This Week in History


The NCWC - Helping Canadian Communities since 1893

For the week of Monday, October 24, 2016

On October 27, 1893, more than 1500 women from across the country attended the first meeting of the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC), in Toronto, which was chaired by Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, wife of Canada’s Governor General. The NCWC was instrumental in creating social assistance programs that still stand today.

The National Council of Women of Canada in 1898
©Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-028035

The NCWC’s mission was to bring together many varied women’s organizations across the country. At the 1893 meeting, local and provincial councils were formed whose job it was to bring concerns to the attention of the national body through elected delegates. The NCWC made most of its difference at the community level, defending and helping Canada’s disadvantaged as well as the rights of women and children. Local councils created public libraries, museums, and art galleries, supported artists and musicians, gave scholarships, and organized family activities.

An example of a national-level organization under the NCWC is the Victorian Order of Nurses. Founded in 1897, the VON provided health care services to those who couldn’t afford them. The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), founded in 1870, joined the NCWC in 1915 and still holds ties to the NCWC, while the Salvation Army, founded in 1882, joined in 1923 but left in 2013. A relatively conservative organization, the NCWC did not fully back the right for women to vote until 1910, although the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, part of the NCWC, began to fight for the vote in the 1880s.

Members of the NCWC in Ottawa in 1898
©Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-028008

The NCWC created the foundations for the social safety net that would come to characterize Canadian society. After the Second World War, the federal government took over some of the programs for the poor, the elderly, and the ill that were founded by NCWC associations. The NCWC continues to be an active, non-partisan association with membership open regardless of religion, ethnicity, or class.

The Establishment of the National Council of Women of Canada was designated a national historic event in 2000. Lady Aberdeen was designated a person of national historic significance in 1979.

October is Women’s History month. To discover more about important Canadian women, read Nellie McClung: A Feminist Icon, One of Five But Not The Least!, The Famous Five are Persons ... and Senators! and Women Are Persons ... Aren't They? in the This Week in History archives.

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