In honor of the 35th anniversary of FEW last year, we are featuring highlights of major milestones in FEW’s history. We’re kicking off this month with the founding of FEW in 1981 and how the organization has grown over the years into a community for internationally-minded women in Tokyo to learn, connect, and achieve their full professional and personal potential.
THE FOUNDING OF FEW
As recalled by FEW Co-Founder Elyse M. Rogers
Elyse Rogers and Jane Waugh, two American women working in Japan in 1981, met at a social meeting and talked about how they both missed their networking and business associations they had enjoyed in the United States.
Figuring that there must be other foreign career women in Tokyo, they decided to begin an organization for women like them. They came up with a list of about 10 or 12 women who they knew and enlisted their help in establishing what eventually became FEW.
The first meeting was held on October 29, 1981, in the Tokyo Prince Hotel’s coffee shop after work. Eight members attended, and they all agreed the idea of a working women’s organization was a good one. More names were added to the list by those who had associates or friends who would qualify to join.
The group began meeting and decided on a few ground rules, such as: they would not meet in homes as was typical of women’s groups at the time, but would meet in a club or hotel like their male professional counterparts; programs would be aimed at issues concerning actively working foreign women in Japan; and though other women not actively working could attend, the content of meetings would not be altered to appeal to them.
The Early Years
No officers were in place for almost a year. During that time, Elyse booked rooms at the Tokyo American Club at a “classroom” rate. Jane and Elyse scheduled the programs and invited speakers with the help of other members. Some of the most popular programs were simply group discussions –one popular discussion topic at the time was “Should Foreign Executive Women study the Japanese language?”
The Board and Membership Forms
After about one year, officers were elected. Elyse became the first president and was reelected the following year. Other officers were elected and the Vice President became program chair. Nominal dues were charged to be sure the room and refreshments costs would be covered each month.
Due to there being truly ‘few’ foreign women in Tokyo at the time, Jane came up with the acronym ‘FEW’ for Foreign Executive Women,’ and it was adopted. In about 1985, there was a movement by some members to change the name to something more egalitarian like Foreign Working Women of Tokyo, though this name change was defeated in a vote by the general membership.
Throughout the years the group grew, a newsletter was published, member lists were compiled, and retreats and trips were organized. Over time, the organization became more well-known, with a Wall Street Journal article in the early 1980s marking the first media recognition of the group’s presence; since then, many other articles and references in the newspapers and other publications have followed. In 1991, the group also formed a Kansai chapter, which meets monthly in Osaka.
FEW has grown over more than 35 years and 14 presidents, attracting women from many industries and backgrounds. As more and more internationally minded Japanese women showed an interest in the network, in 2008 the motion was passed to make two changes that would serve to diversify membership. The first was to open membership to Japanese women. The second was to change the name to FEW: For Empowering Women in Japan.
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