The first meeting of the University Women’s Club of Nanaimo was held on April 17, 1945. Thirteen women were asked to attend – 12 university graduates and one associate. A note in their first minutes said that there was “an absolute necessity of a wide awake, enthusiastic program committee”.
Shortly after, a constitution was adopted, Marjorie Neave was elected the first President, and membership dues were set at $4. The group met in members’ homes and held a public meeting in April. The Club struggled to achieve a sense of direction, but by 1951, there were 26 members, including 1 biologist, 4 teachers, 1 public health nurse, 1 dietitian, and 1 lawyer.
Post war years were concerned with the condition of displaced university women, and support for the Unitarian Service Committee for Refugees. Members actively supported a new library building, provision of an adult education program, extension service of public speakers from UBC, study of recreation centre needs, establishment of a Victorian Order of Nurses station and founding of the Homemaker Service. The Club was represented on the local Council of Women, the Arts Council and the Nanaimo and District Education Council.
In the early 60’s, the club worked for the institution of kindergartens and establishment of a Community College. Several Regional Conferences were held, the first hosted in 1961 at the Malaspina Hotel, and “in the tradition of the Nanaimo Club, concluded the afternoon’s proceedings with a little music”. In 1960, the minute book also notes “that the request for nominations to CFUW National was graciously declined since we are so far west in Canada.”
By the late 60’s and early 70’s, women were concerned with their legal rights, their position in the economy, sex role stereotyping and bias in employment. Club directories began to show members’ first names and surnames rather than “Mrs.”, a topic of mixed views at the time.
In 1980, for the Club’s 35th Anniversary, Lynn Wilby, a Past President, wrote a short history, from which some of this vignette is taken. She said, “the fellowship of women has always been a major reward for participating in club projects and activities. Members work with enthusiasm and energy and socialize with enjoyment linked with purpose.”
The Club discontinued its regular public fundraising activities of rummage and bake sales as members shifted their focus and energies. They took on a science project, Life Between the Tides, a supplementary unit for elementary grades, and a project that became Action Nanaimo, which focused on a daily period of physical education and encouragement for schools to serve nutritious food at all school activities.
As Club membership increased, the very popular interest group system was devised. Members have been involved in literature, plays, choral groups, nutrition, bridge, swimming, status of women, yoga, gourmet cooking, crafts, travel, coffee discussion groups, conversational French, cycling, walking, and attending movies. Members have also gone on a variety of jaunts for educational and cultural enrichment.
Two CFUW Nanaimo members became National Presidents – Susan Murphy (2012-14) and Margaret Strongitharm (1982-1985). Jo Lane was National Treasurer and Finance Chair (1988-1990). When Margaret was President, the national office was located with the President here in Nanaimo, and Jo was Executive Secretary. Margaret and Jo were instrumental in finding a permanent home for CFUW in Ottawa in 1985.
In 1989, BC Council was established with involvement and support from Nanaimo. Its creation gave a focus to provincial issues and an opportunity for “policy by resolution at the provincial level”, stated Nanaimo President Marjorie Stewart, a founding member of the Council and the Status of Women representative for several years.
By the late 80’s, the Club had grown to 110 members, and its newsletter budget alone topped $1,000 a year. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, the Club focused on many interesting fund-raising events to earn money for scholarships, formed a number of new interest groups, shifted its primary communication to email at great savings, and the Club developed a website to establish a consistent public profile.
The Club has advocated on many issues with local government, MLAs and MPs, and has successfully sponsored a BC Council and National resolution. The Club hosted three BC Council AGMs, most recently in 2007. The Club also had a very active Status of Women and Human Rights committee for several years, and it co-sponsored election debates for school trustees and for city councillors.
In the early 2000’s, CFUW Nanaimo also began to budget funds for a club delegate to attend both BC Council and CFUW national Annual Meetings, so that the Club could be active and its delegate share with Club members a greater understanding of CFUW at those levels.
In the mid-2000’s, the Club adopted a set of priorities to guide its operations, adopted the national themes of Action, Advocacy and Education, and began to open many programs to the community. The Club again began outreach into the community, co-sponsoring an International Women’s Day event at the University and a Public Information Forum on Sexual Exploitation of Youth at John Barsby Secondary School.
More recently, Club members have participated in City of Nanaimo Strategic Planning sessions, advocated in support of affordable housing, actively participated in the local Women’s Action Committee and invited women candidates for City Council to speak to members. The Club made a major donation to assist Nanaimo Community Kitchens, members have supported the Women’s Resources Centre, the Haven Society, Samaritan House, and donated clothing and toiletries to those in need throughout the year.
In 2015 the club celebrated its 70th birthday; in 2016, it held a successful Person’s Day event, which continues today as the Celebration of Women’s History Month. An annual Presidents Picnic for Scholarships is held in late June. In 2017, the Club began to support the Students of the Tuition Waiver Program at VIU by providing a Thanksgiving dinner and Care Packages for the Christmas season.
Club membership has continued to grow and is now over 130 members. Its Advocacy Action Interest Group has regenerated and is active on many issues. Programs are now called “Speaker Series” to attract a wider public audience. Challenges remain in filling leadership positions and staying relevant to members where demands on women’s time are heavy and their interests varied. it continues to be active in the community on issues important to members such as homelessness, child poverty, and education for women.
Susan Murphy July 2018; excerpts from the History written by Lynn Wilby 1980.