The Women's Forum is a community where pre-eminent New York women leaders of diverse achievement come together to make a difference for each other and to take an active, leadership role in matters of importance to them.
In late summer of 1973, a number of New York City's most prominent women were contacted by Elinor Guggenheimer, a writer and civic leader who later served as New York City's Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, and asked if they wished to join an organization of women who would pool their collective clout. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and by January 1974 the Women's Forum held its first meeting.
The early Steering Committee that guided the Forum during its first year specified that membership should be limited, with emphasis on pre-eminence and balance. The stated goal was to "bring together women of diverse accomplishments and provide them with a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences. By thus becoming aware of their counterparts in all fields, and of mutual interests and attitudes, they can, when desired, speak in concert on issues confronting the total community" and in the process begin to create their own networks of power and communication.
Although the Forum has traditionally refrained from partisan political stands, it did lobby effectively in 1974 for state and Congressional assistance to New York City and in 1978 for extension of the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. As part of the campaign for New York City, the Forum joined with the Coalition of Black Women and the Conference of Puerto Rican Women in forming WUNY (Women United for New York) to promote unity and mutual support among the city's female leadership.
The Forum conducts a wide variety of programs featuring leaders in the field of public affairs, industry, government, science and the arts-including speakers drawn from the Forum's membership. Small Dinners at members' homes have enabled members to share with one another their personal experiences as trailblazers.
The Education Fund of the Women's Forum is a 501(c)3 charitable and educational arm of the Women's Forum. Since 1987, it has offered annual grants to mature women who, after an interruption in their education, are now pursuing undergraduate college degrees. The Education Fund also holds symposiums (which are open to the public) on important social and economic topics of the day.
The Corporate Board Initiative was inaugurated in 2011 to help generate balance on corporate boards, through two key platforms: an outreach to senior game changers at leading companies and a database of uniquely vetted qualified women for board positions.
The New York-based group encouraged women leaders in other cities and countries to form similar organizations. In 1979 a meeting in New York City launched the National Women's Forum (now International), which now has sixty-five affiliated groups throughout the world. Each fall, a global summit brings together many hundreds of forum members in what has become an international network of women leaders. Throughout the year, "Cornerstone Conferences" are scheduled around the world. Affiliated groups are completely autonomous, but have similar exacting standards for membership.