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If I am not for myself who will be for me?

by Naomi Cavalier

This year is the twentieth anniversary of the Older Women's League (OWL), a national organization founded by the late Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields of Oakland California, and dedicated to the political and economic concerns of women over fifty while also providing an introduction for younger women interested in what lies ahead. 

     In the Seventies, when Sommers and Shields came on the scene, the value of women was still tied like a tin can to their age. If women dared to grow old in spite of society's disapproval, their concerns more or less vanished from the national radar screen. Tired of this insult and of being marginalized, the founders, both middle-aged, reacted like latter day suffragettes and rallied older women on their own behalf into a precursor of OWL, the Displaced Homemaker's Network. A network offering support, skills and direction to women widowed or divorced after years as homemakers and often discarded like obsolete washing machines.

     Less than a decade later, these two indomitable women did it again. This time by organizing the Older Women's League as a forum for the relatively unheard voices of women over fifty. This forum has become a political force with national headquarters in Washington and chapters all over the country addressing issues such as Medicare, Social Security and affordable housing.  In 1999, due largely to ongoing efforts by OWL members, legislation benefiting older women was passed into law. Aside from OWL's political and economic focus, the social aspect of membership is worth considering. Friendships develop, laughs are shared and there is usually a party or two. Today, OWL has sixty one chapters and, as of March '99, six thousand members including myself and Betty Soldz, a regular contributor to this website and a board member of the Ohlone east bay chapter in Oakland, CA.

     Where we women well beyond youth are concerned, Hillel, a famous Jewish scholar certainly got it right when he said, "If I am not for myself who will be for me?"


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