HAFFCU officers (I to r): Joyce Cragg (treasurer); Susan Bishop (office manager); Laura Oren (founder); and J. E. McNeil (president) meet in the new credit union offices.
"We got a running start on the 90 days,"
she says. The credit union had a fund-raising event, and McNeil spoke to an organization every week about HAFFCU, trying
to drum up support. Offices were moved
to rent-free space in Cragg's antique store
and HAFFCU became more diligent about
McNeil also asked Congressman Bob
Eckhardt, her former employer, for help.
She convinced him of the credit union's
intentions to run a successful business
and he wrote "one of the best political
push letters I've ever read," McNeil says.
Eckhardt's letter pointed out HAFFCU's
improvement and the need for NCUA to
set clearer goals for HAFFCU.
The credit union had had problems
with NCUA from the beginning. "Because
some of the other feminist credit unions
had run into difficulties with the NCUA,
they thought all feminists were lunatics,"
McNeil recalls. HAFFCU's proposed
membership base and its early policy of
automatically granting loans for abortions
also upset the regulating agency, Cragg
says. NCUA had also requested a membership roster of each feminist group participating in HAFFCU, another unusual request, Cragg adds.
But Oren's brainchild did receive a
charter from NCUA and opened in October 1975, with $20,000 in deposits. "We
had a grand opening," Oren recalls. "The
Stand Up Sisters Feminist Theater Group
performed. It was a really wonderful evening. Within two weeks we had $30,000
in deposits. We had a very auspicious
start, but a tremendous amount of work
The ground work had been done by
six women who answered an ad Oren had
placed in the January 1975 issue of
Broadside, the Houston Area NOW newsletter. Oren was new to Houston and
wanted to become involved in the women's movement. A friend's experience
with a feminist credit union in New Haven, Connecticutt, gave her a similar idea
for Houston. She placed the ad asking for
other interested women.
Oren says the founding members were
from diverse backgrounds and had varying economic views. One was a Goldwater
supporter and another a socialist, but
"most of us were somewhere in the middle." Meryl Leatherman was in sales;
Kathy Whitmire, an accountant; Donna
Lessar, in construction; Elaine Tatar, a
The women began visiting women's
organizations seeking pledges from thier
members to make depositis if HAFFCU
were formed. They agreed not to make a
move unless pledges exceeded $20,000.
Although the first years of business
were difficult, HAFFCU had its successes
which helped it over the bumps.
"One of the very first loans was delightful," Oren recalls. "A single woman who
worked as a temporary nurse was seeking
a loan to tide her through a pregnancy.
She had tried other lending institutions
which turned her down. HAFFCU made
the loan which the woman paid back after her baby was born and she returned to
"She wrote to us saying that when her
child got old enough to understand how
the women's movement had helped his
birth, she hoped the child would not understand, because by that point there
would no longer be a need for the women's movement."
HAFFCU has also helped several minority men and women establish credit
which they were unable to obtain at
other institutions because of discrimination.
HAFFCU is also one of the oldest
"umbrella" organizations of feminists in
Houston. It draws members from 20 affiliating feminist groups.
Together with Women in Action and
the Houston YWCA, HAFFCU has formed
the Credit Coalition. This is a volunteer
speaker's bureau to help institutions, organizations and individual women identify, discuss and solve credit problems. As
part of its credit education goal, the coalition will hold credit workshops throughout the community during the coming
According to McNeil, HAFFCU's
money goes to help women and support
the feminist community, not to a corporation or a financial giant. "HAFFCU is
showing that women are a viable market,"
McNeil says. "We are also able to apply
peer pressure to other lending institutions
in making credit available to women. We
do not feel it is coincidental that in the
past two years, all the banks in town have
named women as vice presidents."
HAFFCU's future looks brighter. Deposits are now over $100,000. Delinquent
loans are down 13%, according to Cragg,
and the credit union has moved out of
her antique store to new offices at 4600
Main Street. Funding from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act
(CETA) has enabled HAFFCU to add
three full-time employees to its staff. City
Controller Kathy Whitmire, one of
HAFFCU's founders, wrote the grant proposal which had formerly been denied
three times, McNeil says.
In the fall of 1978, HAFFCU made
money for the first time and was able to
pay a small dividend to its members.
Donations from an organization, Friends
of HAFFCU, made the dividend possible,
HAFFCU hopes to be able to issue and
pay for their own dividend by June, 1979.
"We can't offer a decent dividend yet,"
Oren says, "so it is hard to get new members. If all the people who are waiting for
us to make a dividend would contribute,
we could afford to make one."
HAFFCU would like to increase its
membership potential by allowing more
groups to affiliate, but NCUA guidelines
will not permit new groups to affiliate
with HAFFCU until its current membership base is saturated, McNeil says.
HAFFCU now has 737 members from a
potential of 2,000 in the affiliated groups.
Any individual who wishes to deposit
money in HA FFCU must belong to one
of the affiliated groups.
Three vacancies on the HAFFCU
board will be filled at its annual meeting
in late February, Cragg says. Two positions on the credit committee will also be
filled. Cragg is hopeful that members will
attend the meeting and fill the vacant
slots. "Any member is eligible," she says.
"We need new blood."
With a transfusion of "new blood" and
more members, HAFFCU may continue
to climb out of its crisis and broaden its
service to the Houston feminist community.