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50 Meetings in 50 Days: The Annual Meeting from 1979 to 1981

Registration for SECF's 50th Annual Meeting will open May 15 – between now and then, we're going to take a look back at the history of SECF's signature event and how it's evolved over the years.

1979 Annual Meeting

When: November 7-9, 1979
Where: Hyatt House Hotel, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Notable Speakers: Joyce Ream (Executive Director, Women and Foundations/Corporate Philanthropy), Douglas Covington (Chancellor, Winston-Salem State University), Landrum Bolling (Chairman, Council on Foundations)

This meeting featured a preconference luncheon that served as a convening for Women and Foundations/Corporate Philanthropy, which had been founded in 1975.

A 1984 Los Angeles Times article on the organization quoted its then-board chair: Alicia Philipp, who also -- just as she does today -- led the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, then known as the Metropolitan Atlanta Community Foundation. Alicia was quoted saying "having women making recommendations on grants has heightened awareness in the philanthropic community of women's and girls' organizations and their needs and made the boards of trustees, which approve grants and which are mostly male, understand that these organizations are not as risky as they had thought. A lot of men had it in their minds that these organizations were radical."

Alicia, who would preside over another meeting of "Women And" at the 1980 Annual Meeting, said women and young people were still a rarity in those days.

"I was about 26 and a woman, so on both counts, I was unusual at the SECF conference," she told SECF. "Everyone was gracious and made me feel very welcome, but it would be a number of years before more women and what we now call 'next-gen' were in any significant numbers at the conference."

1980 Annual Meeting

When: November 5-7, 1980
Where: Kiawah Island Resort, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Notable Speakers: Robert Coles (research psychiatrist, Harvard University Health Sciences), Waldemar Neilsen (fellow, Aspen Institute), Brian O'Connell (president, Independent Sector)

Though Robert Coles was a Harvard professor, it was his work in the South that made him famous – and an obvious choice for the Annual Meeting. Coles had won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for "Children of Crisis," a study of children in the United States that focused strongly on black children in the South. Coles also provided counseling to Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Coles wrote a children's book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, donating the royalties to support impoverished school children in New Orleans.

Waldemar "Wally" Neilsen was a recognized expert on philanthropy and one of the first to turn a critical eye toward the sector. He was most known for his 1972 book, "The Big Foundations," that, as The New York Times reported in his obituary, "parted the curtain on the secretive world of private fortunes and public larges." The Times summarized the book, saying "Mr. Nielsen examined, and often found wanting, the foundations' performance and the ways in which they responded to challenges to their tax-exempt status and demands for openness and diversification. He deemed them generally timid, inert and unimaginative but saw them, potentially, as a force for public good."

1981 Annual Meeting

When: October 28-30, 1981
Where: Hyatt Regency, Atlanta, Georgia
Notable Speakers: Elspeth Rostow (Dean, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas), James T. Laney (President, Emory University), Fred R. Crawford (Director, Center for Research in Social Change, Emory University)

The 1981 meeting would end up being the last time SECF convened in Atlanta – until, of course, this year's upcoming 50th Annual Meeting. Like the 1981 offering, this year's meeting will also be at the Hyatt Regency – thankfully, the hotel has seen several rounds of renovations in the last 38 years!

Elspeth Rostow, who had analyzed dispatches from the French Resistance during World War II, had also been the first female tenured professor at MIT. Her remarks focused on philanthropy's role and impact during the 1970s.

James T. Laney spoke about the impact of the $105 million gift, in the form of Coca-Cola stock, provided to Emory University by Robert W. Woodruff. At the time, it was the single largest gift to any institution of higher education in American history. The gift would allow Emory to become the preeminent institution it is today.

"We want to be associated with a strong emphasis in the humanities," Laney told The New York Times in 1981. "We would also like to go beyond simply training good professionals. Students now tend to feel pressure to get through school quickly and take what will qualify them directly for a payoff. We'd like to begin training leaders of the professions – people who can look at the larger arena in which they will live their lives."

David Miller is SECF's director of marketing and communications.


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