New Hampshire Women's Caucus

“What,” men have asked distractedly from the beginning of time, “what on earth do women want?” I do not know that women, as women, want anything in particular, but as human beings they want, my good men, exactly what you want for yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet. What form the occupation, the pleasures and the emotion may take, depends entirely upon the individual. You know that this is so with yourselves – why will you not believe that it is so with us?”

- Dorothy L. Sayers, English author, “Are Women Human?” (1957)

Creating Opportunities to Improve the Status of Women

In early 2009, three Colby-Sawyer College professors of Humanities and feminist scholars, Margaret Wiley, Ann Page Stecker and Melissa Meade, joined forces to consider ways to marshal the collective power of women and inspire them to work together to improve their status. While women in the U.S. have made enormous strides in achieving social and economic parity, they still lag behind men in critical areas. The professors concluded that Colby-Sawyer, a former women’s college located in New Hampshire – home of the first-in-the-nation primary – is well positioned to host a caucus aimed at galvanizing women for the purpose of identifying and focusing on critical issues in three areas: Women and Health; Women and the Economy; and Global Women’s Issues.

In 2010, a Steering Committee of Colby-Sawyer faculty and staff was formed to plan and organize the caucus and to create an Advisory Board of passionate and engaged people with relevant areas of expertise and strong interest in women’s issues. The Advisory Board’s charge is to identify and engage potential panelists, moderators and presenters; generate ideas for promoting and marketing the event; and commit to participate in and provide leadership and support for the caucus. The Steering Committee is also working with the college’s Office of Advancement to raise sponsorship funds.

The event that has emerged, “What Women Want Now: The New Hampshire Women’s Caucus,” will be a day-long, non-partisan caucus that will take place on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. The caucus will seek to educate participants about critical issues for women and connect them to resources and tools they will need to bring about positive change.

The caucus date marks the 195th birthday of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an early leader of the women’s rights and suffrage movements in the United States and an organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. The date is also significant because it occurs in advance of the 2012 New Hampshire Primary and an important year of state and national primaries and elections. In national election years, interest and engagement in politics and in bringing about positive change is particularly high in New Hampshire and surrounding states. The conference will be promoted as a way to inspire and prepare women to become involved and engaged in bringing about change through different venues, including work in political, governmental and non-profit organizations.

The conference will feature keynote speaker Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of the best-selling book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The book’s title comes from the Chinese saying: “Women hold up half the sky.” WuDunn and her co-author and husband, New York Times reporter and columnist Nicholas Kristof, maintain that the slavery, sex-trafficking and abuse of women is the greatest moral outrage of our century. The book lays out an agenda for the world’s women, stating that “women are not the problem; they are the solution, along with men,” and that “the best way to fight poverty and extremism is to educate and empower women and girls.”

The cost of the conference, which includes the panel discussions and workshops, lunch and the keynote address, will be priced for the general public andfor students. Fifty conference tickets will be set aside for Colby-Sawyer College students. WuDunn’s keynote address at the Sawyer Center Theatre will also be promoted separately as a single event, with ticket prices for the general public and for students. There will be an active effort to underwrite the cost of attendance for interested students and others to whom cost presents a barrier to attendance by soliciting other participants, donors and sponsors, so that all who wish to participate may do so.

Conference Agenda

The conference’s morning session will feature three consecutive panel discussions on issues within these major topic areas: Women and Health; Women and the Economy; and Global Women’s Issues. Each panel will consist of three expert speakers and a moderator. Each speaker will deliver a brief presentation, advocating for one or two issues critical to women and a likely arena in which to bring about change. The moderator will introduce the panelists, field questions and comments from participants, and conclude each session.

A buffet luncheon will follow the panel discussions, during which the caucus discussion will ensue, with the panelists and moderators on hand to address questions and comments in their respective topic areas. Near the end of the lunch/caucus session, participants will vote to identify and prioritize the issues in each major topic area they believe is most critical to improving the status of woman and which can be addressed most effectively through collective engagement and action by and for women. The caucus results will be tallied and presented in the form of The New Hampshire Women’s Caucus Platform just prior to the keynote address and will be sent to all relevant media and our participants and supporters after the event.

After lunch three consecutive workshops will provide participants with resources and tools for bringing about positive changes in their local communities, in the political and national discourse, and in the global community. These instructive, interactive sessions will focus on a variety of techniques for creating awareness, building community, and inspiring collective actions aimed at societal engagement and change.

Presenters with expertise and experience in the topic area will lead each session, which will cover the following topics: 1) the use of traditional, new and social media in building support and community; 2) change through collaboration with community-based and state, national and international groups and non-profit organizations; 3) and through participation in legislative processes and governmental and political organization at all levels.

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The event will culminate at the Sawyer Center Theatre, where the Caucus Platform will be announced to conference attendees and the general public and media, much as Elizabeth Cady Stanton issued the “Declaration of Sentiments” in the wake of the Seneca Falls Convention. The announcement will challenge candidates across the political spectrum to incorporate women’s issues as an integral part of their own political platforms in the upcoming primaries and national elections. Immediately afterward, Sheryl WuDunn will be introduced and present her keynote address, followed by a book-signing opportunity and a reception for all participants.

Event Organization, Promotion

The Steering Committee has hired an experienced event coordinator to oversee the administrative and organizational aspects of the event. Her duties include, but are not limited to, management of logistics related to speakers, facilities, food and beverage needs, conference materials and registration, as well as serving on behalf of the Steering Committee as a liaison to the Advisory Board, college administrators, faculty, staff and students, and potential participants, vendors, donors and sponsors for the event.

Members of the Steering Committee will launch a communications and marketing campaign aimed at identifying and engaging potential audiences in New Hampshire and surrounding states in the event. These audiences will include women who are involved in private, public and non-profit organizations that serve women; individual leaders and feminists, and faculty, students and staff of women’s studies departments at the college and university level.

The campaign will require the creation of a web site, Facebook fan page, and Twitter account dedicated to promoting the event and educating and engaging potential participants. Outreach efforts will involve using social media tools, as well as more traditional methods (news releases, pitches to media) to effectively and economically promote the caucus and its goals to gain visibility, support and engagement for the event and its mission, as well as for Colby-Sawyer College.


The New Hampshire Women’s Caucus will educate participants about critical issues for women in the state, nation and world and will provide them with resources and tools to improve the status of women in society.

The goals of the conference and its benefits for Colby-Sawyer College include the following:

Conference Goals

  • Educate women about the issues most important to them in the following areas: the economy; health and healthcare.
  • Inspire women to see themselves as agents of change, both individually and collectively, with potential to improve women’s status in society.
  • Provide women with information, resources and tools to bring about change for themselves and other women.
  • Facilitate media focus on women’s issues in advance of local, state and national elections.

Benefits for Colby-Sawyer College

  • Strengthen the college’s historic mission to educate and empower women, as well as highlight our commitment to equal education and integration of gender analysis within the liberal arts curriculum.
  • Provide access to academic and co-curricular opportunities for students, faculty and staff
  • Strengthen and form new partnerships with civic-minded individuals, institutions, non-profit organizations and initiatives to broaden the college’s support network.
  • Provide opportunities for individuals, companies and organizations to invest in education and training focused on important positive societal outcomes.
  • Increase positive regional and possibly national visibility for the institution.