By Jenn Watt
Standing before a room filled with members of the Canadian Federation of University Women on Thursday afternoon Roline Maconachie asked them to imagine what it would have been like to join the organization when it was first founded 100 years ago.
“What would it have been like to join this organization back in 1919? Can you imagine just being able to vote within the past couple of years? Being denied access to a university education? Being denied access to boards and decision-making organizations?” asked the CFUW regional director for Ontario North. “Our organization CFUW plodded on through two world wars and beyond advocating for women’s rights to work outside the home and be a vital part of our economy while maintaining educational and community involvement goals.”
Maconachie had travelled to Abbey Retreat Centre on June 6 to celebrate the centenary with the Haliburton Highlands chapter which this year celebrated its 15th anniversary.
“Those women are braver than we can ever imagine and I applaud them for setting this organization in motion and having the courage to start what has developed into the wonderful organization of today” she said.
CFUW was born out of the industrial expansion that began during the First World War. At its first meeting in Winnipeg the founders chose to focus on education for women as well as encouraging women’s entry into politics. CFUW now gives out nearly $1 million a year for the advancement of women’s and girls’ education.
It is the belief of CFUW that when women are educated and take on leadership roles their presence helps to dispel prejudice against their gender and makes an impact in a multitude of realms: socially politically economically and beyond. (Though “university” is in the organization’s name education is defined as life-long learning and is not confined to post-secondary education. Likewise members do not need to have a specific level of education.)
Maconachie said in the last 100 years huge progress has been made but she was wary of how fragile those gains may be.
“We must be very careful not to slide backwards. I worry sometimes that many of the young women of today are too complacent totally unaware of what their mothers and grandmothers have sacrificed and naive as to how their rights can be eroded and pushed back should they not be diligent” she said.
To celebrate the dual anniversaries CFUW-HH held the afternoon get-together enjoying a buffet of snacks and wine while also giving out honours. The Sage Award was given to the longest serving member of the club: Heather Lindsay.
The chartered members – those that founded the club and remain active today – were honoured: Dawn Brohman Cheryl Grigg Ann Mahar Dorothy Owens Margaret Risk Nel van der Grient and Stella Voison.
Brohman told the group about her overwhelmingly positive experience with the organization.
She said she had been working as a social worker in Haliburton thinking that she knew all the people and services that existed in Haliburton.
“It [CFUW-HH] was led by women that I had never seen before. Who were these women?” she laughed.
“I knew nothing about CFUW. Imagine: a formal organization that was dedicated to the enhancement and the education and the development of women through interest groups education just a multitude of options. And as well an organization that worked to help women and children in my community my province my country and around the world. It was a wow. It was almost too good to be true.”
CFUW-HH activities have included fundraising luncheons and games days; a popular speaker series; 12 interest groups offering everything from hiking and cuisine to books and crafts; donations of gift certificates for teens added to local food banks’ Christmas baskets; donations of purses and toiletries to the YWCA’s rural safe space; an anti-bullying campaign at the elementary schools; and bursaries for women’s and girls’ education.
This year to mark their 15th anniversary CFUW-HH had two special scholarships of $1000 – one for a high school student and another for a student from Haliburton School of Art + Design. They did not have a successful applicant for the college scholarship but they did award the high school scholarship on Thursday.
Karley Wilson a Grade 12 student at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School wrote the winning essay on tech entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den judge Michele Romanow. Karley told the group that she enjoyed school played volleyball and enjoyed downhill skiing and plans to attend Brock University to study psychology and linguistics.
Members were told that CFUW will continue to advocate for the rights of women and girls and there was still much to do.
“It’s 2019 and although much has been accomplished in the 100 years [since CFUW was founded] women and girls continue to face inequalities” said co-president Laura Thiessen “not only in Canada but also around the world rendering the Canadian Federation of University Women as relevant today as it was in 1919.”