Men controlled the money in Cathy Raphael's extended family and there was plenty of it since her maternal grandfather, Willard Rockwell, founded several businesses that eventually grew into industrial giant and defense contractor Rockwell International.
It wasn't until Ms. Raphael was an adult that she became aware that women didn't have any say in how the family fortune was being allocated to charitable causes. Her first hint came when she and her sisters met with their financial advisers and the advisers only spoke to the women's husbands.
A few years later, Ms. Raphael was invited to become a trustee at the family foundation, but a male cousin called to inform her there had never been a female trustee and there never would be.
"That was an 'aha' moment," said Ms. Raphael, 65, who by then had already launched her own philanthropic efforts independent of the Rockwell family funds.
"I started to look at my place in the world as a woman with inherited money. I wanted to claim my own power as a woman instead of the patriarchal lifestyle of my mother's family," Ms. Raphael said during a January teleconference sponsored by Bolder Giving, a New York-based nonprofit that assists donors with giving strategies and connects them with other donors.
Among the ways Ms. Raphael has directed her resources to champion her own values is as an early funder of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania; by launching a women's initiative fund at the Three Rivers Community Foundation; and by creating a donor-advised fund at the Ms. Foundation for Women, where she currently chairs the board of directors.
She is the daughter of Elizabeth "Betty" Rockwell Raphael, the youngest of Willard Rockwell's five children. Her mother was an artist who opened Pittsburgh's first modern art gallery in the 1930s and later founded the Society for Contemporary Craft.
Ms. Raphael's father, Orin, was also an artist, and as a couple, "They were very left and very political compared with the rest of the family," she said. "They gravitated towards things a little off-center as opposed to the traditional symphony and opera. They went to those things, but that was not their form of philanthropy."
While growing up in Oakmont, where she attended the public schools, Ms. Raphael recalled her mother being involved in the civil rights movement, serving on the school board and founding the Riverview Children's Center in 1970.
Ms. Raphael worked at the Society for Contemporary Craft store at its original location in Verona (it's now in the Strip District) and learned from her parents "that we had more than we needed and we should give back."
At 19, she took a year off from her studies in metalworking at Syracuse University to volunteer as a community organizer in New Mexico. When she graduated in the early 1970s, she found potential employers didn't want to hire a metalsmith who might get married and have children. She began gravitating toward feminist causes.
She pursued her craft until she had a son and found it tough to spend time in the studio while caring for him and for her mother who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
She led play shops for adults, worked as a storyteller and became a major donor to the Three Rivers Community Foundation. Through that foundation, she connected with other wealthy donors at a national conference where, "For the first time in my life, I said out loud that I had inherited money."
That experience was a turning point in her philanthropy, Ms. Raphael said, because it gave her the confidence to reach out to women's groups such as the Women's Donor Network and Women's Law Project, and to support their programming through funding and hands-on involvement.
"I decided I didn't want to be on the periphery. I wanted to step up."
She also fired the financial adviser that she had "inherited from my family ... and who consistently shot down all my ideas."
She and her two sisters took their piece of the family money and started the MAC Fund, a donor-advised fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation. The acronym stands for their first names -- Margaret, Alexandra and Cathy. Margaret died in 2011, and Alexandra is a metals artist based in London.
Ms. Raphael, who lives in Squirrel Hill, also created her own donor-advised fund, the Danu Fund, named for an Irish goddess.
Her passion for Ireland is also reflected in the name of The Nuin Center, a wellness facility she owns in Highland Park that houses therapists, acupuncturists, massage specialists, counselors and other health-related practitioners. Nuin is a Celtic alphabet character word for the ash tree that has deep roots, "and is related to inner and outer work," she said.
A fund she launched at the Ms. Foundation -- the Fairy Godmother Fund -- has already been fully distributed as grants for women businesses and for redevelopment efforts along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
Though she no longer sits on the board of the Women and Girls Foundation, she is active in their efforts to promote women's rights and female leadership opportunities.
"You can't help but know Cathy," said Jui Joshi, the foundation's director of philanthropic engagement. "She is with us all the way and you can always count on her input and good advice."
Ms. Joshi considers Ms. Raphael a "trailblazer" among female philanthropists.
"Women are learning they have the power to make a difference because they see women like Cathy and others who have helped educate women about how to be involved if they want to make a change."
During the Bolder Giving teleconference, Ms. Raphael told attendees there are challenges to being perceived as wealthy with no innovative ideas.
"There's a cultural belief that if you have money, you shouldn't have any problems. I believe I bring more to the table than my wallet. When I think I'm perceived as just a wallet, that's when I get up and leave."
She traces her own motivation to spend her money on meaningful causes to her parents who practiced being "philanthropic in their lifestyle and their values."
"There are so many different versions of how you deal with inherited money. The fact that I had a kick-start in the progressive movement from my parents was helpful to me. ... Our money is more important if it's in motion than if it's sitting in a bank somewhere."
First Published February 3, 2013 5:00 AM