Intellectual and moral associations provide the venue for women to gather as the season arrives for them to lead the compassionate resolution of their consciousness revolution. Their ability to optimize the practical application of the “six degrees of separation” theory allows them to reach out and build the network necessary for collaboration and communication of their message to a chosen destination. It is both the independence and the interdependency of this vibrant and dense social capital that fosters “a radius of trust,” a term attributed to economist Lawrence Harrison, currently Senior Research Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. And as each social capital association extends its matrix through bridging social capital networks to embrace another bonded social capital association the radius of trust increases and the group extrapolates in number far more quickly and efficiently.
The need to weave this fabric of trust from local community to world community has never been greater. Time is running short to discover the true Age of Aquarius as our nation descends into its winter of discontent.
How does this all relate to women’s wealth and giving? Part of the answer comes by looking through the rear view mirror back into history, specifically to the Progressive Era (1880-1915), a time of “dramatic technological, economic, and social change [that] rendered obsolete a significant stock of social capital.” Here was a time when a coterie of women restocked America’s social capital mostly by using their time and persuasive talents. Many historians refer to women’s social reform activism during this era as the foundation of contemporary women’s philanthropic culture. Out of need to restock social capital, women used the opportunity structures available to them at the time to effect positive social change. Women, led by Nobel Peace prize recipient Jane Addams, suffragette Susan B. Anthony, journalist Ida Tarbell, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, and black millionaire businesswoman Madame C. J. Walker, emerged as major leaders for social reform. Their accomplishments permanently changed the society of their day and in doing so altered the future role of women in the civic, political, and business world forever.
A New York Times editorial titled “The Women of Thirty,” published on Sunday, August 29, 1920, claimed: “Women in fighting for the vote have shown a passion of earnestness, a persistence, and above all a command of both tactics and strategy… Hitherto the distinctively feminine instincts and aspirations have centered in winning the right of suffrage, but now that it is won, a vast united force has been let loose.”
This “force” succeeded in winning the first minimum wage and maximum hours for women workers, public health programs for pregnant women, improved educational opportunities for children and adults, the creation of the Childrens’ Bureau headed by Julia Lathrop in 1912 and the Women’s Bureau in the Federal Department of Labor during the Taft presidency.
Separated by two world wars, the civil rights and feminist movements, political and social turmoil around the world, and a widening disparity between rich and poor, the boom-generation prepare to pick up the gauntlet from their Progressive Era foremothers to work with the fervor of exuberance, enthusiasm, and idealism for a better world. While there is much similarity in the two eras between the state of society and the demise of social capital, this time around, however, boom-generation women are adding a new element to the equation: abundant financial capital and the freedom to direct its destination. Yet while being true to their foremothers, they still pause to reflect on Jane Addams’ sage advice before embarking on their contemporary romance with philanthropy.
“In this readjustment, in this reorganizing of the world, with its uncharted problems, with its tremendous romances – because it is a very romantic thing to see a world being made over before your eyes, and have a possible part in it – women’s organizations, to my mind, will be useful, very much in proportion as they keep their philanthropy more or less pragmatic, very much in proportion as they discover for life itself, what lessons we may best learn and best transmit.”
Construct your own TLC
Social capital is both bonding and bridging. Identify in your own community one way in which you are a part of each and how they connect to create a more diverse community:
A. Bonding social capital activity I do is _____________________________________
B. Bridging social capital network I am part of is _____________________________________