The role of women in the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) has evolved dramatically during the Society's 60-year history, from virtual invisibility, to token representation, to major participation. This evolution mirrors, to a large degree, changes in the economic and political status of women in the United States during the second half of the twentieth century, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years. The objective of this article is to examine women's evolving role in ASPA during the 1990s. The analysis updates an earlier assessment by the author on women's status in ASPA during the Society's first 50 years, 1939-1989 (Rubin 1990). This update shows that women have continued to increase their proportion of membership in the organization and have achieved full participation in the governance of ASPA during the 1990s. However, the update also shows that women have not yet achieved parity with their male colleagues in scholarly contributions to public administration.
At the time of ASPA's founding 60 years ago, 28 percent of adult women in the United States were part of the nation's civilian labor force. Women who were employed outside of the home generally held jobs as clerk-typists, secretaries, nurses, and teachers--all "helping" professions. By 1999, the proportion of adult women in the labor force more than doubled its 1940 level to 60 percent.
In the 1990s, women were employed not only in the helping professions, but also in jobs previously filled only by men, such as: police officers, astronauts, and generals in the armed forces. Women served as presidents of public and private universities and not-for-profit organizations and as chief executive officers of major corporations such as Hewlett Packard and Mattel. Even Blondie now has a career after spending decades in her kitchen making sandwiches for Dagwood. And Barbie has career clothes.
In the political realm, women also made progress during the 1990s. In 1999, women held statewide elected executive offices across the U.S., with women filling 28 percent of available positions (CAWP 1999). This compares with 7 percent in 1969 and just 13 percent as recently as 1988.
Women held 65 of the 535 seats in the 106th U.S. Congress (1999-2001)--nine of the 100 seats in the Senate and 56 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. This representation is obviously far below the percentage of the electorate composed of women (53 percent). But female representation in the 106th Congress was more than double that in the 100th Congress (25 women in 1987-89) and 7 times that in the 77th Congress (10 women in 1939-41).
In spite of the economic and political progress that women made in the 1990s, they continue to be underrepresented in many occupations and industries, holding relatively few of the highly visible decision-making positions in both the public and private sectors.
Women in ASPA: The Framework
In ASPA, the evolving role of women can be examined within the historical framework established by Darrell Pugh in Looking Back--Moving Forward (1988). Pugh divides the history of the Society into five periods: 1) the formative years (1939-1955); 2) the pursuit of independence (1955-1963); 3) the maturation of ASPA and public administration (1964-1972); 4) new directions (1972-1980); and 5) a decade of doubts (1980s).
The assessment of women's evolving role in ASPA during these five periods was presented in this author's 1990 PAR article (Rubin, 1990). The current article provides an update of women's progress in ASPA in the 1990s, in what might be called the Society's sixth period--reinvention and restructuring.
Following the template of the 1990 article, the progress of women in ASPA during the 1990s is traced using two indicators. The first tracks women's membership in the Society and in its governance; the second tracks the involvement of women in ASPA's ongoing efforts to support the improvement of public administration through research and scholarship. Although this is not a neat dichotomy because many women are involved in both aspects of the Society, it provides an analytic framework within which women's changing role in ASPA can be studied.
It was noted in this author's 1990 article that the data needed to conduct a 50-year retrospective were difficult to obtain and, in some cases, nonexistent. Data available for studying the role of women in ASPA during the 1990s still presented some problems that necessitated making assumptions and using gender-sorting rules when gender was not obvious. These assumptions and rules and other data issues are discussed in subsequent sections of this article.
Women in ASPA: Membership and Participation in the Society's Governance
The first indicator used in this study to measure women's changing role in ASPA relates to their membership in the organization and to their participation in its governance.
Membership in ASPA
Of the more than fifty charter members of ASPA, only one was a woman. No other data are available to document the extent of female membership in ASPA during the Society's first three periods, spanning the years 1939 through 1971. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that while women were members during ASPA's first three periods, they were virtually invisible in the organization prior to its fourth period, New Directions (1972-1980). This observation was made by Don Stone, a founder of ASPA and a longtime supporter of women in the profession. His perspective related to ASPA's governance and to its efforts to support improvements in public administration through research and scholarship.
Not only were few women involved in ASPA during its early phases, but those who were involved generally participated behind the scenes in helping roles. They helped to coordinate conferences and served in subordinate roles on committees, often researching and writing presentations made by their male colleagues. This helping role of women in ASPA was similar to the general role of women in U.S. society prior to the 1970s.
The year 1971 is an especially significant year for women in ASPA, because it marks the beginning of their visible participation in the organization with the establishment of the Task Force on Women in Public Administration. The task force was conceived as part of the solution to the growing concern in ASPA that it was a "predominantly white middle-aged male dominated organization [in which] racial and ethnic minorities, women, and youth had been severely underrepresented" (Pugh 1988). The task force helped to rally support for getting more women into and involved in ASPA.(1)
Although no gender-specific ASPA membership data are available before 1976, anecdotal evidence suggests that women began to join the Society in increasing numbers during the early 1970s. In 1976 (the first year for which gender-specific data are available), women accounted for 19 percent of the Society's members. By 1990, women constituted 34 percent of ASPA's 14,828 members, almost double what their proportion had been in 1976.(2) By 1998, women represented 39 percent of ASPA's total membership of 10,221. During the 1990s, two countervailing trends were apparent: ASPA's membership was declining precipitously while the proportion of women in the organization continued to grow.
It should be noted that the organization's first female executive director was not appointed until 1987, almost 50 years after ASPA's founding. Since then, a second woman has served as acting executive director, and a third is the Society's current executive director.
Women in ASPA's Governance
As women's membership in ASPA has increased, so, too, has their involvement in the Society's governance. The following section discusses the evolving role of women in ASPA's governance--its presidency, council, sections, and chapters.
The Presidency. ASPA's president exercises policy leadership of the organization and acts as its principal public spokesperson. All ASPA members are eligible to vote for the organization's president who serves a one-year term.(3)
It took ASPA almost four decades after its founding in 1939 to elect a …