A hundred and ten years of the power of women

Canadian Federation of University Women – or CFUW – Ottawa focuses on making positive change in the world through education and other supports, but it also has groups for those interested in activities like hiking in the Gatineaus.

By Elizabeth Wilfert

Clubs come and go but to celebrate a 110tth anniversary, you have to have a winning combination. The secret? The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) – Ottawa is a dynamic organization that enhances personal growth and provides challenges and opportunities to make positive change in the world.

The organization was created in 1910 when a group of women met in Ottawa to form what was then known as the University Women’s Club. The group has since been renamed CFUW-Ottawa and a university degree is no longer required to become a member. CFUW-Ottawa is one of 122 clubs across Canada and is affiliated with a global community in 80 countries.

CFUW-Ottawa has had, and continues to have, some fascinating members, including:

Dr. Charlotte Whitton, a champion for women’s equality in politics and the workplace. When she was elected mayor of Ottawa in 1951, she became the first woman mayor of a major Canadian city.

Dr. Alice E. Wilson, Canada’s first female geologist and a recognized authority on the fossils and rock of the Ottawa-St. Lawrence Valley. She was the first woman admitted to the Royal Society of Canada and the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Carleton University.

Shirley Greenberg, a trailblazer in the Canadian women’s movement, helped found the Ottawa Women’s Centre, from which subsequently developed the Rape Crisis Centre, the Women’s Career Counselling Centre and Interval House, a refuge for battered women. She also created the first all-female law practice in Ottawa.

Long-time Glebe resident Dorothy Phillips supported CFUW-Ottawa for over 40 years and served as its president. She led a behaviour research group with the Canada Communications Research Group and was renowned for her insights into behavioural research on new technologies during the early years of the Internet’s development. In retirement, she became a successful author of non-fiction, including works such as Victor and Evie: British Aristocrats in Wartime Rideau Hall. She is known for her volunteer work throughout the city, including her work on the Glebe Report.

CFUW-Ottawa members have always had a social conscience. During both World Wars, they raised money to provide milk for children in war-torn Belgium and for soldiers’ convalescent homes. They sent gifts of tobacco and donated pajamas, hospital shirts and socks to soldiers. Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, who was given refuge in Canada during the Second World War, joined the club as an honorary member.

Today University Women Helping Afghan Women, one of CFUW-Ottawa’s external outreach groups, raises public awareness of the issues facing Afghan women and girls and provides scholarships for young Afghan women who are determined to make a difference in their country. They have had impressive success. To date, 42 recipients of the scholarships have graduated and 54 women are currently enrolled.

Support for the education of women here in Canada is also crucial to CFUW-Ottawa members. The CFUW-Ottawa Scholarship Trust Fund has encouraged and supported students seeking higher education since 1983. In 2019-20, the trust fund awarded a record 31 scholarships totalling $78,000.

CFUW-Ottawa promotes Canada to foreign diplomatic guests in a spirit of fun and friendship. The Diplomatic Hospitality Group organizes activities and events to demonstrate aspects of Canadian life and to showcase Canadian history and culture in the National Capital Region.

CFUW-Ottawa is also about the power of women coming together for personal development. There are groups for those who appreciate art, music and theatre; for women who like to hike, snowshoe and ski; and for those with an interest in the environment, history and literature.

At a cost of only $120 a year or $50 for students, membership in CFUW-Ottawa offers something for all women. Interested in learning more about CFUW-Ottawa? Check out our webpage at cfuw-ottawa.org.

Elizabeth Wilfert is the current president of CFUW-Ottawa.

CFUW– Ottawa members attend a local art gallery.
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