This series traces CFUW historical highlights and its movers and shakers decade by decade to provide insight into the scope of CFUW as an important voice for women in Canada and abroad. 


Titles for each of the Decades

The Roarin’ Twenties 

 Heroine of the Twenties: Dr. Margaret S. McWilliams 

The Depression Years: the Thirties 

CFUW Heroine of the 1930s: Mrs. Douglas J. Thom 

War and Peace: the Forties 

 CFUW Heroine of the 1940s: Dr. A. Vibert Douglas 

The Fifties 

 CFUW Heroine of the 1950s: Dr. Marion Elder Grant 

The Sixties 

 CFUW Heroine of the 1960s: Dr. Laura Sabia 

The Seventies 

 CFUW Heroine of the 1970s: Dr. Ruth M. Bell 

The Eighties 

 CFUW Heroine of the 1980s: Linda Souter 

The Nineties 

 CFUW Heroines: National Life Members 

The New Millennium: 2000 and beyond 

 CFUW Heroines: National Honorary Members  

The Roarin’ Twenties 


 On August 26, 1919 University Women’s Clubs from Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Victoria met in Winnipeg for the inaugural meeting of the “Federation of University Women in Canada.” 

Dr. Winifred Cullis of the United Kingdom had urged immediate formation of a National Federation so that Canada could become one of the founding members of the newly proposed International Federation of University Women (IFUW) in 1919. Dr. Virginia Gildersleeve of the United States had reinforced this idea and had offered the alternative of joining the American Association of University Women (AAUW). The Canadians attended the first IFUW meeting in 1920 as the Canadian Federation of University Women, a charter affiliate committed to encouraging international understanding and peace. 


1919 – 1923: Dr. Margaret S. McWilliams, First CFUW President

1919 – A Vocations Committee is set up, showing CFUW members’ concern for the vocations of women.

 1920 - First CFUW “Triennial” in Toronto 1921 – The 12 CFUW Clubs, with 1300 members, designate fellowships: one to McGill, one to Radcliffe and a third of $1000 to the University of Toronto for a woman graduate to research the early history of Canada at the Sorbonne. 

1921 – CFUW joins AAUW in presenting $100,000 to Madame Marie Curie for the purchase of radium for her research work. (A photo of this gesture at Niagara Falls shows the face of Madame Curie obscured by her hat and bouquet, causing some to say that the lady was probably her daughter who frequently took her mother’s place when she was worn out!)

1923 – Second CFUW Triennial in Minaki, Ontario – emphasis on the work of individual Clubs and individual members who are pioneers across Canada 

1923 – 1926: Mrs. Walter Vaughan, Second CFUW President 

  • Mrs. Vaughan makes Club visits a priority, travelling widely across Canada. Mrs. Vaughn’s lectures raise about $5000 to support the Crosby Hall Fund. (Crosby Hall, once Sir Thomas More’s residence, was a friendly place for IFUW members to stay while in London, England.)
  • CFUW surveys on education, libraries and vocations evaluate women’s place in Canadian society.

1926 - Third CFUW Triennial in Montreal; 38 delegates 

1926 – 1928: Dean Mary L. Bollert, Third CFUW President 

  • Mary Bollert makes education a priority:
  • Raises concerns about unemployment among university women and inadequate salaries for teachers Urges the appointment of deans of women in secondary schools because of “the declining influence of the home”
  • Represents CFUW at international meetings; speaks at the International Congress of Women in Chicago.
  • Urges the appointment of women to boards and commissions of the League of Nations.  Disbands the Vocations Committee due to lack of funds.

1928 - Fourth CFUW Triennial in Vancouver (held a year early to avoid a conflict with the IFUW meeting); 61 delegates 

CFUW Heroine of the 1920’s: Dr. Margaret S. McWilliams 

 Dr. Margaret McWilliams, the first CFUW President, was one of the most dynamic Canadian women of her time. An 1898 graduate of the University of Toronto, she worked as a newspaperwoman before marrying and moving to Winnipeg. There, she served as 

an alderman from 1933–1940, lectured in world affairs and wrote several books. She took leadership roles in many organizations including the Red Cross, National Council of Education, National Council of Women and the Women’s Canadian Club. Active in CFUW for over 50 years, she also served as first Vice President of IFUW. In 1948 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her graduation, she received an honorary degree from her alma mater. Dr. McWilliams had a keen curiosity, a deep interest in the political struggles of humankind, a fine intelligence, a vivid sense of perpetual crisis, physical beauty, impeccable taste in clothes, and a contagious sense of humour. She did not suffer fools gladly and was a trifle addicted to having her own way! In 1952, Dr. McWilliams was honoured posthumously for her vision of international friendship and co-operation with the naming of the CFUW Dr. Margaret McWilliams Pre- Doctoral Fellowship. 


The Depression Years 

 The 1930s:  Following the flapper years of the 1920s with hemlines and spirits rising and the Art Deco period signaling a modernism of both outlook and design, the increasingly sombre decade of the 1930s was ushered in by two events in October of 1929 that influenced the lives of Canadian women: the landmark Person’s Case that gave Canadian women status as persons under the law, and the stock market crash in the United States that sent economic reverberations around the world.  Many Canadians referred to the ensuing decade as “The Dirty Thirties.”  The Great Depression and the years of drought along with the escalating tensions in Europe forced fearful scrimping and saving habits that stayed with many Canadian women for their lifetime.   At the end of the thirties, Canada’s population was just over 12 million of whom half were of Anglo-Saxon stock, one-third of French ancestry, and the other twenty per cent mainly of recent European and Asian origin.  By 1939, Canada was at war.   


1928 – 1931  Miss Laila C. Scott, Fourth CFUW President  

  • University women are urged to take more interest in public affairs 
  • The Vocations Bureau is set up 
  • 1931 Fifth CFUW Triennial is held in Ottawa  


1931 – 1934  Mrs. Douglas J. Thom, Fifth CFUW President 

  • Clubs are urged to send in articles for the CFUW Chronicle  
  • CFUW signs a petition for disarmament CFUW successfully protests, along with other women’s groups in Toronto, against the dismissal of married women from the staff of the University of Toronto 
  • Club meeting topics include “Mussolini,” “Manchuria” and “Social Insurance”
  • 1934 Sixth CFUW Triennial is held in Edmonton; 103 registrants; discussion of the alarming discrimination in Germany and the plight of university women in Europe 


1934 – 1937  Miss Laura E. Newman, Sixth CFUW President 

  • Questionnaires on the status of university women and the status of “gainfully employed” are discussed 
  • CFUW reiterates stand that women be considered for university positions based on their qualifications Lists of qualified women are placed in universities 
  • A study is made of women in administrative positions in Canada 
  • 1936 Clubs are urged to play a part in demanding a peaceful solution to the problems of the nations of the world 
  • 1936 Miss Newman attends IFUW conference in Poland  
  • 1937 Seventh CFUW Triennial is held at Trinity College, University of Toronto; 154 delegates; CFUW deplores the dissolution of the German, Austrian and Italian Federations of University Women. 


1937 – 1940  Mrs. W. J. Melrose, Seventh CFUW President 

  • Refugee funds for displaced graduates are set up 
  • Plans are made to receive children of British graduates into 300 Canadian homes 
  • Heart-rending stories are told of Polish refugee women including IFUW President, Dr. S. Adamowicz who is teaching at the School of Hygiene in Warsaw, now under German supervision.  Message is received from her:  “Home destroyed, health poor” 
  • 1939 CFUW executive plans to spend $400 for an executive secretary to work from her home 
  • 1939 Mrs. Melrose attends IFUW conference in Stockholm but has to sail home as war is declared
  • 1940 Eighth CFUW Triennial is held in Calgary; 73 registrants 


 CFUW Heroine of the 1930s: Mrs. Douglas J. Thom (1879 – 1946) 

 Mrs. Thom, the fifth CFUW President, was just 24 years of age in 1903 when she helped to found the University Women’s Club of Toronto and was installed as its first president.  Born in Elora, Ontario, she was a 1900 graduate of the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After marrying and moving to Regina, she was active in the Red Cross both locally and nationally, the Women’s Missionary Society and the Women’s Canadian Club.  

 When Mrs. Thom discussed disarmament with a prominent member of the Government of Canada, he turned upon her indignantly and asked, “Do women really care to accomplish anything when they remain represented by only one member in the Federal House?”   He went on to tell her that if CFUW wished to support the League of Nations and have an effect on disarmament, there was only one way to do it.  Put women into positions in municipal, provincial and Dominion politics and give them CFUW’s unquestioned support.   

 As CFUW President, Mrs. Thom encouraged Clubs from all localities to write and send in items of interest so that future chroniclers of women’s activities would “do our day and generation justice.” 

The Forties: War and Peace 


The 1940s: As conflict escalated, training camps were set up to prepare women for the army, navy and air force. For the first time, Canadian women were in uniform and thousands of young women assumed jobs that had been vacated by men, ran households single-handedly and involved themselves in projects that supported the troops. When the war ended these women “retired” to make way for veterans returning home to resume their jobs. Thus the second wave of the women’s movement was born. The unprecedented post-war baby boom produced daughters whose mothers encouraged an independent outlook that would set new standards as the “boomers” steamrolled through the ensuing decades.

1940 – 1943: Dr. Dorothy Turville, Eighth CFUW President

 War work receives CFUW priority 

Clubs work on committees like the Red Cross and send parcels of clothing for refugees 

Clubs assist refugee university women in Canada 

Members are urged to save good French classic texts to send to France, Czechoslovakia and Poland at the end of the war “to reinstate the means of education” 

1943 – Ninth CFUW Triennial is held at Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City “in the wake of the historic Churchill-Roosevelt Conference” – 118 registrants 

1943 – 1946: Dr. Ursilla Macdonnell, Ninth CFUW President

 A Chronicle article is entitled: “Is the University Woman pulling her weight?”

 CFUW members are urged to assume positions as chairs of community committees and boards 

1945 – Communications open with women in France, Belgium and Italy 

A proposed meeting in Wolfville, N.S. is cancelled because returning troops need all of the available railway space

IFUW helps Polish women get to Teheran from the USSR

 CFUW prepares and distributes thousands of vocational leaflets containing information on job opportunities, qualifications and pay scales. School guidance counsellors in particular find the leaflets useful.

 1946 - Tenth CFUW Triennial is held in Winnipeg with 93 registrants

 1946 – 1949: Mrs. Richard B. Crummy, Tenth CFUW President   (Ruth)

 Regional conferences are encouraged 

Leaflets on vocational guidance are distributed across the country

 The issues are penal reform, children’s reading, the teacher shortage, Indians, and women in the civil service 

Women in administrative positions in Canada are studied 

1947 – First IFUW Triennial Conference in Canada is held in Toronto 

1949 - Eleventh CFUW Triennial is held in Vancouver with the theme, “The Challenge of Today and Tomorrow”; 235 Registrants

CFUW Heroine of the 1940s: Dr. A. Vibert Douglas (1894 – 1988) 


Alice (Allie) Vibert Douglas, a twentieth century heroine, was first honoured in 1918 with an MBE for her work as a statistician at the British War Office and Ministry of National Service. She received honorary degrees from McGill, Queen’s and Queensland, Australia and in 1967 was named to the Order of Canada. In the same year she was named by the National Council of Jewish Women as one of the ten “Women of the Century”. 


Dr. Douglas, an internationally acclaimed astrophysicist, was a lecturer and professor of mathematical physics and astronomy at McGill and Queen’s for 41 years as well as Dean of Women at Queen’s from 1939 until her retirement in 1959. She drew attention to the sorry status of women in the Queen’s

academic community and asked, “Why are women not equally accepted at Queen’s?” Among other firsts, she successfully urged the admission of women to Queen’s medical school. 


Along with numerous publications, in 1956 she wrote a biography of the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington, with whom she had worked at Cambridge Observatory. Dr. Douglas was President of the Canadian Humanities Association and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and was a long-time active member of several international scientific organizations. A crater on Venus has been named after her. 


Dr. Douglas was the first Canadian President of IFUW from 1947 to 1950. In her opening address she urged the IFUW members to “work unrelentingly as professional women to narrow the gap between actual practice and ideal human rights through government action, through education, through mass communications and through home and community influence.” 


She chaired the CFUW Fellowships Committee and served on it for 18 years. In 1958 CFUW set up an IFUW fellowship in her name. 

The Fifties 


Post-war immigration increased Canada’s population from thirteen to nearly twenty million in twenty years.   Trade with Britain decreased from twenty per cent to eight, and about sixty-six per cent of Canadian trade flowed to the US.  American radio, TV, press releases and magazines influenced Canadian women.  Some articles advised married women to defer their own opinions to their husbands’ and to keep the children quiet so that the breadwinner could rest on his return home from work.  By 1957, the Canada Council and the Stratford Shakespearean Festival had been formed.  The St. Lawrence Seaway was opened to ocean shipping in 1959.    

1949 – 1952:  Dr. Marion Elder Grant, Eleventh CFUW President 

  • Dr. Grant visits almost all of the CFUW Clubs, including four new Clubs 
  • CFUW sends out leaflets to over 3000 women graduates from Canadian universities  
  • 1952 - CFUW sets up the office of Provincial Director (later called Regional Director)
  • 1952 - Academic Appointments Committee is disbanded;  Status of Women Committee starts list of “Competent Women” suitable to stand for public office
  • 1952 - Twelfth CFUW Triennial is held in Ottawa with the theme, “Women and the State” – 368 registrants    


1952 – 1955:  Dr. Martha Law, Twelfth CFUW President 

  • Eighteen new Clubs bring CFUW membership to 7,427 
  • Dr. Law visits all 80 Clubs and sends newsletters to be distributed to each member, three times a year · On behalf of CFUW Dr. Law receives a Coronation medal and two tickets to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II   
  • CFUW grants to IFUW relief funds are the highest per capita of any IFUW national affiliate 
  • 1955 - Thirteenth CFUW Triennial is held in Edmonton with the theme, “Constants and Variables – Our Changing Society

1955 – 1958:  Dr. Doris Saunders, Thirteenth CFUW President · 

  • CFUW has 9140 members in 89 Clubs  
  • 1956 – Penal Reform/Corrections Committee supports Elizabeth Fry Society on federal prison for women, the criminal sexual psychopath and rehabilitation of female offenders 
  • 1957 – UWC Vancouver celebrates 50th anniversary, with UBC recognizing all university women by conferring an honorary degree on Miss Saunders 
  • CFUW Brief is presented to Parliament on estate taxes, and another urges Canada to accede to the UN Convention on the Political Rights of Women 
  • 1958 - Fourteenth CFUW Triennial is held in Montreal with “344 of the brainiest females in Canada” (Canadian Press, August 14, 1958) 

1958 – 1961:  Dr. Vivian Morton, Fourteenth CFUW President  

  • CFUW gains 14 new Clubs and holds 14 regional conferences 
  • Dr. Morton suggests a permanent CFUW head office and executive secretary. 
  • CFUW urges teaching of French in the lower grades 
  • For first time ever, CFUW sends delegation to Prime Minister to discuss appointment of a women to National Parole Board (soon achieved), support for a National Library and Gallery, and admission of many tubercular Hungarians to Canada in World Refugee Year, 1959-60  
  • 1961 - Fifteenth CFUW Triennial in London; theme “Ideas Afoot”; 429 registrants

CFUW Heroine of the 1950s: Dr. Marion Elder Grant (1900 – 1989) 


Dr. Marion Elder Grant was born in Quebec City, graduated from Acadia University and took postgraduate degrees from the University of Toronto.  Following post-doctoral studies in London England, Harvard, UCLA, Chicago and Tavistock, she taught at Branksome Hall in Toronto and Baylor College in Texas.  She later became head of the Psychology Department at Acadia University and served as Dean of Women there from 1936 – 1960.  Besides teaching psychology and education, Dr. Grant helped to found the Acadia University Institute and the Fundy Mental Health Clinic.  


In 1938 Dr. Grant helped to establish the CFUW Wolfville Club.  Thereafter she was involved at the CFUW national level for over fifteen years, taking on the presidency from 1949 – 1952.  During her term her focus was on improving the status of women and encouraging women to first pursue and then take advantage of their education.  She visited over 60 Clubs from St. John’s NL to Victoria BC.  Until her mid eighties, she attended all CFUW National and International conferences. 


Dr. Grant was a charter member of the Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Committee and a delegate to the Second Commonwealth Education Conference in New Delhi.  In 1984 she was chosen Acadia’s “Woman of the Century” in celebration of the centenary of the first woman graduate.  The award citation read, “… a woman of eminence without pomposity, of presence without ostentation, of adaptability without inconsistence, and of gentle self-mockery and wit…” 


A significant portion of her estate was left to CFUW Wolfville.  With the funds, the Club established the national CFUW Dr. Marion Elder Grant Fellowship in her honour.    

The Swinging Sixties  

 In 1960 Canada welcomed its 2-millionth immigrant, a harbinger of multiculturalism that would soon transform Canadian society. The Trans-Canada Highway was officially opened in 1962, the same year that Canada became the third nation with an orbiting satellite.  In the workplace secretaries welcomed the widespread use of the electric typewriter.  

 The Canadian flag, adopted in 1965, graced Expo ’67 as Canada celebrated its centennial in Montreal near the end of a socially turbulent decade.  The hippie youth culture that roared through the 1960s was identified with The Pill and its resulting sexual freedom, drugs, Beatlemania, long and bouffant hair and mini-skirts. The CBC’s Take 30 and Front Page Challenge attracted large viewing audiences while books such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) and Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message (1967) challenged conventional thought.  By 1969 Chatelaine’s circulation had quadrupled to 1.8 million readers with consciousness-raising articles on the wage gap, birth control and discriminatory divorce laws featured amongst the magazine’s recipes and beauty tips.   Second-wave feminism gave rise to “Women’s Lib” and in 1967 to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.     

1961 – 1964:  Miss Margaret MacLellan,   Fifteenth CFUW President 

 Miss MacLellan is active in the Corrections field and with the Elizabeth Fry Society 

 · CFUW urges equality of women in Canada  · Local Clubs award over $37,000 yearly in scholarships and awards plus CFUW donations to the Winifred Cullis Fund and the IFUW Relief Fund

 · Ontario Clubs send $5000 to CUSO (Canadian University Services Overseas) 

 By 1964 CFUW membership is over 10,000

 1964: The first Provincial Council is formed in Quebec

 1964: Sixteenth CFUW Triennial is held in Winnipeg with the theme, “The Canadian Mosaic: Changing Patterns in Canadian Culture”; 301 delegates vote for publication of The Clear Spirit as a centennial project.    

1964 – 1967:  Dr. Laura Sabia, Sixteenth CFUW President

 · CFUW Survey on Continuing Education is taken.

 · Laura Sabia brings together a coalition of 32 women’s organizations across the country, demanding that the government "pursue the human rights of women in Canada."  As a result the Royal Commission on the Status of Women is formed by the Government in 1967.

  · Twelve new Clubs are formed, bringing the total number of CFUW Clubs to 114. 

 1967: Seventeenth CFUW Triennial is held in Vancouver with the theme, “The Arch of the Century”; 371 registrants.    

1967 – 1970:  Dr. Margaret Orange, Seventeenth CFUW President 

· In order to bring informed opinions to the CFUW Triennial, Clubs study topics ahead of time:  Unrest in Education, Environmental Pollution, and Disadvantaged Canadians-Indians.   

1968 - Briefs are presented to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women

 1970 - Eighteenth CFUW Triennial is held at York University in Toronto with 462 registrants and the theme, “New Attitudes for a Changing Society.”

CFUW Heroine of the 1960s: Dr. Laura Sabia (1916 - 1996)   

Dr. Laura Sabia was a Canadian social activist and feminist who was one of the most dynamic figures in the women’s movement.  As CFUW President she headed a coalition of 32 women's organizations called the Committee for the Equality of Women and campaigned for the creation of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, threatening a march of 2,000,000 women on Ottawa if the Commission was not established. In 1967 the Prime Minister called for the creation of a Royal Commission on the Status of Women whose final report was made in 1970.   

 The daughter of Italian immigrants, Laura Villela grew up in Montreal and later lived in St. Catharines with her husband and four children.  Following her term as CFUW President from 1964 to 1967 Dr. Sabia was a founding member and, from 1969 to 1973, the first President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women as well as its Ontario counterpart. She was an alderwoman for seven terms, organized a Home and School Association, and wrote columns for The Toronto Sun.  On her open-line radio programme she becaome famous for her challenges to government on subject such as incest and family violence.  

 Laura Sabia’s significant contributions to women’s equality were recognized with a Centennial Medal in 1967 and, in 1974, the designation of Officer of the Order of Canada "for her devoted service to the cause of the status of women.”  She was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1977 and the Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case in 1983.  Brock and McGill Universities conferred honorary degrees upon her.   

The Seventies 


The Seventies was a decade of firsts for women. Rosemary Brown - first black woman elected to a provincial legislature; Pauline McGibbon - first woman appointed as Lieutenant-Governor (Ontario); Pauline Jewett - first woman to head a major university (Simon Fraser); Grace Hartman - first woman president of a national labour union (CUPE); Flora MacDonald - first woman to seek leadership of the Progressive Conservative party; Jean Lumb - first Chinese-Canadian woman to earn the Order of Canada. The first four Canadian women Rhodes Scholars were chosen. 


The National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), first rape crisis centres and first for women-only credit unions were formed.  A CPP amendment provided equal treatment to all contributors, regardless of gender.  Female flight attendants won the right to continue working after marriage and past the age of 32.  In 1975 Canada attended the International Women’s Year World Conference on Women in Mexico City.   


In 1970 the average price of a home in Montreal was $19,000, in Toronto $37,000 and in Vancouver $30,000.  The federal minimum wage was $2.90 per hour and a domestic stamp, 10 cents.  Eaton’s discontinued its 92-year catalogue publication in 1976.  By 1979 Canada reported a population of 23,671,500 and its first case of HIV/AIDS.       

  1970 – 1973:   Dr. Gwendolyn Black, Eighteenth CFUW President 

Biographies of 50 women are submitted to the office of the PM for the Roster of Qualified Women. 

CFUW writes letters on abortion, Aboriginals, environment and status of women.

 Archival materials from orange crates and filing boxes are sorted, catalogued and transferred to Public Archives of Canada.

 1973 - Attended by 446 delegates, the nineteenth CFUW Triennial is held in Ottawa with the theme “Our World Tomorrow”. Dr. Black states that the complexity of national issues demands attention at the local level where problems are more readily discernible.

1973 – 1976:   Dr. Ruth Bell, Nineteenth CFUW President 

1975 – 47 per cent of Clubs take part in International Women’s Year projects. 

Dr. Bell reported that “53 per cent of Clubs think the status of women is not a nice subject for university ladies.”  

Clubs are encouraged to participate in “Foster the Roster” of qualified women nationally, Family Property Law Reform provincially and elimination of gender stereotyping in schools locally.  

1976 - Twentieth CFUW Triennial is held in Saskatoon with the theme, ”Partners in Progress – Progress Towards Purpose”; 284 registrants. Delegates turn down idea of permanent head office, possibly in Ottawa, mainly for financial reasons. 

1976 – 1979: Dr. Jean Steer, Twentieth CFUW President 

Dr. Steer is committed to the promotion of unity within the Federation and within Canada. 

A grant from the Department of the Secretary of State allows CFUW to translate all its documentation and most correspondence into French; another grant is used to hold mini-conferences on Canadian unity. 

CFUW establishes the Charitable Trust Fund for scholarships, fellowships and creative arts programs. 

1979 – CFUW has 12,000 members. 

1979 – Twenty-first CFUW Triennial, the Diamond Jubilee Conference, is held in Quebec City with 462 registrants and the theme, “New Attitudes for a Changing Society.”

CFUW Heroine of the 1970s: Dr. Ruth M. Bell (1919- ) 


Dr. Ruth Marion Bell is a long-time participant and activist on issues that advance the status of women.   Entering the workforce at age 18, she was determined someday to attend university. In 1955, she graduated with a B.A. in Political Economy and in 1965 with an M.A. in Political Science.  Subsequent careers as a Political Researcher for the Progressive Conservative Party and Research Economist for the Bank of Montreal led to a position as Dean of Renison College, University of Waterloo. 


During her CFUW Presidency, Dr. Bell encouraged members to take an active role in advocacy and leadership, setting an example herself of dedicated volunteerism for women, children and youth.   


She convened the IFUW Membership Committee, attended seven IFUW Triennial Meetings as a delegate, and served on the Fundraising Committee for the Virginia Guildersleeve International Fund. 


Among her many other involvements, Ruth was a founding member of Match International Centre, Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW) and UNESCO’s Sub-Commission on the Status of Women.  She served as President of Forum for Young Canadians and Vice President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. 


In 1981 Dr. Bell was invested as a member of the Order of Canada, and in 1984 was awarded a Doctor of Laws degree from Carleton University.  Her autobiography, Be a “Nice” Girl, chronicles her life’s journey. Dr. Bell is also the winner of the Governor General’s Persons Award. 

 CFUW Brief History 

 The remarkable industrial expansion that occurred after the beginning of the First World War opened up many opportunities for women. The increase of urban populations with its consequent industrial growth, led to opportunities for women in industry and in social work. At this time women were already well established in the teaching profession and entering medicine, law, journalism, nursing and social work in larger numbers. 

Some of the leaders among university women in Canada had long dreamt of a national federation, but the effective impulse to found it came from Great Britain. Early in 1919, Dr. Winifred Cullis of Britain, who had spent time in Canada during the war years lecturing at Toronto University suggested that women in Canada might wish to organize a national federation so that Canada might become one of the first countries to join in the emerging International Federation of University Women. A similar suggestion came from Virginia Gildersleeve of the American Association of University Women to the effect that, while she hoped the Canadians would form their own federation, but that they might if they preferred, be allied with the American Association. 

Canada’s response was immediate. In March 1919 at a conference of four of the leaders in university organizations – Mrs J.A. Cooper, President of the Toronto Club, Mrs. R.F. McWilliams, President of the Winnipeg Club; Miss May Skinner, then representing Canada on the American Association’s committee on International Affairs; and Miss Laila Scott in Toronto it was decided to create the Canadian Federation of University Women. A constitution was drafted and the work of getting the approval of the clubs in the establishment of the federation, their approval of a constitution and of a meeting in the coming summer was undertaken. Miss Skinner dealt with the Eastern clubs and Mrs. McWilliams with those in Western Canada. 

The various clubs responded enthusiastically to the appeal and the organization meeting took place in Winnipeg in August of the same year. Six clubs – Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Victoria as well as McGill Alumnae sent delegates. The delegates adopted the proposed constitution and set the federation on its way by selecting the first officers and Chairs of Committees. Education in all its phases was declared to be the first interest of the new federation. The first matters of business included the plan to set up a Fellowship, to get women to stand for election to Board, and support for women to engage in politics. 

Representatives of the University Women’s Clubs of Canada met in Winnipeg in 1919 to organize the Canadian Federation of University Women. The first Officers of the Federation were: 

Mrs R.F. McWilliams: President (Margaret) 

Miss May Skinner: First Vice President 

Mrs. Douglas Thom: Second Vice President 

Mrs G.L. Lennox: Recording Secretary 

Mrs Charles Schofield: Treasurer 

Mrs Digby Wheeler: Archives 

Miss Elsie Moore: Membership 

The Committees of the Federation were Education, Libraries, Vocations, Scholarship, Publications and Recognition of the Standing of Colleges and Universities. CFUW Brief History 

August 4, 2004 2 

The Clubs that joined at that time were: 


Kingston, Queen’s Alumnae 


Montreal, McGill Alumnae 







Winnipeg, Wesley Alumnae 

In 1921 when Madame Curie visited the United States in 1921 CFUW made a substantial contribution to the fund raised by women to purchase radium for her and invited her to Niagara Falls. This visit highlighted the value of the work of an international federation. 

By the time of the second CFUW Triennial at Minaki, Ontario in 1923, CFUW was well established with 1300 members from 75 universities, thus immediately establishing the international character of the national body. Three Fellowships had been awarded including one to a Canadian studying at the Sorbonne and another at Radcliffe. At this time study on women’s employment in Educational Institutions was undertaken and another on the conditions in Libraries in Canada. 

The Membership Lists recorded totalled 27 different kinds of degrees. Eighty one percent held the Bachelors degree, 11 percent the Masters. Only one percent had a doctorate. A number of members held other types of degrees (e.g. MD, LLB etc). 


In 1918, Miss Spurgeon had visited America as a member of the British Educational Mission to discuss the interchange of lecturers and students and then the British Federation appointed a Committee on International Relations chaired by Dr. Winifred Cullis. The American Association of University Women (Virginia Gildersleeve) and the British Federation of University Women jointly called a meeting together. 

The original purpose was: “To promote understanding and friendship between university women of the nations of the world, and thereby to further their interests and to develop between their countries sympathy and mutual helpfulness.” 

Women from all five continents attended this first meeting eager to forward the cause of women. The meetings were jointly chaired by Professor Winifred Cullis of the London School of Medicine for Women and Dean Virginia Gildersleeve of Barnard College, New York. The countries represented at that first meeting: 

Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czecho-Slovakia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Holland, India, Italy, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United States of America. Countries sufficiently well organized as federations to be granted votes were: Canada, Czecho-CFUW Brief History 

August 4, 2004 3 

Slovakia, France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Spain and the United States of America. Canada’s closest ties in the early days were with the American Association of University Women and the British Federation of University Women. 

At the Conference in London, July 12th – July 14th 1920, representatives met to consider an International Federation, stating that the foundation of a national federation is a natural step on the way to the establishment of an international federation. International federation was seen as a way for university women to increase their influence, their strength and their usefulness. The British and the American group made themselves responsible financially and in other ways for the organization of this meeting. 

The promotion of peace was a key topic for discussion, with the keynote speaker stressing the need for international goodwill and the need to work together toward international understanding to promote peace. Additional speakers spoke of the need to work together to promote education, international friendship, scholarships and equality. Equal pay for equal work was discussed too. 

First elected Board was: 

President: Professor Caroline Spurgeon, Bedford College, London 

Vice President: Margaret McWilliams of Canada 

Treasurer: Mrs Edgerton Parsons, USA 

Secretary: Theodora Bosanquet: London 

At the second meeting in 1920 in Toronto delegates spoke of the pleasure of working with other women for a common cause. The first definite piece of work was to raise money to establish scholarship and at this time all of the Clubs worked together to establish a national program. Two major concerns were the academic and economic status of teachers and the fact that women were paid far less than men for equal work. 

In July 1919 the federations of America, Great Britain and Canada met to establish the IFUW to promote understanding and friendship between the university women of the world. Delegates attended the IFUW meeting held in London in 1920: from Australia, Belgium. Canada, Czecho-Slovakia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Holland, India, Italy, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United States of America. This session was chaired jointly by Professor Winifred Cullis of the London School of Medicine and Professor Virginia Gildersleeve of Barnard College New York. 

At this first meeting, the foundation for international scholarships was laid down. 

The first CFUW Scholarship valued at $1000, was called the Federation Scholarship 

Note the IFUW Meeting of 1923

Headquarters were in London, England. IFUW had a relationship with the League of Nations, the International Council of Women, Unions des Associations Internationale, International Women’s Suffrage Alliance, English Speaking Union and the National Bureau of International Education. IFUW initially had a Biennial system, changing to a Triennial system in 1928. CFUW Brief History 

August 4, 2004 4 

Federation Scholarship Winners: 

1921 Isobel Jones MA Toronto 

1922 Dixie Pelluet MA Alberta 

1923 Margaret Cameron MA McGill and Radcliffe 

1924 Dorothea Sharpe 

1925 Doris Saunders 

1926 Alice E. Wilson 

1932 Lillian Hunter 

1933 Constance MacFarlane 

1934 Marion Mitchell 

1935 Marie Hearne 

1936 Naomi Jackson 

1937 Gwendolyn Toby 

1938 Phyllis Gill 

1939 Dorothy Lefebre and Phyllis Brewster 

In 1940 the issue of displaced university women comes up for the first time and the kernel of the idea that later became the Hegg Hoffet Relief Fund. 

List CFUW Presidents Elected at 

1. Margaret McWilliams 1919 - 1923 Winnipeg and affirmed in 

Toronto (1920) 

2. Mrs Walter Vaughan 1923 - 1926 Minaki, Ontario 

3. Dean Mary L. Bollert 1926 - 1928 Montreal 

4. Laila Scott 1928 - 1931 Vancouver 

5. Mrs. Douglas Thom 1931 - 1934 Ottawa 

6. Laura Newman 1934 - 1937 Edmonton 

7. Charlotte Melrose 1937 - 1940 Toronto 

8. Dr. Dorothy Turville 1940 - 1943 Calgary 

9. Dr. Ursilla MacDonnell 1943 - 1946 Quebec 

10. Mrs. Ruth Crummy 1946 - 1949 Winnipeg 

11. Dr. Marion Elder Grant 1949 - 1952 Vancouver 

12. Dr. Martha Law 1952 - 1955 Ottawa 

13. Dr. Doris Saunders 1955 - 1958 Edmonton 

14. Dr. Vivian Morton 1958 - 1961 Montreal 

15. Margaret MacLellan 1961 - 1964 London 

16. Dr. Laura Sabia 1964 - 1967 Winnipeg 

17. Dr. Margaret Orange 1967 - 1970 Vancouver 

18. Dr. Gwendolyn Black 1970 - 1973 York University, Toronto 

19. Dr. Ruth Bell 1973 - 1976 Ottawa 

20. Dr. Jean Steer 1976 - 1982 Quebec City 

22. Margaret Strongitharm 1982 - 1985 Winnipeg 

23. Linda Souter 1985 - 1988 Calgary 

24. Thomasine Irwin 1988 - 1990 Ottawa 

25. Peggy Matheson 1990 - 1994 Edmonton 

26. Phyllis Scott 1994 - 1996 Winnipeg 

27. Betty Bayless 1996 -1998 St. John’s, Newfoundland 

28. Mavis Moore 1998 - 2000 Kelowna, BC 

29. Roberta A. Brooks 2000 - 2002 Guelph, ON CFUW Brief History 

August 4, 2004 5 

30. Jacqueline Jacques 2002 - 2004 Richmond, BC 

31. Rose V. Beatty 2004 - 2006 Regina, AB 

The early years of the Federation were marked by a sense of purpose and pride. CFUW formed as a Federation in the same year as IFUW and members were present at the first IFUW Meeting. Both Federations worked hand in hand at that time. 

CFUW’s earliest interests include pay equity and on the establishment of a Federation Fellowship to support higher education for women. CFUW and IFUW took great interest in the work of the League of Nations in the inter-war period, and with women’s advancement into a variety of different fields and in intellectual cooperation among nations. 

By 1923 there were 16 CFUW member Clubs. 

The 1923 – 1926 Triennium was one of consolidation and the President visited as many Clubs as possible, to strengthen the feeling of being one national body and raise awareness of CFUW’s role in the International Federation. 

Dr. A. Vibert Douglas: Convened the CFUW Fellowships Committee in 1934. Dr. A. Vibert Douglas served on the IFUW Fellowships Committee through to the 1940s. She reports in 1943 on the War Guest Committee and throughout the war years, the IFUW Fellowships Committee continued to meet in the US. She became President of the International Federation of University Women 1947 – 1950. She was Dean of Women at Queen’s University at the time. Her background was in astro-physics and there is a crater on Venus named after her. In her speech she dwells on the following 

IFUW has promoted friendship and understanding among people of many nations. It has striven for high standards of education and integrity in scholarly research. It has had its influence through consultative status on the various United Nations bodies. It has carried our intellectual and physical relief on a large scale. We believe that its work has been wholly constructive in a world shaken by the First Great War, disillusioned by a vast economic depression, again shaken to its very foundations by the horror of the Second World War, and now rent by discordant ideologies. 

One of the positive achievements of the United Nations has been the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood. Dr. Douglas challenged the federation members to look at how far the actual precepts of the Declaration are in accord with what is happening in their countries. Our task as university women, to whom great advantages have been given and therefore on whom much responsibility lies, our task as citizens not only of one country but of the world, our task as individual member of this human race inhabiting the planet Earth for some millions of years in the vastness of time is to help make the human record a worthy chapter of cosmic history. 

The earliest years of the Canadian Federation are marked by efforts to build a vehicle for cross country cooperation leading to the advancement of women. Many of our earliest leaders were rooted in the academic community. Issues studied relate to the status of women within the community and in the workplace as well as the CFUW Brief History 

August 4, 2004 6 

promotion of education in particular through the foundation of a Fellowships Program. In and during the Second World War, Clubs entered a different phase when many Clubs engaged in activities that supported the war effort, the International Red Cross, Women in the Forces and so on. The years immediately following the Second World War were ones of great expansion for CFUW. During this time, Club Charter were established for the largest group of Clubs founded. 

Also at this time Clubs grew in strength, established programs, their own local Scholarship Programs and Study and Interest Groups. The resolutions process became well established.