National OWL disbands, local chapter to continue

Staff Writer
The Older Women’s League (OWL) is disbanding as a national organization after 37 years of advocating for the needs and rights of women over 40. The Hyde Park chapter will continue to operate under 501c3 tax status, as will some other chapters throughout the country although possibly with a new name, explains Margaret H. Huyck, president and National Board Chair of OWL and past president of the local chapter.

The OWL was founded in 1980 to advocate for the rights and needs of women over 40.  

“Many woman found themselves poor after a lifetime of taking care of others,” Huyck said.

She said the work of caring first for children and then aging parents was a responsibility that fell more heavily on women but didn’t result in pension plans, social security and other programs that would help them get along as they aged. Disparity in pay was also a contributing factor to the greater rate of impoverishment among older women.  

After peaking in membership in the late 1990s, OWL began to decline.

“Many women don’t want to be called older but the need still exists,” Huyck said. “The issues are still there.”

She said due to an aging leadership, trouble raising funds and a general time of trouble for nonprofits, the national office in Washington, D.C. closed several years ago after serving as the group’s mouthpiece on Capitol Hill for many years.

OWL accomplished a number of legislative aims during its heyday. It developed The Health Insurance Rights Act, adopted by four states, and was instrumental in the formation and passage of the Retirement Equity Act and COBRA, which mandates an opportunity for continued coverage after an employee-employer relationship ends.  The organization also spoke out on the Older Worker’s Benefit Protection Act and saw it signed into law in 1990.

A ruling cost the organization its tax-exempt status. Loss of membership and with it funding, furthered the decline. 
On the national organization website, Hyuck said that “..while our works remains needed and our voice important, our National organization cannot sustain itself in its current form.”

The Hyde Park chapter will continue to exist and function under an independent tax status and Hyuck promises that it will “continue to carry out the OWL mission.”