CA Women Lead Herstory

California Elected Women’s Association for Education & Research (CEWAER)

In 1974, women leaders in California began to recognize a general dissatisfaction with the majority-male power structure, disproportionate numbers of elected and appointed women in the state, and a sense of loneliness trying to function in these isolated situations.  Many of them also recognized they were more than role models, and could leverage their experience and influence to help ALL women in the state.  This prompted the formation of an organization centered around support for women seeking leadership, California Elected Women’s Association for Education & Research (CEWAER).  It was the first of its kind in the nation. 

With the help of a $1000 grant from the Ms. FoundationCEWAER brought together elected and appointed women from different levels of government throughout the state.  In February 1974, the first group of six women (Pat Russell, Los Angeles Councilwoman; Helen Kennedy, San Gabriel Councilwoman; Marilyn Ryan, Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor; Helen Putnam, Petaluma Mayor; Renee Simon, Long Beach Councilwoman; and Anne Rudin, Sacramento Councilwoman) met to discuss the concept of the organization.  From this emerged a steering committee composed of the founding members, as well as Ginny Simms, Napa Supervisor; Yvonne Burke, US Congresswoman; Doris Davis, Compton Mayor; Dianne Feinstein, San Francisco Supervisor; Mary Henderson, Redwood City Vice Mayor; Maureen O’Connor, San Diego Councilwoman; and Suzanne Wilson, San Jose Councilwoman.  By April, the committee put together a meeting in Sacramento to see how many women would be interested in joining such an association.  Twenty-four women attended the meeting, and the steering committee pushed ahead with plans for a statewide conference.

The conference emphasized workshops on issues women were involved with on a daily basis. No one knew if any women would actually show, but they did!  Press and media response was remarkable, and even though no one had heard of the organization, the fact that women had gathered together to discuss such issues was newsworthy.

CEWAER’s talent roster began to build. Recruitment began immediately for resumes of qualified women to serve in state government.  Notices in newsletters, other publications, and word of mouth brought resumes pouring in. Pressure on recently elected Governor Jerry Brown resulted in a meeting at which a large binder of resumes was presented to him and his Appointments Secretary.  The governor was receptive, and ultimately appointed two CEWAER members to his cabinet – Claire Dedrick (Secretary of Resources), and Rose Bird (Secretary of Agriculture).

On the heels of this excitement, plans were underway for the first Annual Meeting.  At the event, workshops covered issues women leaders were facing in their communities.  It was a convening of women all over the state looking for a space to engage with each other and learn new ideas.  Following the successful event, many noted the value of meeting women with different experiences, exchanging ideas, and receiving support. 


California Women Lead

In 2007, the CEWAER Board of Directors decided that it was time to change the name to better reflect the purpose of the organization. California Women Lead was born.

California Women Lead has since strengthened its commitment to areas of policy, education, and research, and collaborated with other firms and organizations that share its goals and vision.  We strive toward a future in California where leaders reflect the diverse nature of all people who live and work in the state.  California Women Lead remains true to its CEWAER roots, and continues to be non-partisan, not endorsing candidates or partisan issues – a key component of vision the founding women had in 1974.

Today, California Women Lead's work continues.  In addition to our events, annual conference, and ever-growing training efforts, we continue to seek new, innovative ways to support women in achieving high-level career positions, successfully running for office, and obtaining appointments at the state and local levels. 

California Women Lead remains the only statewide, nonpartisan women’s organization committed to providing women the training and support they need to be successful in the political arena.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; 
indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead