THE PALMER HOUSE, CHICAGO - The NFRW was founded here.
Hundreds of independent Republican women’s clubs grew up around the nation in the years to come. For example, there were 140 clubs in Indiana alone by the late 1930s.
It was in 1938 that Marion Martin, assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee, called a meeting at the Palmer House in Chicago to organize these clubs into a national organization.
States in which Republican women’s clubs were organized on a “statewide” basis – with 60 percent of their counties organized – sent delegates and alternates to that meeting with a request to affiliate with such an organization.
The delegates adopted rules governing the establishment of a National Federation of Republican Women’s Clubs, with the following purposes:
"To foster and encourage loyalty to the Republican Party and the ideals for which it stands - to promote education along political lines - to encourage closer cooperation between independent groups and the regular party organization, which are working for the same objectives, namely sound government - to promote an interchange of ideas and experiences of various clubs to the end that the policies which have proven particularly effective in one state may be adopted in another - and to encourage a national attitude and national approach to the problems facing the Republican Party."
Eleven states became the charter states of NFRW - California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
At the age of 31, Joyce Arneill of Denver, Colo., was elected the first president of the Federation, and the organization began to grow.
At the time of NFRW’s founding, three states – Maryland, Virginia, and Alabama – had not even ratified the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting suffrage to women. The campaign of 1936 had reelected Franklin D. Roosevelt over Alf Landon with only two states – Maine and Vermont – going Republican. There were only six Republican governors, 89 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, and 16 in the Senate.
And yet the National Federation of Republican Women – born in a climate of defeat – grew in size and strength, providing a vehicle for women concerned with the direction of our government.
In 1940, the NFRW reported that, “Since the founding of the Federation, there has been a steady and consistent progress.” Thirty-four states, as well as the District of Columbia, were represented in the Federation through statewide federations and/or individual clubs.
In its earliest days, the Federation was a lobbying group. In 1940, NFRW enlisted the support of its members to urge their representatives in Washington to hold free and open hearings and a full investigation on the amendments to the Wagner Labor Relations Act. They wrote their representatives during National Debt Week to impress them with the fact that constituents were concerned about the national debt. And on June 10, 1940, NFRW President Joyce Arneill sent a letter to all club presidents urging their help in keeping Congress in session until the immediate crisis of the “foreign situation” was past.
By September 1, 1943, 23 statewide federations held membership in the national organization, along with 98 individual clubs from 16 states.
Today, the NFRW consists of approximately 100,000 members in about 1,825 local clubs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands. The goals of those women who met in Chicago in 1938 continue to be the goals of the NFRW – to encourage women’s participation in the governing of our nation, to elect Republicans to office at all levels, and to promote public awareness of the issues that shape America.
Thirty-three national conventions have been held in cities across the nation, with U.S. presidents and vice presidents, homemakers and first ladies, cabinet members and celebrities attending. Presidential candidates never miss these meetings. They know that many of those attending will be delegates to the Republican National Convention or will be instrumental in the delegate selection process. They know that these women are the Party’s grassroots activists.
Programs such as NFRW’s campaign management schools, women candidate seminars, and polling schools have trained literally thousands of Republican women and men to help elect GOP candidates, and communities throughout the nation have benefited from the volunteer services of NFRW’s Caring for America and Barbara Bush Literacy programs.
Millions of American women, ages 19 to 90, have helped shape our nation through wartime and peace, through depression and prosperity, through good times and bad – all through the National Federation of Republican Women.