A Passionate Visionary

Marjorie Powell Allen to join Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

Marjorie Powell Allen has been described as a passionate visionary; but she would dismiss that idea with a grin and a wave of her hand. In her estimation, the things she wanted for Kansas City’s women and children were quite realistic. Born into a life of comfort and affluence, Allen always had the heart of a social reformer and the talent for attracting other women to her ideas for making Kansas City better.

In recognition of her lifetime achievements and contributions, Allen is one of seven exceptional women from the Metropolitan Kansas City area included in the inaugural class of honorees to be recognized in the new Starr Women’s Hall of Fame. Stories of other inductees can be found online.

Allen saw that indigent women needed services to help them get on track; then, at a certain point in their progress, they needed opportunities. Other women, with funds to contribute, could offer this specialized support. In her keen, analytical way, Allen observed that the needs of both groups of women intersected, economics and position aside; so she devised ways, through philanthropic organizations she joined or founded, to bring them together.

After reading a study revealing that only four percent of charitable dollars went to programs for women and girls, she directed her own giving in support of girls and women through the Greater Kansas City Charitable Foundation and her family’s Powell Family Foundation. She established the Women’s Foundation, in part to bring other women into the donor fold, and served as chair of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

Allen and her friends established the Women’s Employment Network so that women eager to leave welfare dependency behind would have some basic necessities: among them job training and classes; a modest wardrobe for interviews; and practice presenting oneself to potential employers. And they designed the Central Exchange for working women, giving them access to a network of colleagues and the opportunity for advancement.

As she found ways to maximize her gifts and help keep Kansas City families intact, Allen turned her interests elsewhere. An active, energetic woman all her life, she knew that children need a wholesome outdoor setting where they can romp and play. So she converted her family’s own retreat into an outdoor residential camp, Wildwood, for inner-city youth and others to enjoy. She provided funds for Powell Gardens, with acres of unspoiled beauty, and a chapel that soon became a popular wedding site.

She also backed the Mid-Continent Council of Girl Scouts and the “I Have A Dream” project, offering college tuition to inner-city sixth graders upon high school graduation as an incentive to stay in school.

At every stage of life, Allen knew women who were looking for places where they might pour their energies. She encouraged them to adopt the causes she held close: using one’s assets to benefit others; giving to help girls and women; and joining a women’s group to build a career network. But one of her most enduring contributions is reflected in the thousands of women – confident of their new job skills, trained in the art of the job interview, well-dressed and well-groomed – who are a living tribute to what one determined woman can do.

Allen died in 1992 at the age of 63.

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