For many Americans, the stock market crash in October 1929 brought an ending to one of the most prosperous and jubilant periods in our country’s history. But for a pioneering group of women working in the field of communications in New York, 1929 was a beginning. They banded together to establish a New York chapter of Theta Sigma Phi—the first female branch of the journalism fraternity—with a goal of obtaining equal pay to their male counterparts.
In 1972, Theta Sigma Phi was renamed Women in Communications (WICI) to convey a more professional image and then WICI became the Association for Women in Communications (AWC) in 1996. The New York chapter officially broke away from AWC two years later and became New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) to provide its members with more localized benefits. From that point on, NYWICI forged ahead, gaining momentum in the late 1990s as the technology bubble grew—and then burst a few years later—NYWICI was able to provide resources, support and valuable networking for those affected.
Since 1929, much has changed for women in communications. Today, women are CEOs, business owners, network bureau chiefs, producers, award-winning writers, and hold positions across the entire spectrum of communications. These achievements were dreams for the women who founded the New York chapter of Theta Sigma Phi. Today, NYWICI is stronger than ever, providing the next generation of women in communications with the resources and network of support that made all the difference to the women of Theta Sigma Phi over the years.
1929: Group of pioneering women working in communications establish a New York chapter of Theta Sigma Phi—the first female branch of the journalism fraternity—with a goal of obtaining equal pay to their male counterparts.
1970: Matrix Awards launched to honor exceptional women in the field of arts, advertising, entertainment, film, television, theater, books, broadcasting, magazines, newspapers, public relations and new media.
1971: Gloria Steinem receives the first Matrix Award.
1972: Theta Sigma Phi renamed Women in Communications (WICI) to convey a more professional image.
1992: Membership in WICI was 852.
1996: WICI became the Association for Women in Communications (AWC).
1998: The New York chapter of AWC officially separated and formed New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) to provide members with more locally relevant benefits and continues its prestigious Matrix Awards.
1998: NYWICI launches scholarship program.
2006: NYWICI launches Ladies Who Launch, an annual event at Caroline’s on Broadway, to raise funds for scholarship. [wrapped in 2020]
2012: NYWICI launches Membership Empowerment Grant or MEG, which provides existing members with grants to offset the cost of professional development, including continuing ed courses, certificate programs, career coaching, attending professional conferences. [paused in 2020]
2015: NYWICI announces rebrand (background here).
2016: WomenHeard podcast launched. Membership reaches 2,037.
2020: Matrix Awards marks 50th anniversary; since 1971.
2022: NYWICI releases #WomenHeard white paper, Weathering the Pandemic—and Working Together for a Bright Tomorrow (here)
2022: NYWICI announces that it has distributed more than $2 million dollars in scholarships; 357 women have been honored with a NYWICI Matrix Award since the program’s launch.
2023: NYWICI launches Next Level You virtual professional development Series and GenConnectU benefit
2029: 100th anniversary of NYWICI
NYWICI: A Storied Past
NYWICI has plenty of stories to tell. Sibby Christensen, the last president of the New York chapter of Theta Sigma Phi, recalled what it was like voting to admit men into WICI in 1972: “There were fights until 3 a.m. about that vote—but it was ultimately decided that we should put our money where our mouths were.” She summarized what it was like to change the name to WICI: “We had been polite little ladies, and now we were going to be strong, professional women. It was a very important change.”
Fortuna Calvo-Roth, NYWICI president for 1991 to 1992 and former editor of Visión, a weekly Latin American news magazine, was not taken seriously in the early days of her career. “I was waiting in the office of Chile’s Minister of Finance to conduct an interview. He walked in and immediately walked right out. When he came back, he looked at me and said, ‘I thought I was being interviewed by a journalist.’”
Lucy Jarvis, the 1973 Matrix winner for Broadcasting, was the first female network television producer. “I was hired by CBS to produce a new program called ‘The Woman.’ The director, the associate producer and all the researchers were men,” she said.
Beth Fallon, the 1981 Matrix winner for Newspapers, was once told by a boss, “There will never be a woman in the newsroom; and it’s too bad, because you’re so good.”
Madeline Amgott, the 1975 Matrix winner for Broadcasting, admitted to pretending she did not have a husband or children in order to get good jobs. “There were years when people didn’t hesitate to ask, ‘Are you married? Are you pregnant? Do you have children?’ I would say either, ‘It’s none of your business,’ which meant I wouldn’t get the job, or I would lie and say I didn’t have any kids.”
Laurel Cutler, the 1985 Matrix winner for Advertising, was horrified to learn that, when it came to women, the corporate ladder was only one person wide. “They wanted me on the board of directors, but my mentor, of all people, had to step down. In those days, no woman could ascend the ladder without another woman being pushed down.”
Many Disciplines, One Mission
These stories not only inspire, amuse, and anger us — they also unite us. As Patrice Tanaka, NYWICI president for 2002-2003, puts it, “The sisterhood that pervades NYWICI has resulted in amazing collaborations among women working together to produce rich and rewarding networking and professional development opportunities. It has also, importantly, set the standard for how women in business work together to help one another succeed. It’s changed the stereotype of the career woman who only looks out for Number One.”
Today, even though we have come so far, there is still so much more we need to do together and for each other. We continue the legacy that started back in 1929, as we continue to fight for equal pay, support each other through career transitions, empower each other to speak up and so much more.