The Preeminent Leadership Network

Our History

In the 1970's, it was lonely - for women - on the way to the top. Men had old boy networks and mentors, opulent single-gender clubs and special golf hours, all venues for high-level deal making. Smart, ambitious women had nobody but themselves, and - as they were learning - other smart, ambitious women such as they.

The Women's Forum began in 1974, as the brainchild of Elinor Guggenheimer, a writer and later New York City Commissioner of Community affairs, who wanted to create an "unabashedly select organization" of women who would pool their collective clout. The farsighted, first-year Steering Committee specified that Forum membership should be limited, with special emphasis on pre-eminence and balance. Bring together women of diverse accomplishments in a comfortable, welcoming setting. Create a unique women's forum for the exchange of women's ideas and women's experiences, an environment where competition was checked at the door and friendships bloomed. By women getting to know their counterparts in different corporations and career fields, and by mining their mutual interests and attitudes, their voices could join in concert on issues confronting the total community.

News of the founding of this exciting organization spread across the Country - Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In fact, San Francisco had already birthed two groups: Women's Forum West and Professional Women's Alliance. Both organizations recognized that women increasingly wielded power in major segments of our society. Both hoped to pioneer ways in which to use that power not against - but in partnership with - men. Both believed this in turn could be the means of forging new alliances between the private and public realms. At the same time, the women understood that women's networks provided each of them opportunities to polish and enhance her own personal and professional strengths.

Membership was limited to women who had already achieved that level called 'success'. Yet there were so many incredibly supercharged, successful Bay Area women making things happen - in corporate community, in all professions, the arts, education, government and in the non profit sector - that it was stunning. Even more exciting were the stories of so many roads to the top or unusual career paths as women climbed aboard the power network.

San Francisco's two organizations joined forces to become "Women's Forum West, a professional women's alliance" in 1978 and in 1979 joined the New York Forum in what was to become the National Women's Forum, and now the International Women's Forum.

In 2012 Women's Forum West (WFW) became the International Women's Forum of Northern California (IWF-NorCal).

The Early Leader Series

In July 2014, the Early Leader Series was launched in our monthly newsletter to preserve the early history of our organization and to honor our founding members.   The impetus for this series was a spring meeting with several of these members who shared stories about the early days and described the challenges for women leaders in the 1960s & 1970s.  They all agreed on the importance of Women’s Forum West, now IWF, in both their professional and personal lives. Many of these early leaders remain active in IWF today.

These women were indeed pioneers breaking ground for other women to enter previously male dominated fields and supporting their colleagues in their leadership journey.  Since it has been more than 35 years since Women's Forum West began in the Bay area, it is important that members who were part of our early history tell their story and be recognized for their efforts.  So now each newsletter interview will be permanently located in our history section.  This will ensure that our early beginnings are preserved and that all members gain a perspective about these leaders and the evolution of women’s leadership in Northern California. 

2017 Early Leader Articles

March 2017 Mary Huss

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