In 1974 Sue Fields, Betty Aptaker, Lillian Orr, and Joan Stuart (now known as our Founding Mothers) started talking about the concept of a Women’s Center promoting the philosophy of “women helping women”. Only eight years earlier, NOW (National Organization for Women) had been formed, and in 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment.
While working to bring the Women’s Center to fruition, they started to notice that their phone number was more often than not used as a lifeline for domestic violence victims. The women calling them had left violent situations at home and were driving around with their children all night with no place to go.
In 1976 the urgency and critical nature of domestic abuse prompted the Founding Mothers to set their sites on a shelter for the women and children reaching out to them. After three years of looking for a good location, they read an article promoting a program in Norristown that allowed women offenders to serve their sentences out of jail in a place where they were able to take care of their children.
That program, known as Cluster House, was willing to rent their facility to Laurel House for six months, at the end of which they would have to look elsewhere. Luckily, the W.W. Smith Foundation provided enough funding and was able to transfer the building to Laurel House in 1980.
During this time, the end of the 1970s, the terms “battered women” and “abused women” were not considered appropriate to acquire state and federal funding. Eventually, a coalition involved in government funding set up the term “domestic violence,” which was considered more mainstream. One of the women on that coalition suggested the name “Laurel House” because the Laurel is the state flower of Pennsylvania, and the word also signifies “victory”. In 1981, Laurel House was incorporated as a 501(c)3 and approved as a member organization of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV).