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Newsletter | Jul/Aug 2020


Our First Twenty-five Years


The early years were always the most exciting and tumultuous. To function as a group, we had to learn to iron out many differences and to learn to work together to meet our common goals. We needed to address the urging issues no matter how mundane, such as how to say no when asked to take care of the coffee/kitchen area, to answer the office phone when the secretary is off, to do the office printing on the clumsy diazo machine on top of getting less pay than their male colleagues with same qualifications.

We started our newsletter at the inception of the organization to reach as many as possible women architects in what was then the most efficient communication. It was discreet and reached women who might not want their offices to know about their involvement with a women's organization. It also served well for mothers who had two full time jobs and had no time to come to meetings but very interested in our activities.

We were fortunate to have introduced a nonhierarchical model of governance - the Steering Committee. This horizontal structure met the spirit of the group while, unlike the traditional male dominated organizations, gave everyone in the steering committee equal weight. The Steering Committee also served as a place to exercise leadership, not easily achieved by women at that time.

We started the mock exam to help members to pass the 12-hour long design exam. Many men and women had passed the other written exams for architecture licensing easily but not the grueling design exam due to probably its subjective grading. UC Berkeley agreed to let us use Wurster Hall for our mock exam and we used our own licensed women architects as critics. We spent easily over an hour on each examinee to make sure they did not miss the tricky points. It was very successful and was also opened to young men architects as well. Into its tenth year, most of our members were licensed and our mock exams were more men than women. We decided it was time to let this task migrate to become a program run by the AIA.

Architectural offices traditionally did not offer health insurance to their workers. We introduced the Health Plan to ensure our members were covered avoiding economic catastrophe when hit by major illnesses. This program served our members with or without prior health condition to get quality health insurance, and we also extended this insurance to young male architects who had problems getting insurance. The side benefit was that the Health Plan members added to our membership coffers as well.

To help younger architects to learn more about our industry, OWA has always arranged site visits to local new buildings and building construction sites by our members and others. These visits gave us a chance to talk to the design architects about their intention in designing and to meet contractors to learn about new construction methods and other related issues. These professional visits allowed us to see areas that were usually not open to public but vital to the working of the buildings.