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Women and the Cooperative Movement


By Gretchen Hein

Cooperation has been at the core of human survival since the beginning of time. Sharing resources for food and shelter were essential for early societies to survive. Cooperation reached a formal status during the industrial revolution as industry changed society from agrarian to industrial. Our modern day cooperative roots reach back to the formation of the Rochdale Pioneers of 1844 who wanted to buy honest food at honest prices. Forty years later, the cooperative movement initiated advocacy for women through the formation of the Women’s Cooperative Guild. The Women’s Cooperative Guild worked in many political arenas of women’s issues such as health, suffrage and pacifism. Still active today, it has turned its attention to social justice.Karen Zimbleman

Women have had to struggle repeatedly throughout history and the cooperative movement has been integral in supporting their challenge. The work that Alice Acland and Mary Lawrenson started in 1884 with the Women’s Cooperative Guild continues actively today, its fingers reaching throughout the wide world. Cooperatives continue to keep the plight of women at the forefront, educating and working to create viable alternatives for financial independence, the ability to support their families and improve the quality of life within their community.

Dr. Ann HoytFast forwarding to the present, several names rise to the surface as I reflect on the role of women in our cooperative movement; there are many others. Karen Zimbleman, an early member of our national cooperative movement held many positions. She was pivotal in strengthening leaders as co-ops struggled to survive against the rising corporate sector. Dr. Ann Hoyt, a 2015 inductee into the Cooperative Hall of Fame, led the cooperative movement forward through her role at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Cooperative Extension Department, bringing governance, accountability and strategic focus. She provided an important education avenue for management. Many of New Leaf’s managers received essential training from this program helping to ensure our viability locally and nationally. Robyn Schrader, another National Cooperative Grocers leader, was recently appointed president to the international Consumer Cooperative World-wide (CCW). Robyn’s goal is to raise awareness of consumer cooperatives, furthering the principles of cooperativism and the rights of workers to have access to reasonable nutrition, clothing, housing and adequate standards of safety, a healthy environment at fair prices with an influence economically through democratic participation, world-wide.Robyn Schrader

As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26th, I hope you’ll honor the connection between the cooperative movement and women; they are closely linked. The bond is strong and has made such a difference for women, for their families and for the communities in which they live.

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