The mid-1960s was a time when women worked mainly in the home, providing a comfortable place for their husbands to return to after their work day, raising their children and relying on their husbands for financial support. Those women who worked outside the home were mainly teachers and nurses.
It was against this background that in 1965 a group of women in Vernon, mainly teachers, joined together to form a chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW). The national organization was founded in 1919 with the mission of improving the status of women and promoting human rights, public education, social justice, and peace. These goals are just as relevant today as they were then.
The first executive of the club included:
• president Mrs. P. M. Leahy
• 1st vice president Miss Hilda Cryderman
• 2nd vice president Mrs. Leon Coursier
• secretary Mrs. Gordon Anderson
• treasurer Mrs. Jack Turner
• membership secretary Mrs. Coomes
Note, the names of the married women on the executive were recorded under their husband’s names (this changed within a few years). It was also when the feminist movement was gaining strength and promoting equal rights for women.
The women of CFUW Vernon were very active in learning about and promoting the status of women locally and nationally. Some areas that continue to be problematic today, though, are violence against women, women’s and children’s poverty, pay equity, and gender equality.
The club held public presentations on a variety of subjects, including the plight of “deserted women” and the barriers to getting men to support the families they had left. Other areas of concern were pollution, waste water management, lack of child care and First Nations culture.
The club had a strong focus on education, donating an encyclopedia set to Okanagan College to strengthen its reference collection, and instituted a scholarship for a mature student. The first award of $200 went to James Richmond, who was attending the University of Victoria after attending Okanagan College (OC). At present, CFUW Vernon raises funds to provide two $1,500 scholarships each year to students at OC Vernon campus.
In 1972, CFUW Vernon instituted a speaker series called Capsule College, which continued until 2015. The presentations were held at OC, with child care provided. Speakers were often college instructors, who spoke on topics as varied as physics for poets, eugenics, life in Victorian times and mental health. Ticket sales supported the scholarship fund.
The club’s popular eco-home tours, which also raised funds to support the scholarships.
Throughout its 56-year history, CFUW Vernon has raised funds to support groups that provide education, counselling, a safe haven from violence, and food and shelter for women and families locally, as well as in other countries. The club also advocates on improvements to the status of women in the areas of health care, aging, the environment, violence against women, child care, gender-equal pay and more. Recent advocacy efforts are focused on long term care, single-use plastics, the right to repair, post-pandemic recovery for women and the opioid crisis.
Members also continue to expand their horizons with speakers at each meeting. This year, the theme is Notable Local Women and has included presentations on Lady Aberdeen and Sveva Caetani, and a presentation by Elaine Alec, author of Calling My Spirit Back. An upcoming meeting will feature Hilda Cryderman, a founding member of CFUW Vernon and recipient of the Order of Canada.
CFUW Vernon holds presentations to celebrate International Women’s Day (this year with a poetry contest) and promotes awareness about violence against women with public programs.
The physical and mental health of members is supported with a hiking/snowshoeing group, coffee and chat (discussion on a designated topic), a book club and social events such as a year-end picnic.
For more information about the club, visit cfuwvernon.com. CFUW Vernon holds meetings on the third Monday of the month from September to May and welcomes guests and new members. A university degree is no longer required for membership.