Looking Back at an Exceptional Decade:
10 Years of Redefining Philanthropy

Starting in 2013 with a few visionary women who wanted to engage with JMU, Women for Madison has grown exponentially through word-of-mouth marketing, social media, webinars, wine tastings, regional events and a biannual summit. Over the next decade, inspiration for accelerating women’s giving emanated from WFM executive advisory council members, who invited friends to intimate giving circles in their homes with ambitious fundraising goals. 

At each event, large or small, the group always featured JMU students sharing how scholarships have made the Madison Experience possible for them. This led to WFM’s most audacious initiative, the Amethyst Circle, in 2021. In just two months, members of the giving society raised a half-million dollars for scholarships. Take a glimpse into the past decade and how these women have redefined what philanthropy means at JMU.


WFM celebrates 10th anniversary with the theme "Then, Now, Always" at the May Women Who Amaze Summit featuring keynotes  Lindsay Czarniak (’00), Sarah Smith Montana (’09) and Vonya Alleyne (’93).

Amethyst Circle announces successful inaugural effort among 200 founders and members to give $1.3 million for renewable scholarships and programming. Recipients Eliana Diaz-Aceituno (’24), Trystin Umphrey (’25) and Karlee Tomlinson (’25) speak at the Summit.

Judy Strickler (’60) receives the Leslie Gilliam 2023 Spirit of Philanthropy Award.


Amethyst Circle Scholarships are offered to JMU students for the first time. As of August, 10 are awarded. The Amethyst Circle seeks 62 more women at the $5,000 member level to meet the goal of providing all 25 scholarships.


Campbell and the EAC start quietly seeking 10 Amethyst Circle founders to contribute $15,000 each in seed money for endowment and scholarships for immediate use. Within eight weeks, more than 40 women step forward. There are now 65 founders, surpassing $950,000 in giving.

The virtual “Women Who Amaze” summit shatters attendance records. The event, designed by volunteers, includes Stephanie Forbes (’92, ’93M), Mary Margaret Prange (’01), Tiffanie Rosier (’95), and Karen Rothenberger, and is based entirely on input from women in the greater JMU community. “What really stood out to me was that these women were bold,” said Barbara Bouldin (’87, ’20P), who is helping to organize the 2023 summit. “I was honored to come into this collective body of diverse women with a common trait of a love for JMU.”

At the summit, Dawn Smith Barnes (’93) officially announces the launch of the Amethyst Circle and asks for 200 members to join her and the founders to meet the $1 million goal for scholarships.


Beth Bliss (’84) makes the lead gift for the $25,000 WFM EAC challenge that draws 100% council giving. Traditionally, the council leads JMU’s Giving Day advisory board challenges, collectively giving nearly $12,000 annually toward the Giving Day Challenge Fund. With yet another 2020 EAC gift of $24,000 toward the Madison for Keeps emergency-scholarship drive, it is time to scale up women’s giving momentum beyond the council.

Current WFM EAC vice chair Jamie Jones Miller (’99) is called to join the council. “I bleed purple, right? It was an easy ‘yes.’ I’ve been a donor or a volunteer for the institution since the day I left,” she said. “But this is different. This is also about helping women become more comfortable with making financial decisions and with asking their friends to give.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WFM events go virtual, including a series of popular lunchtime webinars that continue when in-person events resume.


Headlined by top alumni speakers including Jamie Jones-Miller (’99), Jennifer Marshall (’01) and Tina Fox (’94), the “Women Who Amaze” summit draws 130 women to campus for a weekend of activities, including a standing-room-only First Ladies brunch at Oakview with Mary Ann Alger. Angela Russell (’85) said she signed up for everything: “a brunch, a scavenger hunt, a speed dating-style event with mentoring, workshops. I really loved it.” She joins WFM’s EAC and serves as vice chair.

Kathy Thomas (’78) receives the Leslie Flanary Gilliam (’82) Spirit of Philanthropy Award in recognition of her work to launch the Dukes Pay It Forward Scholarship program along with her husband, Mike (’76, ’77M). More than 25 other like-minded donors have create these scholarships. “I can’t pay anyone back, but I can pay it forward,” Kathy said.


At the Richmond, Virginia, rally, Centennial Scholars talk about the impact of their JMU scholarships. Their words resonate with Karen Rothenberger (’93). “I’m an educator, and I know how an education can change people’s lives, their family’s lives. There was one Centennial Scholar story told that day that really moved me. I kept thinking, ‘Yes, I want to get behind this,’” she said.


The first summit is marked by WFM’s signature En Blanc Dinner, alumni and speakers, plus overnight accommodations in residence halls. The Spirit of Philanthropy Award is named posthumously for pioneering WFM member and philanthropist Leslie Flanary Gilliam (’82).

Bowers creates the Dolley Madison Dukes Pay It Forward endowed scholarship fund by hosting a giving circle in her home. She and her guests contribute $25,000. “As I told my story about creating that scholarship, I think it was a bit of a catalyst,” she said. “Many women told me they liked this targeted, specific approach. There was a palpable buzz about pooling our funds to benefit individual students.”


At the Opening Doors Rally featuring keynote speaker Pat Southall Smith (’92), WFM EAC member and Centennial Scholar Chiquita King (’09, ’11) issues a call to action: “Which door will you open?”


Carly Fiorina, CEO and then-JMU Board of Visitors member, speaks to the group about the potential for women in philanthropy, and Mary Ann Alger hosts a circle at Oakview.


“Clearly, it is,” said Vanessa Evans-Grevious (’93, ’97M) with a laugh. “But to start, just five or six of us got together for some brainstorming. In one day, we literally framed out what would become WFM from a list of our interests: inspirational conferences, social events, a support network, philanthropy. There was a lot of excitement. The ideas were pouring out.” This visionary group also includes first lady Mary Ann Alger, Beth McConnell Bliss (’84), Leslie Gilliam (’82), Judy Strickler (’60) and Kathy Thomas (’78). Evans-Grevious, already serving on the Board of Visitors, volunteers as the first chair for WFM’s EAC.

With an event at Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, WFM’s Cynthia Cline (’83, ‘20P), now senior director of Strategic Gifts, and Debbi Long (‘04, ’11P) welcome more pioneering energy from Susan Allen (’10P), Susan Brown (’84), Anne Marie Elles (’91), Donna Fowlkes (’72),
Sallie Funkhouser (’67) and Elizabeth Martin (’85).


Women in University Advancement collaborate on the idea of an all-women’s philanthropy group. They ask: “Is this something JMU women want?”

Celebrating Women • Supporting Students • Sustaining JMU

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