Mary Janney, 91; helped launch women’s career resources group

Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Mary D. Janney, a former history teacher who was a founder of Wider Opportunities for Women, a Washington-based career resource center that has helped thousands of women find work, died Oct. 7 at George Washington University Hospital. She was 91 and had complications from a hip fracture.

After settling in Washington in 1949, Mrs. Janney taught history at the private Potomac School in McLean, Va., for a dozen years, raising two sons.

As feminist ideals began to permeate society, she left her teaching job in 1964 to find ways to improve the plight of women in the workplace. She would spend more than 40 years working with organizations dedicated to occupational and educational opportunity.


Mrs. Janney was guided, in part, by her mother’s example.

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‘‘She had a very strong mother,’’ her son Peter said, ‘‘who was on her own as a single mother and was a pioneer in the New York birth-control movement.’’

With a friend, Jane Fleming, Mrs. Janney wrote a book for women seeking employment, and in 1964 they opened a walk-in center called Washington Opportunities for Women.

‘‘They began at the proverbial kitchen table,’’ said Joan ­Kuriansky, the organization’s director from 2001 to 2011.

Later renamed Wider ­Opportunities for Women to ­reflect a growing national presence, the group has trained more than 10,000 women for jobs in the Washington metropolitan area and thousands more throughout the country. Mrs. Janney was the organization’s director for 12 years.


‘‘She was a larger-than-life figure,’’ Kuriansky said. ‘‘She took seriously the integrity of every person she met.’’

Originally geared toward professional women seeking second careers, part-time work, or volunteer opportunities, the organization evolved to include training programs and placement services for all women.

‘‘Regardless of education and money,’’ Mrs. Janney told the New York Times in 1971, ‘‘all women need the same supportive situation in order to find jobs and stay in them.’’

The Women’s Workforce Network, a nationwide group of women’s employment programs, grew out of Wider Opportunities for Women, as did the Women’s College Assistance Project, which provided funding to low-income women.

As more women began to move into fields previously dominated by men, the organization expanded its programs to include training for a wide range of technical work.


‘‘The thinking has been that if the job is something technical or complicated, women can’t do it,’’ Mrs. Janney said in 1975. ‘‘We’re trying to change that.’’

Mary Draper was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She graduated in 1942 from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

In 1948, Mrs. Janney received a master’s degree in sociology from Yale University.

During the 1970s, she chaired Vassar’s board of trustees and helped direct a search that led to hiring Virginia B. Smith as the college’s president.

In her 80s, Mrs. Janney was director of the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities, a tuition-free education program.

Mrs. Janney spent summers in Woods Hole, Mass.