The Founders and History of Women's Network
In 1977, attorney Barbara Mushkat read an article about an organization established specifically for New York businesswomen. Recognizing the dearth of organized support for Akron-area women, she told her then-law clerk Judy Nicely, “We need something like that here.”
Barbara and Judy decided to host a lunch. Each of them invited one woman that the other didn’t know. At the end of that first lunch, the four women set another lunch date, each promising to invite another new woman. Word started to spread among enthusiastic Akron-area women. Just one year later, founding members Barbara Mushkat, Judy Nicely, Kathryn Vegso, Pauline Russell, Sandy Edwards, Mary Babcox, JoAnn Tackovich, Carole Awender and Loretta Cole filed articles of incorporation with the state of Ohio to make Women’s Network an official organization.
In an interview for StoryCorps, America’s oral history project (http://www.storycorps.org/), Barbara and Judy recalled the climate for Akron businesswomen in 1977: Few social networking opportunities existed, and the ones that did exist catered to men. Women’s Network was needed all the more because associations like the Akron City Club and the Hill-Toppers Club at The University of Akron didn’t admit women as members. In those days, if a man invited a woman to lunch at the City Club, they both had to sit in the women’s dining room! It’s hard for us to imagine, but that was the reality for businesswomen as recently as the 1970s.
For some of the founding members, it was enough for Women's Network to help displaced homemakers and other women in need. By providing workshops, information and referral to other local women's organizations, Women's Network began reaching out to help women accomplish everything from leaving negative home situations to launching their own business. Breaking down socio-economic barriers has been and continues to be one of the main missions of Women's Network.
Kathryn Vegso, the first president of Women's Network, said, "Many young women had married, had the two cars in the garage and two children in school and then found themselves with no other goals for the 66% of the rest of their lives. Others faced the need to support their families with no skill and no one to guide them. ... Our goal as founders was not to become anti-male but rather to enlist community leaders to help make a difference while at the same time seeing the limitations placed on women in their need for economic equity and self-expression."
By 1985, Women’s Network had grown to 435 members and, in1997, the organization was 1,100 strong. Today, Women’s Network remains a valuable resource to area women. Its dedicated members continue to work to advance and support women in business, as well as within their communities and families. Women’s Network opens doors and helps members gain access to women leaders in our community.
Founders Judy and Barbara believe the real work of Women's Network remains to be done.
"The Network had gone way beyond our initial expectations," Judy said. "We've made great inroads...we need to make sure that people remain sensitive to women's issues... ."
Through the years, Women's Network has seen many faces come and go. We've laughed together, cried together, supported each other and found new ways to contribute to the social and economic success of our community. We've learned to manage our businesses and ourselves, relying on the strengths of our membership.
Not only has the organization continued to help women break "glass ceilings," it has also led them to personal victories with self-improvement programs, and to professional successes with mentoring programs for entreprenuers. Many of our members have beaten the five-year odds of staying in business--a true testimony to the organizations dedication to success and its reputation for support.
In honor of Barbara and Judy, why not invite a woman who isn’t yet familiar with Women’s Network to the next meeting you attend? We’re sure she’ll thank you, just as we all owe a huge thanks to Barbara and Judy.