The origins of AWAG can be traced to the fall of 1946, when Mrs. Anthony Biddell, wife of the Commanding General of the US Army of Occupation, formed a committee of eight women to plan one of the largest welfare organizations ever set up by volunteers. This group was known as AOWVS (American Occupation Women’s Voluntary Service). They helped to coordinate the distribution of relief aid sent by stateside clubs and church groups to post-war Germany. In 1948, AOWVS added the additional purpose of assisting other welfare groups throughout Germany. That same year, the first organized welfare conference was held at the Chiemsee Rest Center. Delegates from Germany and Austria gathered to report on their welfare projects as well as discuss problems and ideas.
An advisory board was formed in October of 1948 with the purpose of administering future welfare conferences. This board was composed of seven area representatives: Bremerhaven (including Berlin), Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Nuernberg, Munich, and Vienna. The biannual meeting was known as the Women’s Zonal Welfare Conference. At the May 1950 conference, the organization’s purpose was changed from welfare and charity to one that emphasized German-American relations and included general club activities. Another significant change was the elimination of oral and written welfare reports, in favor of workshops and discussion groups where delegates could attend sessions concerning local issues and activities.
From 1950 until 1954, clubs in France, the United Kingdom, and Italy were invited to participate in these conferences. The International Conference of American Women’s Activities met annually until 1964 and eventually included representatives from Spain, Portugal, the Azores, and the countries of the Near and Middle East. However, the financial cost to send delegates to the Berchtesgaden conference, as well as the time and distances involved prevented many organizations from participating.
In the spring of 1954, club members in France held a conference of American Women’s Activities in France. The organizers presented much the same type of working conference as the parent one in Germany, but focused on issues and ideas specific to their regional membership. By 1955 a similar conference was organized in London for clubs in the United Kingdom. In October of 1956, a small group was selected to plan and administer a German regional conference – and AWAG was formed. The first Annual Conference of American Women’s Activities – Germany, was held in 1957, and by 1965 it had replaced the International Conference as a forum for volunteers with common goals and interests.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, AWAG grew to thirteen geographic areas encompassing all of (Western) Germany. The Annual Conference brought hundreds of delegates together to share ideas and learn skills that they could take back to their clubs and communities. An AWAG logo was designed to symbolize the structure and purpose of the organization. AWAG edited and published the first edition of Never a Dull Moment, a travel and shopping guide written by spouses stationed in Germany. Subsequent editions of this popular book have been expanded to include much of Europe. In 2000, a committee chaired by Brandie Sinkler developed the mission statement: AWAG exists to train, strengthen, and connect volunteers, their organizations, and their communities.
As the American military presence in Germany was reduced, AWAG reorganized into seven geographic areas by 2001: Hessen, Rheinland Pfalz, Oberpfalz (including Berlin), Eifel (including Belgium, Netherlands and England), Rhein Neckar, Schwaben (including Italy), and Franken. Speaker Chairperson and Corporate Liaison became appointed Board positions in order to better utilize talents and resources. In 2004, a Web Page/Technical Support position was created to address the modern requirements of our organization. In 2005, the Auslander area was created to cover Belgium, Netherlands and England, replacing the Eifel area. In 2007, the Board of Governors recognized a need for expanding from the seven geographical areas to nine areas. This expansion approved both Italy and the United Kingdom as individual geographical areas. AWAG Community Representatives continue to be the point of contact for local volunteer organizations and clubs and are responsible for coordinating a one-day conference for community members within their geographic areas.
Throughout the years, AWAG seminars have provided a unique opportunity for leaders to obtain the necessary training and guidance to govern their organizations more effectively, as well as interact with other leaders in similar communities. Although times and fashions have changed, the delegate from over 50 years ago would find a kindred spirit in today’s seminar participant. AWAG remains committed to its mission of building leaders to strengthen and connect communities around the globe.