As early as 1959, activities at the United Nations expressed concern about the status of women around the world. This led to the foundation of what is now the National Association of Commissions for Women.
The Commission movement began in December 1961 when President John F. Kennedy signed the order establishing the President's Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW). The idea to have a Commission is attributed to Esther Peterson, then Director of the U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau. She persuaded the President to appoint Eleanor Roosevelt as Chair of the Commission and Esther Peterson became Vice Chair. When the PCSW's issued its report in 1963, "American Women in 1963," report, it became clear that the work for women's equality had only begun. Much needed to be done in the states and localities before women achieved their basic rights.
The Office of the White House Press Secretary released this statement on October 11, 1963:
Culminating a 22-month study of major aspects of women's activities in American life, the President's Commission on the Status of Women blueprinted an 'action program' to provide greater opportunities for women to contribute skills and abilities to the nation's advancement and to remove existing discriminations against women.
Established under an Executive Order on December 14, 1961, with the late Eleanor Roosevelt as Chairman, the Commission made its final report to President John F. Kennedy on the anniversary of Mrs. Roosevelt's birth.
They said that Mrs. Roosevelt's "devotion to fuller realization of the abilities of women in all walks of life and in all countries raised the status of women everywhere."
In 1963, President Kennedy also created in the Interdepartmental Committee on the Status of Women and the Citizen's Council on the Status of Women. One of the central recommendations in the President's Commission 1963 report was that each state form a similar commission on the status of women. The Business and Professional Women's (BPW) Foundation made it a priority to set up state commissions, and they were soon joined by several other women's organizations. The Women's Bureau regional Administrators worked with these organizations toward establishing the commissions.
Even before the President's Commission issued its report, Michigan had set up the first commission in 1962. It was soon followed by the state of Washington and other commissions were rapidly established. Most were by executive order; most are now legislatively mandated.
The National Conference of Governor's Commission on the Status of Women was subsequently convened and 1964-66 and 1968-69. Regional conferences were held in 1967, by which time every state, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia had a commission. In the early '60s, the Women's Bureau sponsored the Annual National Conference of Commissions. In 1970 at the 50th anniversary conference of the Women's Bureau, the commissions, by mutual agreement, formed their own organization, the Interstate Association of Commissions for Women (IACSW). In the early '70s, the movement for local commissions gained momentum, starting with local commissions in Wisconsin and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The IACSW continued annual meetings from 1969-1975, when they convened a constitutional convention in Chicago. The bylaws were changed and the IACSW became the National Association of Commissions for Women (NACW), which expanded to include city and county commissions. In the transition, the Women's Bureau provided technical assistance and now serves a liaison role to all commissions regardless of their membership in NACW.
The number of active commissions has declined in recent years, from a high of 230 to an unknown number today – probably less than 200. NACW has continued holding annual meetings since 1975 (with the exception of 2009 when, due to economic concerns, the conference was not held). The national body provides a voice on the needs and concerns of women and their families through support of legislative action, serving on national advisory committees, participating with other organizations and presenting testimony at public hearings to ensure equality for women under the law.