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Overseas Education Fund (OEF) records

 Collection 0229-MDHC

The Overseas Education Fund (later OEF International) was a non-profit women’s rights and international development organization, originally part of the League of Women Voters, in operation from 1947 until 1991. Its mission was to support the active participation of women in the socio-economic development of third world countries, assisting them with education and training to increase their earning potential, and bringing the issues and influence of developing countries in the twentieth century to the attention of Americans. Through grant-funded projects and initiatives, OEF provided training and technical assistance, educational and informational materials, seminars and workshops (domestically and abroad), and outreach/development in cooperation with government programs in foreign countries. The records consist of correspondence, reports, minutes, subject files, photographs, and memorabilia of the organization throughout its history. The collection has been minimally processed. Preliminary inventories for textual and audiovisual materials were prepared and are available as two, separate external documents.


  • 1908-1991
  • Majority of material found within 1981-1989

Use and Access to Collection

This collection contains audiovisual materials. Items that cannot be used in the Special Collections reading room or are too fragile for researchers require that a digital copy be made prior to use. If you would like to access these materials, please contact us prior to your visit, so we may determine the proper steps to be taken.

This collection contains restricted material, please check the inventories for additional information.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


388.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Overseas Education Fund (OEF) records contain materials dating from 1908-1991, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1981-1989. The collection contains working office files, publications, correspondence, photographs, memorabilia, and audio-visual materials. Records of the Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees, the Executive Director’s office, and satellite offices constitute a significant portion of the collection. Items dating from approximately 1908-1920 are related to women’s suffrage and to Carrie Chapman Catt, for whom the organization was named in its early stages, and comprise photographs and other materials.

Administrative History

The Overseas Education Fund (OEF) was established by the League of Women Voters of the United States in May, 1947, in an effort to rebuild communities, post-WWII, with civic education, organizational techniques and leadership training focused on the potential contributions of women. The incipient organization was at first designated as the Carrie Chapman Catt Memorial Fund in honor of the women’s suffrage advocate who led the campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The organization was subsequently called the Overseas Education Fund of the League of Women Voters, then later OEF International.

OEF was active in hundreds of foreign countries, most prominently those in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The goals of OEF programs abroad included: strengthening women’s economic involvement in their communities; working with women in identifying development obstacles confronting them; and helping women establish and manage their own businesses. The last of these goals was facilitated largely through the activities of OEF’s Women in Business (WIB) Program, beginning in 1981. Within the United States, OEF organized international forums to provide education on the needs of women in third world countries, as well as promote cross-cultural interaction; promoted international development through workshops, publications and other projects; and actively sought funding and support through Congress and other granting institutions for worldwide development of women’s issues.

During the first years of its existence, OEF focused its efforts on providing training and consultation services to leaders of women's and voluntary organizations in twenty-five developing countries (Small Enterprise Development: SED). Starting in the 1960s and continuing into the 1970s and 1980s, OEF received funding grants from the Agency for International Development (A.I.D.) of the U.S. State Department as well as corporate and private organizations to support over fifty field- and U.S.- based training programs for women leaders in South and Central America and the Caribbean (Women in Development: WID). During these decades OEF refocused the social welfare orientation of many women's and voluntary organizations toward "self-help" community development in rural and urban areas, offering technical assistance and training (Women in Development Technical Training: WIDTech). OEF’s Women, Law, and Development Program (WLD) began in 1983, advocating for education to improve the legal status of women, followed in 1986 by the Program of Education for Participation (PEP), a community education and action program based in Central America, which employed innovative and informal educational methods to help participants understand and use democratic processes effectively.

By the end of the 1980s, with government funding rapidly drying up, and projects in Senegal and El Salvador running into problems, OEF International began experiencing budget shortfalls. By early 1990, the organization was searching for a more focused identity and financial security by appealing to the changing trends in funding organizations. However, in September, 1990, it was clear that the program running in Somalia would have to be closed out prematurely due to the political instability and violence that overwhelmed that country. Already financially unstable, OEF was unable to recover from the loss, and though valiant efforts were made to eliminate debt and restructure, the organization closed down operations in 1991.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Overseas Education Fund (OEF) records were acquired in 1993 from Willie Campbell, former president of the League of Women Voters, in coordination with Cynthia Metzler, former Executive Director of OEF International.

Processing Information

The files were prepared and organized by former OEF International staff before acquisition and remain in the order in which they were received (cardboard storage boxes labeled by subject of contents) with the following exceptions: Box 3 and its contents were lost before transfer, in transit, or in reorganization. Boxes 221 and 226 were deaccessioned and destroyed because they contained personnel records with sensitive information.

The collection was minimally processed, and an effort was made to ensure that folders retained their original labels, that documents were not crushed or folded unnecessarily, and that any rubber bands or rusting paper clips around photos or documents were removed.

Preliminary inventories for textual and audiovisual materials were prepared and are available as two, separate external documents.

Guide to the Overseas Education Fund (OEF) Records
Minimally Processed
David Travis and Sarah Elizabeth Hedlund
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742