California Women Lead is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association of women holding – or interested in holding – elected or appointed office. Our mission is to give California’s women the tools they need to be successful in both their political and professional lives.

When a woman strives to be a leader in her community, CA Women Lead has a training program to help her meet her goals. The generous support of CA Women Lead’s Corporate Partners enables us to reach hundreds of women across all political, ethnic, and socio-economic lines to help them enhance their political and professional lives.

Our Mission

Founded in 1974, California Women Lead is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing leadership and campaign trainings, networking opportunities, and policy discussion forums for women interested in or who hold elected and appointed offices. California Women Lead’s mission, as women in government, is to inform and educate its constituencies as well as encourage and support women to seek public office.

California Women Lead’s membership is open to women and men who are committed to the goals of supporting women in office. California Women Lead members include:

  • Members of Congress
  • California State Legislators
  • County Supervisors
  • City Council Members
  • School Board Trustees
  • Judges
  • Other appointed and elected officeholders

In addition, non-officeholders and constituents, including advocates, lobbyists, political and legislative staff members, businesses and students, are members of California Women Lead.

California Women Lead does not endorse candidates, nor issues or bills.

How We Started

In 1974, a new organization called CEWAER was created in California – an association of elected women, and was the first of its kind nationwide. With the help of a $1000 grant from the Ms. Foundation, CEWAER brought together women who had been elected to diffrerent levels of government scattered throughout the state. The need for a new organization had seemed apparent for a long time, partly because of the general dissatisfaction with the male power structure, the disproportionate number of elected women and the sense of aloneness felt by women who are elected and then must function in an isolated situation. Many women felt that elected women were more than role models, that they could use their influence and clout to help the aspirations of all women. And women recognized that they needed supporters,buddies, and a communication network – in other words, the counterpart to the “old boys club”.

The first group of six women (Pat Russell, Los Angeles Councilwoman; Helen Kennedy, San Gabriel Councilwoman; Marilyn Ryan, Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor; Helen Putnam, Petaluma Mayor; Renee Simon, Long Beach Councilwoman; Anne Rudin, Sacramento Councilwoman) met in February 1974 to discuss the concept of the organization. From this emerged a steering committee composed of Pat Russell, Helen Kennedy, Marilyn Ryan, Helen Putnam, Renee Simon, Anne Rudin, Napa Supervisor Ginny Simms, US Congresswoman Yvonne Burke, Compton Mayor Doris Davis, San Francisco Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, Redwood City Vice Mayor Mary Henderson, San Diego Councilwoman Maureen O’Connor, and San Jose Councilwoman Suzanne Wilson which laid plans for a meeting in Sacramento in early April to see how many women would be interested in such an association. Twenty-four attended the Sacramento meeting, and the steering committee pushed ahead with plans for a conference.

The conference emphasized workshops planned around issues women were involved with on a daily basis. No one knew if any women would actually show, but not only did women show up, there was a constant flow of them. Press and media response was remarkable. Even though no one had heard of the organization, elected women gathered together had to be newsworthy and important.

CEWAER’s talent roster began to build. Recruitment began immediately for resumes of qualified women to serve in state government. Notices in newsletters, in other publications, and word of mouth brought resumes pouring in.

Pressure on recently elected Governor Jerry Brown resulted in a meeting at which a large binder of resumes was presented to him and his Appointments Secretary. There was no question that this Governor was receptive to having women in his administration and he ultimately appointed two CEWAER members to his cabinet – Secretary of Resources Claire Dedrick and Secretary of Agriculture Rose Bird.

Plans were made for the first Annual Meeting which focused on the women who serve at the highest level in state government. Workshops were planned to cover issues that elected women were facing in their own communities. The most consistent comment following the first annual meeting was the value of talking with each other, sharing problems and information, finding reinforcement and support.

In 2007, the CEWAER Board of Directors decided that it was time to change the name to better reflect our purpose. California Women Lead was born.

California Women Lead has strengthened its commitment in the areas of policy education and research and creating collaborations with organizations that share our goals and vision. We strive toward a future in California where leaders will reflect the diverse nature of all people who live and work in the state. California Women Lead remains true to our CEWAER roots and the organization continues to be bi-partisan and does not endorse candidates or partisan issues.

California Women Lead continues to promote the original goals the founders promoted:

  • Providing a forum for women public officials
  • Educating women on public issues
  • Encouraging women to enter public affairs, particularly in elected positions
  • Stimulating discussion of public issues as they relate to women
  • Stimulating research on women and their role and impact on and in government.

Today, under-representation continues and women in California have not achieved parity. So our work continues. California Women Lead has members from all over the state, hosts training events throughout the state and has encouraged thousands of women to successfully run for office or apply for an appointment at the state or local level. California Women Lead remains the only statewide, non partisan women’s organization in the state committed to providing women the training and support they need to be successful in the political arena.