Women's Rights Information Center
How It All Began
Some of us remember the '60's. Women were questioning their equality in our society. We were organizing. Nationally, the first advocacy organization for women evolved into NOW- the National Organization For Women. Other smaller local advocacy groups emerged. In 1972 Women's Rights in Tenafly formed to advocate for gender equality in school sports. It's leading advocate for girls' rights, Phoebe Seham, began to envision more.
While discussing women's issues around a kitchen table in the spring of 1973, Phoebe and several other inspired women, organized to create a clearing house of reliable information for women striving to become self sufficient and facing difficult decisions. This small group began meeting regularly in donated office space in Hackensack . They educated themselves by doing research and having experts speak on many topics that were important to women and affected their lives. The clearinghouse was staffed by all volunteers who all chipped in for a phone and fielded calls from women who didn't know where to go to find reliable information. In 1975 the group now known as Women's Rights Information Center (The Center) incorporated . It established a board of trustees and advisory committee . Residing then in rented space at The Ethical Culture Building in Teaneck, NJ, The Center became the first non-profit organization to become eligible to hire staff through C.E.T.A (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act), a government sponsored program enacted to find temporary jobs for the unemployed . Now The Center was able to move forward with new projects.
1976 and the next few years that followed saw the implementation of a job talent bank and job referral service. The Center inaugurated peer support groups for separated and divorced women. Fact Sheets on fair employment practices were developed. The Sunshine Newspaper was published simplifying the language used in legal , court and legislative documents that pertained to matters of concern to women. A DES Search Project was initiated to educate and support those affected by the drug Diethylstilbestrol - many pregnant women were given this drug from 1938 through the 1950's which caused vaginal cancer in the female offspring. With the success and growing support for these projects, it became clear The Center needed a permanent home .
Excerpted from "A Little History",
by Phoebe Seham
"The realization that women, isolated in separate households, needed a place they could feel free to visit, to get facts and help, and for someone to talk to, Jed to the campaign for a women's center building. In the mid-seventies, the Center's supporters attended regional Community Development meetings to apply for some of the HUD funding allocated to communities. The grants came in bit by bit, and the search for a suitable building took time. On March 1, 1982, the grants awarded were used to buy an abandoned funeral home in Englewood- a lovely federal-style building that had deteriorated during its 8 or 9 unoccupied years. The Center was finally able to move in at the end of January, 1983. The renovation has been going on, inch by inch, ever since."
In 2014, a bronze plaque was affixed to the building's facade.
Phoebe Seham tribute video
Today, the Center, housed in the Women's Center Building on West Palisade Avenue in Englewood has touched thousands of lives through programs and initiatives, empowering women and giving them the tools and confidence to take control of their lives.
As the needs of women change, so does the focus of the Center's services to the ever-changing world we live in. Its staff, board of trustees, volunteers, and contributors work together to innovate and create an environment where women can 'feel free to visit, to get facts and help, and to find someone to talk to.'
2015 marked a transitional time as Joan Grzenda, director for 32 years, retired, to be succeeded by Dr. Esmilda Abreu. The torch has since passed to Lil Corcoran who continues the work begun all those years ago.
Our mission continues in their footsteps to advocate for women, their families, and their communities. The Center will continue to help remove barriers that keep women from achieving full autonomy and leadership over their own lives and to help women advance in their pursuits of a fulfilled and safe life.