indiana Office of Occupational Development funded Opening Trade Barriers (OTB) to eliminate artificial employment barriers for women age 16 to 24, especially in the skilled trades.
  • The independent Rape Crisis Center approached the FWWB and requested us to take the program under our administration. It became the Rape Awareness Program.
  • Gloria Steinem, founder and editor of Ms. Magazine, was guest speaker at a 1982 benefit dinner.
  • FWWB co-sponsored the Employment Expo with the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.
  • FWWB organized the Women’s Bureau Owners’ Association with the Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce.
  • FWWB created Work Readiness and Teen Parenting youth programs. Teen Parenting was expanded into a full-semester course available to Fort Wayne Community Schools’ high schools.
  • The Women In Transition (WIT) model self-sufficiency course for economically disadvantaged women reached Allen, DeKalb and Wells counties, as well as female inmates in the county jails.
  • It’s a Man’s World Unless Women Vote conference focused on economic equality, reproductive freedom, peace, voter registration, candidate contact and communication education.
  • The Single Parents and Homemakers Project provided vocational educational information and assistance while serving a nine county area of northeast Indiana.
  • The Career Development Center, Women’s Enterprise and the International Women’s Club were established.
  • Peer Counseling expanded to a nine county area.
  • The Governor’s Showcase Award was received for innovation, positive image building, accountability and interagency cooperation.
  • Addicted Women and Children (AWAC) opened its doors with one client (this was the forerunner of the Transitions program).
  • The radKids program joined Assault Awareness for Teens and Getting Ready for College in our menu of assault prevention programs for kids from grade school through college.
  • In 2009, the Women’s Bureau mission statement changed to “Advancing Women Through Advocacy, Education and Economic Empowerment.”
  • The Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau changed its name to the Women’s Bureau, Inc. in 2010.
  • In September 2010, 967 walkers in the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event put the Women’s Bureau in the Guinness World Record book as “High Heeled Record Holders.”
  • In June 2011, the Women’s Bureau moved to its new headquarters at 2417 Fairfield, which allows all programs to be under one roof for the first time in more than 20 years.
  • Project C.A.R.E. was created in Spring 2011 to advance people with disabilities through acknowledgement, empowerment and education to reduce the risk of sexual assault.
  • In May 2013, Dress for Success® Fort Wayne began as an affiliate of the successful international organization that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.