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Les is more

Leslie McNeill had a vision for and unshakeable belief in women’s collective efforts when she founded Cincinnati's Women’s Fund in 1995. 

Leslie McNeill had a vision when she started The Women's Fund

You don’t have to be a world-famous scientist or athlete to have an important place in women’s history. You just need the vision to make your community better. 

Before there were giving circles or women’s philanthropy groups in Greater Cincinnati – there was Les.

Leslie McNeill had a vision for and unshakeable belief in women’s collective efforts when she founded Cincinnati's Women’s Fund in 1995. 

Les had been an active volunteer for many charities when she kept noticing the same phenomenon: women could accomplish so much with so little. She was convinced that if she could help one woman, a ripple effect would occur. Her initial investment of $5,000 would compound and attract new women over time – starting a cycle of philanthropy for women in Cincinnati. 

She didn’t know at the time what impact it would have, but she knew no other organization was filling the niche in the way she had envisioned. 

On the eve of the very first event for The Women’s Fund, tensions were high. She hoped that ten women would be interested in her new concept. Sixty-five showed up. They were a diverse group and they were “proud in public” about their philanthropy. 

Like many women in her generation, Les took on a new challenge: pursuing full-time work while maintaining many of the traditional roles in the home. But, Les’s dedication to ensuring women weren’t short-changed did not waver. Her interest in women’s issues grew when she had three daughters of her own, who inherited their mother’s passion for change. 

Dr. Erin Talbot McNeill, her daughter who tragically lost her life to a brain tumor in 2003, promoted women’s rights for USAID (United States Agency for International Development). Erin’s international work had many similarities to Les’s work in Cincinnati. “We both desired to see women lifted up and have the ability to direct their own lives,” said Les.  Erin’s legacy lives on through The Women’s Fund.   

Just like she did at the first event, Les is delighted when women “get together and are proud to be philanthropists.” Her inspiration has drawn many others to this effort. That $5,000 has turned into more than $800,000 in grants, research and advocacy that are helping women, girls and families become self-sufficient. 

You can continue Les’s vision for The Women’s Fund. Les was the one…you can be the next one during Women’s History Month.

The Women's Fund of GCF leads our community in ensuring the economic self-sufficiency of women in our region. Learn more at

February 2012

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