History

Tish and LaurieWho we are:

OWL was founded by Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields in 1980 immediately following the White House Mini-Conference on Older Women in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Since its beginning, OWL has been a reliable and consistent voice for mid-life and older women.  Our first national agenda focused on Social Security, pensions, and access to health insurance. Over time, we have expanded our focus, but have never lost sight of these essential core issues.

OWL works to provide mutual support for its members, to achieve economic and social equity for its constituents, and to serve as the bridge between women’s groups and organizations representing the aging.

Wasserman Schultz
Today, OWL continues to be the only national membership organization that advocates solely from the perspective of the now nearly 70 million over 40—-a demographic that is the strongest voting bloc in almost any election.  In its 33 years, OWL has been a driving force behind a number of important advances in state and national policies.


Our Accomplishments:

The 1980’s
•  OWL developed model legislation “The Health Insurance Rights Act” which is adopted by Louisiana, Oregon, Maryland and Kansas. 
•  OWL celebrated passage of the Retirement Equity Act which it pushed for in its infancy.
•  OWL initiated an educational and advocacy campaign which resulted in the passage of COBRA – federal law that offered workers access to continued coverage after their employer -sponsored health coverage ends.
•  OWL researched, published and promoted the first of our 23 signature Mother’s Day reports (“Give ‘Em Health”).
•  OWL testified in the House Select Committee on Aging hearings on older women.
•  OWL initiated a task force of unions, health care providers, women and aging organizations and researchers to examine the health care workforce.
•  OWL testified before Congress on the Older Worker’s Benefit Protection Act which was signed into law in 1990—a key expansion of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The 1990’s  
•  OWL wrote and distributed over 60,000 copies of educational materials on COBRA health care continuation through the Health Insurance Continuation Project.  The materials included a packet for lawyers in taking on health care continuation cases.
•  OWL’s Mother’s Day Report on caregiving (“The Daughter Track”) inspired Newsweek to publish a cover story on the topic and identified OWL as the only national organization that consistently focused on the issue of caregiving and the plight of caregivers.
•  OWL organized the Campaign for Women’s Health joined by 40 national women’s organizations and unions. 
•  OWL’s Mother’s Day report “Paying for Prejudice:  A Report on Midlife and Older women in America’s Labor Force” was issued; our legislative staff testified on age and sex discrimination faced by older women.
•  OWL was asked to serve on the Congressional Study Group on women’s retirement income. 
•  OWL developed a national directory of caregiving programs and best practices.
•  OWL founded a pension counseling center in St Louis (Gateway St. Louis OWL chapter) with a grant from the Administration on Aging.
•  OWL drafted model legislation to fight violence and financial abuse against women – introduced in the House by Rep. Maloney and the Senate by Senator Durbin.
•  OWL was solicited by The White House to host a town meeting on Social Security with President Clinton and SSA Commissioner Kenneth Apfel.

OWL Equal Pay The 2000’s
•  OWL supporters nationwide were actively involved in coalitions to advocate for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
•  OWL members advocated for Elder Justice Act.
•  OWL fought for passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.
•  OWL continued to provide leadership on strengthening Social Security through its Social Security Matters campaign.
• OWL partnered with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Amgen in research and education focused on menopause and osteoporosis.


2014 and Beyond!

Building upon a proud and accomplished past, OWL continues to make important contributions to the well-being of women 40+. We’re making the most of our seat at the table for discussions of such critical issues as Social Security, healthcare, and equality in the workplace. A recently restructured board, revamped membership process, and an active digital presence have made today’s OWL a leaner and more effective organization, ideally poised to continue our outreach and advocacy. Because there is still work to be done.

While we’ve seen tremendous progress since our founding, too many women still face financial insecurity in their later years – the result of a lifetime of underemployment, low wages, and taking time out of the workforce to serve as unpaid caregivers. This means that policy makers still need to be reminded that:

• The wage disparity between women and men persists.
• The median income for women over 65 is just $15,000 a year.
• In 2011, Social Security kept roughly 38% of older women out of poverty, yet they are still more likely to be in poverty than are older men.

OWL remains the only national organization that focuses solely on issues affecting the economic security, access to appropriate and affordable health care and quality of life for women as they age. As the preeminent resource at the intersection of aging and women’s policies, it is well respected for the quality and integrity of its work, access to decision makers and its practical approach.

Ruth and Michelle Obama

OWL March