100 Years of Association Forum

Association Forum from 1916 - 2016: 100 Years of Advancing the Professional Practice of Association

The year was 1916 and "war clouds were on the horizon." People were increasingly concerned about the possibility of American involvement in the European War. Congress established a federal income tax of 1 percent for incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 and 2 percent for incomes of $40,000 to $60,000. The maximum tax was 13 percent for incomes that exceeded two million. And, of course, the Chicago Cubs played their first game at Wrigley Field.

On May 26, 1916, W.H. Boyd, Field Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, invited 18 association executives in Chicago to a luncheon at the Grand Pacific Hotel. One of the participants in that meeting was Meinrad Wulpi, an executive from what would later be known as an association management company. In a later CSAE publication, Wulpi shared some of his recollections of this meeting: "...most of us were strangers to each other, and it occurred to me that this condition should not be. We, in each of our respective spheres, were preaching cooperation, but we fellow secretaries were not practicing what we were preaching. I there raised the question of organizing some sort of a secretarial association for the promotion of our secretarial efficiency. The idea went home, and yours truly was made chairman of an Organization Committee.” The first organizational session of the Chicago Business Secretaries Forum was held on September 28, 1916. Ten luncheon meetings a year were planned. Dues were five dollars a year; their slogan was "Better Secretaries!"

In addition to hosting regular luncheon meetings, the Chicago Business Executives Forum started to establish best practices and develop industry statistics. The first salary survey was done in 1919, showing that the average annual salary of an association executive was about $8,700. A committee was formed to promote attendance at Forum events. An official "docket" was regularly published for these meetings that included an agenda as well as a list of equipment needed for the meeting. This list included three ash trays, a box of cigars, two packages of cigarettes, a few packages of matches, a hat rack and, of course, a spittoon.

Much has changed in Association Forum in our 100 years. We’ve changed names a couple times. The average salary of an association executive is no longer $8,700. Dues are no longer $5. We only rarely have spittoons in our committee meetings. But one could argue that the same thing that brought these 18 visionaries together in 1916 continues to bring us together today: the realization that we are better together than we would be individually. It's highly likely that Boyd, Wulpi and the other founding members would be pleased to see, 100 years later, how Association Forum has grown into a vehicle to provide just the sort of opportunities they were looking for to advance the professional practice of association management.