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The Persistent Women of Aging

March is Women’s History Month, and the National Women’s History Project has designated this year’s theme as Nevertheless She Persisted.

In looking through NCOA’s history, this couldn’t ring more true. NCOA’s founders were two women who persisted in reforming aging as we know it.

ollie randallNCOA founder and advocate Ollie Randall wrote eloquently about the diversity and individuality of older people and worked her entire career to shape a more dignified image of older adults.

As a good “street” social worker, Ollie knew how to develop and encourage change at the neighborhood and community level. She was one of the creative forces behind the establishment of the William Hudson Community Center of New York City, recognized as the first senior center in the U.S.

She also was involved in the creation of the New York State Office on Aging and, in 1950, she co-founded NCOA with Geneva Mathiasen, NCOA’s first executive director.

Geneva first became interested in helping older adults after hearing from young social workers about their concerns for the elderly in their communities. With Randall, she developed NCOA’s strong relationship with the federal government, co-sponsored projects with other voluntary agencies, and gained support from foundations.

Under Geneva’s leadership, NCOA wrote the first set of standards for senior centers, homes for the aging, and nursing homes. And in 1960, NCOA signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Labor to plan and supervise what eventually became the Senior Community Service Employment Program.

Today, NCOA is proud to have multiple women leaders empowering individuals with trusted, proven solutions to improve their daily lives.

NCOA believes that every American has the right to age with the best possible health and economic security, but we also recognize that aging can pose a unique hurdle for women. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the poverty rate for older women is 12%, compared to 8% for men.

Women begin retirement with a challenge that has followed many throughout their lives – the pay gap. Lower pay means less money saved. Women who chose to leave the workforce to be a parent or caregiver have fewer Social Security benefits built up. Overall, women receive nearly $4,000 a year less in Social Security benefits than men.

Women of color face an even deeper disparity. Over 70% of elderly Hispanic women and more than 64% of elderly African American women are economically vulnerable, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The women (and men!) of NCOA are dedicated to changing these numbers, so that every American can achieve the best possible health and economic security as they age.

Do you have a story about persistence and aging? Share it with us in the comments below!

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Anna Maria Chavez

About Anna Maria Chávez

Anna Maria Chávez is Chief Strategy Officer and Senior Vice President for External Affairs at NCOA. She oversees policy and advocacy, marketing and communications, fund and strategic partnership development, and community network. In this role, Chávez is responsible for advancing the organization’s mission to improve the health and economic security of 10 million older adults by 2020.