Empowered Generations: Celebrating Women's Philanthropy Across Time and Progression

In an era where up to five generations can gather in a single room, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County is fortunate enough to have access to the intergenerational wisdom and experiences these women bring. We recently had the privilege of sitting down with women representing the Silent Generation (1925-1945) to Generation Z (1996-2012), engaging in an inspiring conversation about women's empowerment in philanthropy. Along with powerful stories of empowerment, these women underscore the importance of coming together across generations to acknowledge the transformation of women in philanthropy over almost 100 years. It also shines a spotlight on the evolving landscape of women's participation in the financial world, demonstrating how their financial prowess, historically underestimated and underutilized, is now being celebrated and actively harnessed for the greater good. 

In this article, we embark on a journey through time and across generations, celebrating the remarkable women philanthropists in the Buncombe County community and exploring the evolving role of women in shaping our shared future.



Born shortly after the First Wave of the Feminist Movement (1848-1920) Charlotte Lunsford Berry was taught from an early age that volunteerism is essential to the well-being of an entire community. Getting out into our communities connects us- however, we all know this is not the only way to give back. Still, for much of her young adult life, Charlotte was an avid volunteer and was not asked to contribute financially as a part of giving back to her community. As she spent time volunteering, she came to a profound realization about the women she worked alongside. “I could see we needed more volunteers,” said Charlotte Berry,“ and I could imagine a woman at a young age starting something like that and getting involved and making it happen and being successful.” Berry decided to be that woman. A woman who would show other women positions of leadership. 


“More and more, we women wanted to break that barrier of just men being financial leaders and wanted to do something that would make a difference. And I think most women nowadays really want to do that. And indeed, even when I started it, I had a group of women that always were interested, but they'd never known quite how to do it.”


Berry saw the need, and she, herself, decided to fill it. She spent much of the 1980’s as the National Chairwoman of Volunteers of the American Red Cross and was even the first female board chair of our very own United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. She continues to serve on several boards of nonprofits.

Through her exemplary leap into volunteerism and financial philanthropy, she set the stage for a new generation of women to own their power.  And as the second wave of Feminism in America rose, so did leaders born into the Baby Boomer (1946-1964) generation. One of those leaders is Taylor Foss, who is currently an integral part of the UWABC Tocqueville Society. Most notably, Foss co-created Women United for United Way Worldwide; she explains her reasoning as she reflected on what the philanthropic landscape was like growing up. 


“The men were making all the decisions,” said Foss, “and they weren't even asking women for money. At the time, women were usually married to a man who gave the check and therefore made the decisions. And if you looked at the board, the worldwide board was just men.” 


With a strong financial acumen and a history of dedicated volunteer work that refined her leadership abilities, Taylor Foss sensed a responsibility to contribute to enhancing the financial empowerment of women in influential positions. Supported by a cohort of women around her, Foss thought, “You know, we should have a say in what's happening here because we're volunteering. I mean, women have been volunteering forever. And we are giving our treasure, and we are giving our talent, but we're not able to make those decisions that we think impact our communities.” From serving on the worldwide board of United Way, creating Women United Worldwide, and then creating the Asheville/ Buncombe Women United chapter in 2000, Foss truly led by example. Breaking the glass ceiling was often a phrase used to describe women of the second Feminist movement (1963-1980) who shattered the arbitrary confinement placed upon them. Taylor Foss is a glass-ceiling breaker who paved the way for many women.

Of course, the beneficiaries of Foss’s work are women today who readily have the option to utilize their financial gifts. Julie Smith, born into Generation X (1965 - 1980) was coming of age at the time women like Foss were helping other women have a seat at the decision-making table. As ideas shifted, the women of Generation X were primed to continue building financial power and literacy. So much so that a young Julie Smith was inspired by her peers to create and hold a leadership role in the UWABC Highland Circle giving society.



“It was more just my peers that inspired me,” said Smith as she reflected on her philanthropic work, “ I feel like, and even to this day, I feel it's hard at that 25, 30, 35 age when you're trying to save every nickel you earn because you're saving and you're getting things coming down the pipeline. So it was just my peers getting together that we knew we had to do something.” 


The platform had been set by women like Charlotte Berry and Taylor Foss to allow women like Julie and her peers to have such success in their philanthropic endeavors. Now, young women, who are part of the youngest generation that are entering the workforce (Generation Z 1997- 2012) continue to build upon the foundations of their older peers.

Dakota Owenby is one of Gen Z’s in UWABC’s network who is doing just that. 

For Owenby, many of the challenges her elders face are not as prevalent. She explains, “In my workplace, it is a woman-led department. I have a lot of women around me, so I’ve never seen women not having financial power as an issue or holding back for me.” Owenby acknowledges, however, that female financial power still has room to grow in a society that can still be male-dominated. Being a member of the Highland Circle affinity group, the very one established by Julie Smith, Owenby consistently explores avenues to further cultivate opportunities for young women to assume leadership positions.



From networking gatherings to active volunteering and establishing an environment where women can both learn from and lead one another, Owenby actively considers and embodies methods through which women can assert their voices and claim their space. She envisions women utilizing their power to influence the world, discovering a newfound sense of empowerment in the process. 


“Knowing it’s my dollars and other women's dollars means a lot, too, for me. Because I know it came from me and other women.  It feels good to be a part of something bigger and know it was your decision and your work that made that money that went to a great cause.”

The great privilege UWABC has to create a dialogue among women from the Silent Generation to Generation Z  underscores the transformative power of shared identity and the evolving role of women in philanthropy. Charlotte Berry, inspired by volunteerism, recognized the need for financial leadership among women and became a beacon for change. Taylor Foss, breaking barriers, championed the financial leverage of women, catalyzing Women United Worldwide and Asheville/Buncombe Women United. Julie Smith and her Generation X peers built upon this foundation, creating giving societies like the Highland Circle. Now, Dakota Owenby, part of Gen Z, continues this legacy, focusing on creating spaces for young women to lead, recognizing the importance of financial power in philanthropy. Their stories echo the call for intergenerational unity and support, beckoning others to join affinity groups, contribute their voices, and embrace their leadership for collective good.



Keep the Generations of Giving Going! 


Learn more about joining a UWABC affinity group HERE!

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