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Membership: A Best Buy!

Mary Ann Kerwin
Cherry Hills Village CO USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 2, April-May 2002, pp. 34-35.

In the past, this column has focused on ideas shared by Leaders on the importance and ways of promoting membership. This month, we hear about the history of LLL membership from one of the seven Founders, Mary Ann Kerwin. What is the history of membership in LLL? How and when did the Founders ask mothers to pay memberships? These were two of the questions that I asked the Founders in an email. Mary Ann Kerwin shares her recollections with us. —Connie Boord

As I recall, we did not ask those who attended our very first La Leche League meetings to become members. We were thrilled that mothers actually came to our meetings to learn about breastfeeding. At first, we didn’t think of asking them for membership dues. But after a few months, we realized we were spending our own money to pay for expenses, so we decided to start asking the mothers to pay a $1.00 membership fee.

I have a copy of one of our first brochures. The front cover of this brochure has the wording “Your Baby and You” and includes a sketch of a mother nursing a baby. The last page includes the cost of membership and publications plus the address of LLL of Franklin Park, Inc. (our original name—obviously we weren’t thinking of a global organization at that time!), which was Edwina Froehlich’s home address.

I saved many original brochures from the late 1950s. One early brochure has “Why Nurse Your Baby?” on the front cover. This brochure lists the following information on the cost of membership:

1. To attend five meetings: $2.00. This includes a one year subscription to the Newsletter.

2. To receive Newsletter for one year if not attending series: $1.00.

3. The Course-By-Mail (the original “Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”): $2.00.

In a later brochure, the cost of membership is the same, $2.00 including a one-year subscription to the LLL News. Betty Wagner is on the cover nursing one of her babies. This brochure included a “La Leche League Directory For Meetings.” I am listed as the contact for meetings in Colorado, USA so this brochure was used after my move to Colorado in 1960. Edwina’s home is still the “office” address of La Leche League of Franklin Park, Inc.

In subsequent years, there was a gradual increase in the cost of membership. A later, undated brochure with Mrs. John Welsh nursing one of her twins on the cover shows an increase in the cost of membership to $3.00, including a one-year subscription to the LLL News. The office listed on this brochure is 9616 Minneapolis Ave. in Franklin Park, Illinois, USA, so by then LLL had moved to the location that remained our home for so many years. Our name had become La Leche League International.

In 1968, there was an article in the January issue of Leaven entitled “To Raise or Not To Raise.” At that time, Leaders had responded to an announcement of a dues increase and most agreed that the LLL News was worth the $2.00 subscription price, but many did “not believe their meetings were worth $3.00!” The author of the article wrote to Leaders, “Where else can a mother go to learn to breastfeed and to be helped in mothering her baby? Where else can she meet other experienced mothers with like aspirations? The mothers may be able to attend high school or college classes, childbirth education classes, (and more than likely the fee for any of these would be $5.00 at a minimum), but they will never receive anywhere else the particular kind of help you have to offer. Any organization that attempts to be of service to more than 10,000 mothers and babies annually has to have a minimum amount of funds on which to operate.” (LLLI now helps more than 300,000 people per month.)

After pointing out the reasons for raising dues from $3.00 to $5.00, the author goes on to write, “Still when all is said and done, we are leaving the decision of the dues in the hands of each state. If you hear nothing to the contrary from your State Coordinator, charge the $5.00. But, if by state vote the majority of accredited Leaders decide to charge less, we will not interfere. You are free to agree on the $3.00, $4.00, or $5.00 dues, but not more than $5.00.”

In a later brochure with a new title of “Why Breastfeed Your Baby?” membership is listed at $8.00 including a one-year subscription to LLL News. In April 1979 the cost of membership was increased to $12 (including LLL News). Nursing mothers (Victoria Watts and Denae Leigon) were on the covers of the 1977 and 1979 brochures.

From La Leche League’s infancy, we wanted to help mothers breastfeed and mother their babies. We did not really think about charging mothers for our help, but as we grew and received more and more inquiries about our organization, we realized we needed money. The decision to ask mothers to pay membership dues of $1.00 gave us the opportunity to begin to create a self-sustaining organization.

Fortunately, many mothers were interested in becoming members of La Leche League and their commitment helped us build a firm foundation. It took me many years to feel comfortable telling mothers that joining LLL is a real bargain, emphasizing how much mothers get for the relatively small cost of membership. Although we were all in agreement when we first made the decision to ask for membership dues, I think most of the Founders felt embarrassed to ask for money and were rather apologetic when we mentioned it. Eventually I no longer felt apologetic when I asked mothers to become members and pay dues. I realized that membership in La Leche League is one of the best buys there is, much like breastfeeding itself.

Edwina Froehlich remembers:

When Mary Ann Cahill and Betty Wagner were part of my Group, we set up a system of having a table right at the door. At the end of the meeting, I would refer to Betty at the table ‘who would be happy to accept your dues.’ If mothers forgot to bring extra money (imagine—it was only a dollar, but a mother might very well not have that much in her purse), we would tell them we would appreciate it if they would remember next time. I never minded giving that little speech and it worked pretty well to have Betty right at the door saying ‘goodbye’ from her table. But, there would occasionally be a mother who just never paid and I could not bring myself to approach her individually and ask her to pay. Neither of my co-Leaders wanted to do that either.

While the cost of LLL membership has increased over the years, it still is one of the best buys there is. Not only do mothers find ongoing support and information at our meetings, they also save themselves the cost of formula and have access to priceless information from our Libraries and Professional Liaison Network. Where else can mothers not only get help with breastfeeding, but also find reinforcement of their mothering philosophies, documented breastfeeding information, and camaraderie for such a small fee?

I now have been a member of LLLI for nearly two-thirds of my life and have paid membership dues during most of those years. Betty Wagner was the Founder who really taught me how important it is for mothers to pay a membership fee if at all possible. She insisted that even those of us who felt we already had given so much time and money to La Leche League should pay dues. Betty stressed that membership proves our investment in an organization and in its goals. Once I realized the importance of Betty’s points, I wanted to help sustain La Leche League by making financial contributions to our wonderful organization.

While I have dedicated much of my time and resources to La Leche League during the past five decades, there is no question that La Leche League has given me and my family much in return. My involvement has enriched my life and that of my family in innumerable ways. One of my greatest joys has been seeing all my grandchildren breastfeed as well as seeing tens of thousands of first-time mothers get off to such a great start with breastfeeding thanks to LLLI. I still feel thrilled each time a mother comes up to me and says she is so glad she joined La Leche League because being a member has transformed her and her family!

I love to encourage pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to become members of La Leche League. How wise they are to seek information at meetings and work through any problems or uncertainties that may arise about breastfeeding. These mothers surely will get the reinforcement they need to breastfeed at least throughout their babies’ first year of life and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.

LLLI undoubtedly has helped bring about significant cultural changes. Once shunned as somewhat primitive, breastfeeding is now, without question, viewed as the best choice. Nearly on the verge of extinction in the USA in the 1950s, breastfeeding is again becoming ingrained in our culture. At most hospitals, lactation support is available. Some corporate giants pride themselves on catering to nursing mothers. Progressive country and state legislative bodies are ensuring that nursing mothers are free to feed their baby any time, any place.

All of us who have joined La Leche League International throughout the years can claim credit for helping to dramatically alter our society. As members, together we have influenced the entire world.

Membership Dues Increase

As announced in the February-March issue of LEAVEN and the March-April issue of NEW BEGINNINGS, LLLI membership will increase to $36.00 as of June 1, 2002.

The last time the membership fee was increased was over 10 years ago, in July 1991. The fee was increased at that time from $25 to $30. The previous increase, from $20 to $25, was in July 1987. Before that, from 1981 to 1987, the membership fee had more than doubled, from $12 in 1981 to $25 in 1987.

It is not hard to understand or explain that all of the costs of doing business, including the printing and mailing of NEW BEGINNINGS, have increased dramatically over the last 10 years. We have been able to absorb those increases without increasing membership dues because other sources of income have been expanded, including donations, advertising, endorsements, and sales of publications. However, in the budget process for the fiscal year 2002-2003, it became evident that an increase in membership dues was necessary in order to ensure that LLLI could continue to provide the services our Leaders and members expect and deserve.

We are encouraging Leaders to announce the dues increase in advance to encourage mothers to join or renew their membership at the current price. The increase goes into effect June 1, 2002.

The following is the breakdown for Groups to use in dividing the new membership dues amounts.

1 year $36.00 $6.00 $22.00 $2.25 $3.25 $8.50
2 year $65.00 $10.00 $39.00 $4.25 $6.00 $15.75
3 year $95.00 $15.00 $57.50 $6.25 $8.75 $22.50
Family Membership $52.00 $7.00 $26.00 $5.50 $5.50 $15.00
Sustaining Membership $115.00* $15.00 $65.00 $5.00 $10.00 $35.00

Please note: This membership dues increase does not affect Affiliates or Areas outside the USA who have established a local membership fee. If you have any questions about membership dues breakdowns in Affiliates or in Areas outside the USA, contact your area support person.
*If more than $115.00 is received for a Sustaining Membership, the total will be divided proportionately.

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