National Women's Employment and Education, Incorporated, a job-training program for women on welfare, was founded in San Antonio in 1978 by Lupe Anguiano, a former nun who had worked with several antipoverty programs and helped draft the Bilingual Education Act during Lyndon B. Johnson's administration. Anguiano first considered the ideas that culminated in NWEE when she served on the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare task force on women in 1971. She had the opportunity to try out her concepts in 1973 after taking a job as director of the Southwest Regional Office for the Spanish Speaking in San Antonio, a project of the National Council of Catholic Bishops. After moving into the city's public housing projects, she organized a "Let's Get Off Welfare" campaign for the women residents, who, she discovered, had acquired important job skills as church fund-raisers, teachers' aides, and volunteer social workers. Under the Southwest Regional Office banner, Anguiano set up Mujeres Unidas (United Women) to provide job opportunities for Mexican-American female heads of households in the housing projects. Her initiative soon paid off; some 500 women abandoned their reliance on Aid to Families with Dependent Children to seek employment or job training. The project also won the support of local businesses. Three years later, in January 1976, Anguiano organized a conference on employment, welfare, and poor women with the financial backing of the American Issues Forum Committee of San Antonio and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. The gathering brought together humanitarians, women's advocates, employment specialists, and poor women for a series of discussions on how to improve the economic status of women welfare recipients. It also provided greater impetus for the formation of a specific job program that would encourage low-income Hispanic women to become independent. By 1977 Anguiano had persuaded the Texas legislature to support a state program modeled after the San Antonio experiment, but the state Department of Public Welfare refused to enact the program. As a result, she resigned her role as a consultant for the state's welfare-reform program.
On her own, Anguiano officially established NWEE in 1978. The project provided women a three-week program in attaining job-related skills, such as interviewing, employment goals, and assertiveness. Afterwards, they were placed in on-the-job training, enrolled in academic courses, or given jobs. These activities were all coupled with weekly follow-up contacts with the NWEE staff, most of whom had also been welfare recipients. In addition, NWEE ensured that women were hired in such jobs as construction work and welding, which paid higher salaries than "women's" jobs. The program also stressed the close involvement of private business employers, adequate child care, and transportation to worksites. Funds to support NWEE came from the United States Department of Labor and the local Comprehensive Employment Training Act, which together awarded Anguiano a total of more than $500,000 to run the program for approximately two years. Within a short time, NWEE claimed an overall 92 percent job-placement success, which contrasted with a 16 percent success rate for the government's Work Incentive Program. NWEE's ability to carry out its goals at a cost of $671 per trainee was applauded, and Anguiano was invited by First Lady Rosalyn Carter to discuss her innovations before a Washington employment seminar. Several years later NWEE received national media attention when it was featured on CBS's "60 Minutes," and in 1988 Anguiano was named one of the country's 100 Most Important Women by Ladies Home Journal for her efforts to provide women with economic independence. NWEE had to depend on private donations, federal dollars, and economic-development companies to carry out its mission. Its director even lent her savings to the enterprise to keep it going. Nonetheless, she was able to take her welfare-reform model to Arizona, Pennsylvania, Washington, and other states. By one count, the program had placed 3,000 women in jobs by the early 1990s. NWEE apparently closed its San Antonio headquarters in 1988 and moved to Los Angeles to continue its work with low-income women. The program remained opened to any woman interested in working her way off welfare.