1974 – The Beginning – Washington DC Conference

‘The National Congress of Neighborhood Women began partly as a defense of the values of neighborhood women, particularly white, working-class, ethnic women, who in the 1970’s were feeling misunderstood and unheard. Sporadic protest in white ethnic neighborhoods against school busing, racial integration of housing, or the bulldozing of white ethnic homes in the name of urban renewal and planning had sometimes been ugly. The media and the country seemed to have labeled white ethnics racist, reactionary, violent, or ignorant. The women were convinced that this was not a fair picture of their families and friends. No one was looking behind these outbreaks to the long, patient, non-racist efforts most white ethnics had made to preserve deeply held values of home, family, work and the way of life that expressed them. Few understood the pressures that way of life was under. And few appreciated the religious values that opposed both racism and violence.

In 1974, Barbara Mikulski, now a U.S. Senator from Maryland, Nancy Seifer, who later wrote Nobody Speaks for Me, and Jan Peterson, Director of the Conselyea Block Association Education Action Center (a CAP program in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, NY) prevailed on Monsignor Geno Baroni, then head of the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs, to call a conference of neighborhood women leaders and community organizers in Washington. Their agenda was to consider the role of neighborhood women in the neighborhood movement. This small conference of 30 led to a larger assembly of 150 mostly white ethnic women. The women at the second meeting voted to form an organization of their own that would affirm their values and roles, help them improve their lives and neighborhoods, and represent neighborhood women accurately to the world at large. It was decided that the national office should be located in a poor and working-class neighborhood. Williamsburg-Greenpoint in Brooklyn was selected because the local women leaders and Jan Peterson, who already had a base there, requested that it do so. Jan, a few months later, found a way to finance a national staff for the new organization by using CETA public service job funds. A group of local women raised rent for a storefront office from cake sales. Monsignor Baroni gave his blessing, and the National Congress of Neighborhood Women was born.’

NCNW Training Sourcebook, 1993

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