CA Women Lead History

In 1974, a new organization called CEWAER (California Elected Women’s Association for Education & Research) was created in California – an association of elected and appointed women, and was the first of its kind nationwide. With the help of a $1000 grant from the Ms. Foundation, CEWAER brought together elected and appointed from different levels of government scattered throughout the state. The need for a new organization seemed apparent for a long time, partly because of the general dissatisfaction with the male power structure, the disproportionate number of elected & appointed women in California and the sense of loneliness felt by women who were functioning in an isolated situation. Many women felt that elected & appointed women were more than role models, that they could use their influence and clout to help the aspirations of all women. And women recognized that they needed supporters, buddies and a communication network – in other words, the counterpart to the “old boys club.”

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; Anne Rudin, Sacramento Councilwoman) met in February 1974 to discuss the concept of the organization. From this emerged a steering committee composed of Pat Russell, Helen Kennedy, Marilyn Ryan, Helen Putnam, Renee Simon, Anne Rudin, Napa Supervisor Ginny Simms, US Congresswoman Yvonne Burke, Compton Mayor Doris Davis, San Francisco Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, Redwood City Vice Mayor Mary Henderson, San Diego Councilwoman Maureen O’Connor and San Jose Councilwoman Suzanne Wilson which laid plans for a meeting in Sacramento in early April to see how many women would be interested in such an association. Twenty-four women attended the Sacramento meeting, and the steering committee pushed ahead with plans for a conference.

The conference emphasized workshops planned around issues women were involved with on a daily basis. No one knew if any women would actually show, but not only did women show up, there was a constant flow of them. Press and media response was remarkable. Even though no one had heard of the organization, the fact that women had gathered together to discuss such issues was newsworthy and important.

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. There was no question that this governor was receptive to having women in his administration and he ultimately appointed two CEWAER members to his cabinet – Secretary of Resources Claire Dedrick and Secretary of Agriculture Rose Bird.

Plans were made for the first Annual Meeting which focused on the women who serve at the highest level in state government. Workshops were planned to cover issues that women leaders were facing in their own communities. The most consistent comment following the first annual meeting was the value of talking with each other, sharing problems and information, finding reinforcement and support.

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 strengthened its commitment in the areas of policy education & research and creating collaborations with organizations that share our goals and vision. We strive toward a future in California where leaders will reflect the diverse nature of all people who live and work in the state. California Women Lead remains true to the CEWAER roots and the organization continues to be non-partisan and does not endorse candidates or partisan issues – a key component of vision the founding women had in 1974.

Today, under-representation continues and women in California have not achieved parity. So our work continues. California Women Lead has members from all over the state, hosts training events statewide and has encouraged thousands of women to successfully run for office or apply for an appointment at the state or local level.

California Women Lead remains the only statewide, nonpartisan women’s organization in the state 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