Women in Preservation (WIP) is a formal gathering of women organized by an ad hoc group gathered occasionally for the sole purpose of producing the Women in Preservation Luncheon. As indicated in the histories written below, WIP first met in 1984 and has since lunched in 1985, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1998, and 2001.
Tradition was broken in 2002 by having a WIP Breakfast with guest speaker Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. After a too-long hiatus, in 2010 a breakfast featured Stephanie Meeks, the first woman president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Stephanie Toothman, Ph.D., associate director for cultural resources, National Park Service. Despite having reached and surpassed the goal of the first meeting in 1984—that a woman be considered for the position of president of the National Trust—we don’t intend to disband WIP! The keynote speaker for the 2013 breakfast was Rachel Jacobson, principal deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Department of the Interior.
For more information on WIP, to be added to the email list for upcoming events, or to become a sponsor (contributions help defray the cost of the event and provide scholarships for attendance and sponsor special guests), please contact:
In 1984 several women in historic preservation had lunch—Nellie Longsworth, Terry Morton, Leila Smith, and me. We were concerned because Michael Ainsley was leaving the presidency of the National Trust. We wanted to insure that women would be considered for the job. Not that a woman would necessarily be picked, but that she would be considered.
We formed a steering committee representing all aspects of preservation in the Washington, DC area- federal, state, and local. Fifty of us had lunch at the Arts Club. We came up with several names of women candidates for president of the National Trust. None were picked, but that didn’t daunt us. At least we had a great lunch. We got to know each other better. And we made the men in preservation a little nervous.
The next year we did it again. We had lunch at a women’s club, and about 75 women showed up. The following year it was at the Library of Congress, and nearly 100 women came. In 1987 we held it at the National Press Club, and well over 100 came.
After that, we stopped for a few years. Then in 1991 Jack Walter announced that he was stepping down as president of the National Trust. Our steering committee decided to re-institute the WIP lunch. This time we aren’t so optimistic. We know women who can do the job. But it will be hard to get one picked.
By coming together, however, women in preservation can show each other both who we are and how strong we can be. Indeed, women have always been the bedrock of preservation. All the grass roots movements have been filled with women. Those tennis shoes our grandmothers may or may not have worn are not jokes. They are truly symbols of courage and hard work.
In October 1991, the National Trust celebrated the 25th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act at its meeting in San Francisco. One memorable image at a plenary session was a man who proclaimed that the preservation movement had changed from being just a spotlight. He said it’s as if the stage lights had now gone up. Yet it was noticeable that most of the women were in the audience. Few women were on the stage.
A similar situation occurred earlier that year at the National Park Service’s 75th anniversary symposium in Vail, Colorado. The first announcement of the symposium listed no women speakers. The final program had only one as a plenary speaker. Plus me—and I spoke at a special luncheon arranged by the Garden Club of America
It is understandable and predictable that people tend to seek out people who are like themselves. That’s what men have been doing all along. Now, however, some women are starting to join their ranks. Will they make a difference? Or will women in positions of power continue to defer to powerful men? Are we more competitive with other women than we are with men?
This is my message of the day. Women need to help women. Indeed, not just women, but all people who are struggling to get ahead, whatever their race or ethnicity or, yes, gender. To get ahead, we don’t have to hurt anyone—including men. Indeed, we will continue to help the men we love and admire. But women also need to help each other.
I hope we have many more WIP lunches in the future. Someday we will have a woman president. Of the United States. And of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Times have changed in the 17 years since our first lunch. Women have served as chair of the National Trust’s Board of Directors (Nancy Campbell) and president of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (Judy Bittner). Women currently serve as chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (Cathryn Buford Slater), associate director of the National Park Service (Kate Stevenson), and Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places (Carol Shull).
Also several women serve as presidents and executive directors of national preservation organizations (Nancy Miller Schamu, NCSHPO; Susan West Montgomery, Preservation Action; Jere Gibber, National Preservation Institute; and Penny Jones, American Institute for Conservation, among others).
To update the history of our lunches—we held one in December 1993 in the House of Representatives, sponsored by the late Rep. Bruce Vento (D-MN); in December 1994 at the Almas Temple, cosponsored by the Woman’s Council on Energy and Environment; and in April 1998 at the House of Representatives, sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).
This year’s lunch is sponsored by Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO). He’s a preservationist as well as an egalitarian, progressive leader. And he’s also our first male speaker at a WIP lunch. Times have truly changed!