Beginnings of the Planning and Women Division of the American Planning Association

By Marjorie Macris, FAICP

Background: The Women's Movement

The planning profession became aware of the issues of how community development affects women largely as a result of the women's movement in the 1970s. Previously, women were seen primarily as the tenders of the single-family homes in the burgeoning suburbs, as clients receiving social services in the inner cities, or as advocates for civic betterment, beautification, and reform. The husband made the journey to work, while the wife tended to children, church, and kitchen.

In April 1970, at the national conference of the American Society of Planning Officials (a successor organization, along with the American Institute of Planners, to what is now the American Planning Association), a Women's Caucus presented a report entitled "Women in Planning: A Condemnation." It called on ASPO to direct professionals to address the needs of women, to encourage women to enter the profession, to monitor discrimination in employment, among other changes. ASPO then established a Committee on women's Rights, including Frederica Kramer, Joyce Whitley, Jack Meltzer, AICP, Mary McLean, AICP, and Idamae Garrott.

In 1971, the American Institute of Planners formed the Women's Rights Policy Paper Committee, consisting of Jerome L. Kaufman, FAICP, Constance Lieder, FAICP, (later AIP President), Trudy McFall, Diana C. Donald, Katherine Messinger, Norman Krumholz, FAICP, and Gloria McGregor (later California Chapter President). Consequently, AIP adopted policies requiring equal treatment of women planners as part of its Code of Professional Responsibility. AIP and ASPO formed a joint Committee on Women's Rights, which sponsored a workshop that led to the publication in 1973 of the report Planning, Women, and Change, by Karen E. Hapgood and Judith N. Getzels. The committee became inactive in 1975, after publishing the results of a survey of women in the profession.

Women in the academic community also played a major role in bring the perspective of gender considerations into urban planning policies. Margarita McCoy, Sylvia White, and Marsha Ritzdorf, among the first women practicing planners who were also academicians, promoted the issue of women in planning as part of practice and academic study. McCoy was one of the first chairpersons of an academic department of planning and was also active in AIP and ASPO. As the number of women in academia grew in the 1970s and 80s, their impact on the practice arm of the profession grew as well.

In 1978, Constance Lieder became the first woman president of AIP. There were four other women on the national board in 1976-1977, Kathryn Cousins, Barbara Lukerman, FAICP, April Young, and Marjorie Macris. Dorothy Walker was President of ASPO, and served as chair of a joint ASPO/AIP committee that worked on the merger of the two organizations.

The Equal Rights Amendment: A Catalyst

In 1977, the American Collegiate Schools of Planning and AIP held their conference in Kansas City, Missouri. At a session where Jacqueline Leavitt presented a paper on women in planning, a number of participants expressed concerns about coming to a conference in a state (Missouri) that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States constitution, which would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex. The group presented two resolutions to the AIP Board, one to express AIP's support for the ERA (passed) and the other to boycott the next AIP conference to be held in Louisiana, another nonratified state (tabled). The AIP Board later voted to confirm the conference in New Orleans, and the ASPO Board voted to hold its next conference in Miami Beach, even though Florida had also failed to ratify the ERA. A problem with a strict boycott policy was that the ASPO national office was in Chicago, and Illinois had failed to ratify the ERA. The Chicago site continued to be one of the two main offices of the American Planning Association, after the two organizations merged.

Local chapters and individuals in New York, Ohio, and California kept the ERA issue alive. In 1978, the California Chapter of AIP distributed a letter and questionnaire entitled "The Time Has Come!!!", which advocated a Women In Planning Department or Caucus in AIP. The state conference then voted to send related recommendations, including support of the ERA, to the national board. (An entertaining slide show at the California conference, "Father God, Mother Earth," prepared by feminist planner June Baker, presented images that reinforced the position of the male as actor, the female as recipient.)

The American Planning Association Board Acts

At the subsequent national conference of the newly formed American Planning Association, resulting from the merger of ASPO and AIP, the board established a "Contemporary Issues Task Force" to address the recommendations presented by the California Chapter and others. The Task Force was to report to the Board in March 1979 at its next meeting in Miami. A mailing was sent to all APA members to find out who would be interested in participating in the Task Force and related activities. The APA President, Constance Lieder, then appointed the members: Jacqueline Leavitt, Mary H. Deal, Ann B. Joynt, Gail Mancarti, John C. Roberts, AICP, Catherine Ross, Marjorie Macris (chair), Didi Lacher, Irving Hand, FAICP, and Gloria McGregor.

The Task Force met twice to prepare its recommendations, draft by-laws, and seek out potential members.  It focused on organizational rather than policy issues, in large part because of the short time available to finish its report. The central recommendation was to establish a Planning for Women Division (later changed to the less hierarchical sounding Planning and Women) as one of the technical divisions of APA. A number of such divisions exist within APA, for the purpose of joining together planners with a certain specialty or expertise, such as Land Use, Transportation, Energy, and Information Technology, for the purpose of conducting research and sharing knowledge. APA provides some staff support, augmented by dues from APA members who voluntarily join the divisions.

The Task Force report made the case that there was a need for research and information-sharing about how the practice of planning affects women, for example in the type and design of residential areas and the provision of adequate public transportation. The report proposed the use of this existing organizational form, rather than on a women's rights committee or similar entity. Thus, the Task Force chose to focus on the substantive content of the impact of planning on the needs of women as clients, rather than on the status and needs of professional women planners. The purpose was to advance technical knowledge, rather than to focus on discrimination against and advancement of women employees in planning agencies and firms. This approach made it possible to meet the test of being a technical division, not an advocacy group.

The proposal to establish the new division first met considerable opposition from APA board members. It was necessary to explain repeatedly that this was not an affirmative action division but that there were legitimate issues of planning practice that were gender related, and that would be the focus of the division's work.

On March 4, 1979, the APA approved the establishment of the technical division, Planning for Women. There was little opposition expressed to the proposal, thanks to the extensive lobbying of board members before the final vote. Persons interested in participating in the division held their first meeting at the conference in New Orleans and elected Mary Deal chair.

The division's by-laws, adopted in fall 1979, stated the following objectives:

  1. To address issues facing the planning and development of communities, cities, regions, states, and the nation related to the changing roles of women and men.
  2. To create a national network of planners, decision-makers and persons actively involved in organizations which are concerned about similar issues
  3. To promote professional growth of persons interested in these issues and to improve the level of competence in planning for women.
  4. To advance technical knowledge and to improve techniques of dealing with these issues.
  5. To promote the analysis and examination of these issues at every level of government and in colleges and universities.

In the next few months, the division became the largest in APA, with more than 400 people expressing support, although a smaller number were dues-paying. One of the division's first projects was to co-sponsor, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a competition to solicit proposals and descriptions of programs that serve women and might be replicated elsewhere; 131 proposals were submitted.

Other early activities of the division included working with APA on a special issue of Planning Magazine, insisting on child care being provided at national conferences, nominating candidates for the Diana Donald Award, representing APA in ERA-related activities in Washington D.C., serving on the Task Force on Women and Minorities (the affirmative action component of APA's governance at the time), providing an annual report to the APA Board tabulating the participation rate of women among panelists and presenters at the APA national conference, insisting that APA's salary survey be revised to better collect and tabulate data by gender and racial status to track discrepancies, and advising the AICP Ethics Committee regarding the need for language in the Code prohibiting sexual harassment.

In the 27 years since its establishment, the Planning and Women Division has grown to 170 members. It regularly sponsors sessions at national APA conferences and conducts extensive research.

This paper is based primarily on Planning and Women, Women in Planning, 1980, by Jacqueline Leavitt, her PhD dissertation at Columbia University. Carol Barrett, FAICP, Sylvia White, AICP, Margarita McCoy, FAICP, and others who were involved in the formation of the Planning and Women Division have added their recollections.

The purpose of the paper is to document the original formation of the division, not to describe its many accomplishments since 1979.