“Celebrate our Past, Share Our Future”
The University Women’s Club of Nanaimo was established in 1945. For a short time, associate membership with UW of Victoria was considered, but, on April 17, 1945, the first meeting of UWC Nanaimo was held. Thirteen women were asked if they would attend – 12 university graduates and one associate. Their first minutes included a note 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 usually met in members’ homes and held a public meeting in April. At first, the Club struggled to achieve a sense of identity and direction, but by 1951, the Club had 26 members, with the directory showing membership 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 for the establishment of a Community College. Several Regional Conferences were held over the years, the first hosted in 1961 at the Malaspina Hotel, and it is described “in the tradition of the Nanaimo Club, concluded the afternoon’s proceedings with a little music”. However, 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, the status of women became a major topic. 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, walking, and attending movies. Members have also gone on a variety of jaunts for educational and cultural enrichment.
Three Past Presidents have been members of the CFUW National Board. Two became National Presidents – Susan Murphy (2012-14) and Margaret Strongitharm (1982-1985), and 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. It became apparent that a permanent national office was needed, and Margaret and Jo were instrumental in finding that home 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, the Club has been an active member of the Community Poverty Initiative 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 and the Haven Society, and donated clothing and toiletries to those in need. Programs are now called “Speaker Series” to attract a wider public audience.
Club membership has continued to grow and is now about 130 members. However, challenges remain in filling leadership positions and staying relevant to members where demands on women’s time are heavy and their interests varied.
In 2015 the club held a party to celebrate its 70th birthday; in 2016, it held a successful Person’s Day event, and in 2017, it continues to be active in the community on issues important to members such as homelessness, child poverty, and education for women.
Susan Murphy March 2017; excerpts from the History written by Lynn Wilby 1980.