Twenty-four years after Joan Carter made history as one of the first women to be admitted as a member of the Union League of Philadelphia, she's about to do so again.
The South Jersey businesswoman is days away from an election that will make her the first female president of the 148-year-old private club.
Unlike the public anger and venom that accompanied the Union League's resistance to change in the '80s, there has been no controversy over naming a woman as the 67th president of an institution that had once excluded women.
In large part, that's because of Carter's credentials and to how different the business world is now, said some who have worked with her over the years.
Carter and her husband, John Aglialoro, have started, bought, and sold more than 40 businesses since the early 1970s. They started out by opening a heart clinic in Cherry Hill. Many of their ventures have been in the health-care field, including clinics focused on cardiac-monitoring services, and a chain of outpatient dialysis centers.
Today, their UM Holdings Ltd. owns EHE International, a corporate-wellness firm based in New York, and 40 percent of Cybex International Inc., a Medway, Mass., manufacturer of fitness equipment.
Anthony Santomero first encountered Carter, who was chairwoman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, when it was looking for a new president to succeed Edward Boehne in 2000. Santomero recalled Carter's stressing during the search process the need for "community engagement" by the Fed. Santomero said he took that to heart as the Philadelphia Fed president from June 2000 to July 2006.
Alan B. Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Universal Health Services Inc., serves on the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. board with Carter and offered this as praise: "She talks in a straight line, like me."
Jeffrey McFadden, the general manager of the Union League, described her as "thoughtful," "decisive," and "easily adaptable."
Adaptable she was during those first few years of membership at the Union League when the club had to make changes, both physical and attitudinal, to a proud, tradition-bound organization. Carter said she and the four other initial female members would eat together in the dining room once a month, feeling very much like a novelty.
"We felt like we were making history," Carter said last week in the club's second-floor boardroom. Carter faces no opposition in the Dec. 13 election.
Two of the original female members have died, but Carter, New Jersey State Sen. Diane Allen, and Karen Connor, owner of an advertising and public relations agency in Conshohocken, still get together at the league once a month.
Connor said she was thrilled her friend would be the president of an organization that has meant so much to her socially and in her business life.
She measures change in the attitudes of her children who, she said, "can't relate" to the once-common discriminatory, exclusionary practices of many private clubs.
"Philadelphia remains provincial and parochial," Connor said, "but it has made a lot of progress when it comes to women in the workplace."
The Union League is one of eight city clubs left in Philadelphia, McFadden said. There were once 56, but the combination of societal changes, the elimination of tax deductions, and financial difficulties have winnowed the field.
As halting as it may have been, the Union League did confront the challenges it faced, both those self-inflicted (excluding women) and those posed by outside forces (the migration of offices to the suburbs).
Success could be seen on a recent tour of the league that showed nearly all 16 workstations in its high-tech business center in use during the midafternoon. The league has spent $25 million on renovations over the last decade, from its 84-room hotel and fitness centers to transforming its dining area two years ago into the posh 1862 by Martin Hamann restaurant.
Membership has been on the rise, McFadden said. The number of so-called resident members totals about 2,400. Each year, about 180 people are sponsored and accepted for membership. The ranks get thinned by between 120 and 150 people annually for a variety of reasons, such as relocation or death. The average age of members is a little more than 58 years.
Miller, who has been a member of the Union League for 30 years, said the club had "never been better than it is today."
James H. Carll, chairman of Archer & Greiner P.C., the Haddonfield law firm, agreed. "A lot of clubs have not survived. The Union League has changed - and been successful as a result," said Carll, who was recently elected to the board.
Carter, now 67, will get to preside over two significant events during the two one-year terms of her presidency.
In the spring, the Union League has plans to open its Heritage Center, which will house the league's Civil War-era documents, including a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, letters from soldiers, and other Lincoln documents. Open to the public, the center will have its own entrance off Broad Street.
In 2012, the Union League - one of only three left in the nation - will celebrate its 150th anniversary. Founded as a symbol of patriotism, the institution remains as important and relevant today as it did in the time of Lincoln, Carter said.
"Patriotism is important to me," she said.
As it is to her friend and monthly lunch companion, Diane Allen, who was a local television anchor when she joined. Carter will be a great president for the Union League, not because she's a woman, Allen said, but because of what she has accomplished in business - and because of her engaging personality.
In the '80s, the private club needed to change to join the 20th century, Allen said, and admitting women was an important step. "We probably brought them into it a lot faster than they would've wanted."
Address: 140 S. Broad St.
Total square footage: 250,000.
Resident members: 2,400.
Total membership: 3,200.
Female members: 600.
Initiation fee: $3,600.
Annual membership fee: $4,000.
2008 revenue: $21.3 million.
Current president: John D. Zook, founder of Zook Dinon PA, Moorestown.
Joan Carter, president
of UM Holdings Ltd.,
SOURCES: Union League,
IRS Form 990 filing.EndText