The Aims and Working
of the National Council of Women of Canada
November 8, 1894 — Meeting to Inaugurate the Local Council of Victoria and Vancouver, National Council of Women of Canada, Victoria Theatre, Victoria BC, Canada
I am very grateful to Mrs. Grant for the kind words with which she has introduced me this evening, and I have further to thank both her and the ladies who have worked with her for the great trouble which they have taken in organizing this meeting, and in arranging that representatives of the various societies and organizations in which women are concerned should be present here. I know that all these arrangements give infinite trouble, but they also make all the difference. And I must thank you ladies, who have been good enough to come out and meet me this evening in such large numbers in response to the invitation of those who have asked me to tell you the aims and working of the National Council of Women of Canada.
As for the gentlemen, will you forgive me if I ignore your presence here to-night, if I try, as best I can, to forget it. I look upon you only in the light of necessary evils in your capacity of escort to the ladies. But all the same that does not detract from the honor you have done me in being willing to be present in any capacity. Doubtless no movement affecting a considerable part of the community can prosper without the cordial support of both men and women. I trust that in this movement the women of Victoria will be able to depend on the approval of their husbands, fathers and brothers. Certain it is that I have good reason to be grateful for the encouragement and actual co-operation which has been given to his Council by the men of this country during its early stages. My own husband is an enthusiastic supporter, and is not only here to-night because he knows how much I dislike speaking before him. And then the Prime Minister, Sir John Thompson, Mr. Laurier, the Lieutenant-Governors of the various provinces, the bishops, the clergy of the different churches and the members of the press have all stood by us. And this is a very great matter, for however good we may feel a movement to be, we do not like to go into it if the men in our own homes are against it, or even if they only shake their heads and say “What next — what’s the world coming to!” There is likely to be a good deal of criticism of this movement, and I would earnestly ask you gentlemen spectators, though you are our critics in general, to try to understand our objects and to weigh the matter well before you oppose the Council or divide it.
You will agree with us as our ultimate objects, know — unity, an endeavor to communicate mutual strength and sympathy between all women workers, and to stimulate all work for the good of others. Some may say that they do not see how the Councill is going to do all this. Let me ask them if they have a scheme of their own. If not it is surely a solemn responsibility to try to hinder those who are at heart trying to do God’s work and to reach after his ideal of unity.
But now ladies, I must set myself to my work and try to explain to you something of his National Council of women of Canada, which is intended by it authors and promoters to forge, as it were, a golden link uniting all the women workers from ocean to ocean in bonds of sisterhood for the high and holy work which they are called upon to undertake by virtue of their common womanhood, and their common responsibilities in this fair country.
I am afraid I must ask you to bear with me while I go through the dry details of our organization. But before doing this I would like to remove some misapprehensions concerning the Council by stating what it is not.
It is not a political association. Some English newspapers stated at one time that I was organizing a political association of women throughout Canada for the purpose of turning out the present government. Well, ladies, quite apart from the fact that I myself have forgotten for some time what politics means, this Council has nothing to do with politics; if there existed a political association of women in the Dominion they could be represented on it.
The Council is not a trades union, although trades unions or friendly societies of women can be represented on it. It is not a temperance association, although temperance societies can be and are represented on it. It is not a society for revolutionizing the relation of mistresses and servants, although we hope that the present difficulties in connection wit domestic service will receive much consideration. It is not a religious body only, nor a philanthropic body only, nor an education body only. It is none of these things, and yet it is all of them, and that I think is the keynote of the object of this meeting. We desire to form a body which will, as it were, focus the work and thought of women in Victoria — the work and thought of all the different activities being carried on. That is the object of the National Council of Women of Canada, and it is on the same principle that all the local councils throughout Canada are intended to be formed.
I have been long enough here to hear a little of all that is being attempted I this city for the good of others — not only the various church societies for home and mission work, but the educational work represented by the teachers’ association, by the kindergarten, by the Sunday school teachers, the temperance work, the rescue work, the work of that beautiful society the King’s Daughters, whose very name is an inspiration; the good and useful work projected by the new Young Women’s Christian Association the hospital work of the noble sisters of St. Ann’s Convent, and in the other hospitals, the Nurses’ Home, the musical and artistic efforts that are being made, that delightful Alexandra Club, which I am sure will be of so much use to the ladies of Victoria, the work for the poor by our Jewish sisters and much else.
But let us go back and ask, How has this come about? Did it exist fifteen years ago? or even ten or twelve ago? We find that great progress has taken place during the last few years in women’s work, and opportunities for good in all the countries of the world, and we can observe this fact in small outlying places, as well as in large cities and centres of population. The fact is, ladies, that women have found out that union is strength.” There use to be a sort of idea that women could not work together. We have heard on all sides that women had some sort of inherent incapacity for working together, but I think that that assertion has been pretty well contradicted of late, although still we need a great extension of the principle of co-operation; and those of us who have been workers know how difficult it is to induce others without experience in co-operation to take the first step. The first step taken we soon realize all the advantages which come from loyal help and support, and how much the discipline of co-operation assists us in our work, and how our own character is developed as we learn to take as well as to give; to accept the will and the decision of those who have most experience and authority amongst us; to carry out loyally the decision of the majority. So this tendency towards co-operation and union has been shown in all the various directions of work, and hence the outcome is all these different societies and auxiliaries, and institutions which are managed by various committees. You here know well the benefits which such organizations have brought to your city. That inclination is daily strengthened.
Not only do we find that these societies exist but there is a tendency between those of a kindred character to unite; in fact, I think we realize that the work of the different societies resembles, to a great extent, the work of specialists in the medical profession. One medical man will take up the study of the eye, another that of the ear, and another that of some other portion of the body; but they all find the necessity of coming together now and again and taking into consideration the care of the general health of the body if success is to be insured. The women workers of the place take up the various forms of work; some for the care of little children, some for the aged and infirm, others for the sick, and again for various reforms, prison reform, rescue and preventive work, and so on. Each of these is everywhere the work of specialists and we know how engrossing such work becomes; how those who are the most eager and enthusiastic in the work become engrossed in the particular line to which they have devoted themselves and thus naturally lose the opportunity of knowing what is going on in other lines of work.
But if we are to carry on our own line of work successfully, we must of necessity understand the general scope and the general wants of the lives to which we are devoting ourselves. If our work lies, for instance, specially among among children we need to think of the various influences which tend to mould the child’s life, and which will mould it in the future, as regards body, mind, soul; the different stages of its life. We need therefore to take a wide view to know more than our own particular line of work, and so we feel from time to time that we need to come in touch with the general work which is being done by others. I think it is a feeling of this sort that has brought about these councils for women, or, as they are called in England, Unions of Women Workers.
I need not trouble you, I think, with any history as to how the Women’s National Council of Canada came into existence. It is pretty well known now that it is practically the outcome of the Women’s Congress at Chicago last year, where the women present were urged to form Councils in all their different countries. I will content myself with giving you a short account of its work. The plan has been to from local councils in any given centres of population. These local councils have been formed by various societies and institutions, organizations of all sorts being represented in a central common body. Each society which federates is represented on a central committee by its own president. These form the executive of the Council, to which are added a few officers. This central body is then able to carry our whatever is needed to promote the objects of the Council. I will read to you the preamble of the National Council which I think will give you its aims:
“We, women of Canada, sincerely believing that the best good of our homes and nation will be advanced by our own greater unity of thought, sympathy, and purpose, and that an organized movement of women will best conserve the highest good of the family and the state, do hereby band ourselves together to further the application of the Golden Rule to society, custom and law.”
I think that preamble really contains the whole gist of the matter. That is a greater unity and the furtherance of the Golden Rule in all the relations of life. You will ask how this end is to be accomplished. The executive committee of which I have spoken in each council generally arranges from time to time to have some general meeting or conference at which all these societies which join are represented. These give in a short account of their own particular work, and, in addition, a paper or papers are read by ladies who have been invited to discuss some special subject of general interest to the community.
You will see that the mere fact of the different departments of work being carried on by many different sections of thought and brought before the public, in itself must tend to this unity of thought, sympathy and purpose, of which we have been speaking. To begin with, it enables the public to acquire some knowledge of the work that is being done, and you will know, ladies, how even in a comparatively small place people are often unaware of what is being done by the different societies and institutions. Surely that in itself is a very great benefit. But it is well for us that we should now what is being accomplished it will draw out our sympathy; it will widen our charity to know of the noble work that is being accomplished by other bodies — bodies against which we may perhaps have had some prejudice; it will deepen our faith and we shall realize that we can learn from as well as give to them It is a wonderful lesson to ourselves and it sends us to our homes rejoicing to know how God is working by any and divers means for His own good end.
It gives these institutions opportunities for bringing their various needs forward — their needs either for material help or for more workers; or it is the means of drawing into actual work some of the younger women who have not yet found their vocation, but who are stirred up by hearing what is being done by others. Then it enables to be brought before the public any general need in the city or district — some general want which all citizens of the place are concerned in relieving, and which if they determine together ought to be done, will undoubtedly be taken in hand by those who can meet such need. These are, I think, the chief benefits which come to any particular district through the establishment of such a council. I cannot give you any hard and fast lines on which these councils shall develop. They are intended to suit the needs of each place where they are set o foot, and if the council has bene formed by those who are working — by those who know the people and their needs, then it will doubtless fulfil its objects and will also further the great work of bringing us all nearer together.
These local councils are represented on the National Council of Canada, which meets once a year in different places in the Dominion. It met last year at Ottawa. The different local councils, eight or nine in number, besides the nationally organized societies, were then represented. Ladies from different places read valuable papers on subjects relating to their special work or on subjects of general interest. These national councils have been formed not only in Canada and the United States, but in many countries in Europe and are intended to join an International Council which meets every five years, again extending the bond of a common sisterhood in work. You will see that there are vast possibilities in this work.
There are doubtless dangers also, for we are but human, and when we in this way gather together representatives of all sections of thought we know that there must be dangers, but we believe that this movement towards real unity — this coming to now one another better and to realize this common responsibility which is ours must tend for both both for ourselves individually for the communities amongst which we live. And if we begin to think of some of the general subjects on which we can unite — some of the subjects in which all women of whatever church or denomination or section of the community may combine — surely there seem to be very many such subject in which they are all deeply interested. First of all we must place the home.
We all here agree that the home is woman’s first mission. But what does that involve? Sometimes it is spoken of as if home duties meant a narrow life, a circumscribe life, but if we ask ourselves what home means to each of us — what it should mean to each of us — we shall see that it by no means involves a narrow life. If we ask ourselves each of us to think out what would be the ideal for ourselves, each in our own position in our own home, of what we could do and be, and if we could rise to that ideal of character, and influence, and life, and self-sacrifice, you will at once see how much it means and how much we have to learn. Sometimes people speak as though the power to be home makers came by instinct to women, but do not we know — we, who are in our homes as wives, mothers, sisters, daughters — that this is by no means the case? Do we not each of us realize our want of training and of knowledge in our contact with other lives, on which so much depends? Cannot we in these general conferences and meetings which are to bring us together as women who are wanting to fulfil their duty in the world — cannot e specifically confer together on some of these matters which touch the very inmost springs of our lives? Do we not need to know much more of how to raise our children — how to study our children — to understand the different characters of those little ones that have been confided to us? and whom we often damage because we do not understand and enter into the individuality, the different characteristics of each one, and the different training needed to fit them for their work in life. Cannot these subjects bearing upon the relations of parents and children be made, as I trust they will be, most important subjects in your councils? Most valuable papers were read in these topics at the first meeting of the Council at Ottawa, and I trust we shall never meet without taking up this subject and endeavoring to help one another to understand what it means to be home-makers in the deepest and broadest sense. And even as regards the bodily wants, the sanitation of our homes, the care of the sick, the prevention of illness, the knowledge of the value of various foods and their preparation, are we all trained as women to know about these things and understand them? All these subjects have a general interest for us and tough us all very nearly. These are subjects which can be discussed with much help and profit and to which each of us doubtless could give her quota of experience.
Again, in speaking of our homes another subject has been suggested as our councils, the question of domestic service. It is a subject which is much on the thoughts of women everywhere, not only here but at home. It needs our best thought and essentially it is one which the women in any country should assist one another to solve. It is too large a subject to enter into at any length now, but it is one of those subjects which will have much light thrown upon it by these councils and by the coming together of wise, experienced, loving and sympathetic women.
But springing up from these home duties come our social duties, which come to every woman — her duties to society. We sometimes lament the low tone of society, but if there is that low tone anywhere, whose fault is it? Is it not that of the women of the place? And is not a very grave responsibility lying upon us? and especially now in these days when every opportunity is given to woman for thorough education and for the use of her influence for the heightening of the whole tone of society. If we see the young people in our midst making people the main object of life, whose fault is that? If there are two standards of morality expected, one for man and the other for woman; one for Sundays and the other for week days; one for religion and the other for business; whose fault is it? Is it not the fault of those who se the tone in the home and in the social life? In these matters also can we not unite in our conferences those of all churches and sections of thought who desire a lofty standard of morality, whether from the secular or religions point of view.
Can we not help one another to life higher the ideal of life? whether in the hoe or social life or the life of the country? Does it not depend upon us women, and especially upon those whom God has called to be mothers, to see that the children grow up with a high ideal of public life, that they should deem it to be a high privilege that they belong to this country, deem it a high honor to be trained to serve their country any way however humble. These matters come home to use mothers although I am not sure that the women of any country have realized the duty incumbent upon them to bring up their children with a distinct idea of what that service means. That brings us again to the further thought of a woman’s duty to her country and to mankind at large; to that wider idea of duty to which women are called in these days. The call comes to all of us in one way or another. There are few who can shroud themselves in the privacy of their homes without hearing in their hearts the summons to serve their fellow creatures in some way or another. It is a most holy call and high vocation this call which comes to women, but we must remember that one of the great essentials for its success is to carry into our work the element of true womanliness; and what does that quality involve? How has it been brought into being? Is it not the pressure of home duties and family life that has taught women in a greater or less degree that they must live for others? Is it not a fact that woman must learn this lesson through her children’s needs, through the discipline of the home, if she is to rightly perform in any measure her duties as wife, daughter and mother? And it is in that spirit of self-sacrifice that we are called to go forth to the wider work to which women are being called no-a-days, and it is that spirit which only, our Lord has taught us, can regenerate the world.
I cannot suggest what the particular general world for the good of the community may be which the Victoria council, if it is formed, would be likely to take up, but I can indicate what the other councils have taken up and, by the way, I should tell you were local councils have been formed, namely at Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, London, Hamilton, Quebec, St. John, Halifax ,Yarmouth, Port Arthur, Fort William, Winnipeg, Edmonton. Councils are likely to be formed at Vancouver, Regina, Calgary and Medicine Hat. The Ontario councils are much interested now in pushing a movement for manual training in their schools, and this indicates what, perhaps you could do here.
Col Baker is inaugurating this most useful reform in your schools, but if it is to be successful it must be backed by public opinion, and who can form that pubic opinion so well as the wives and mothers? If a paper were prepared showing the advantages of technical education for children and if a discussion ensued it would probably take public opinion one great step o this subject. Montreal, again, is trying to arrange a scheme of associated charities, so very likely will Ottawa. Toronto deals with the distress last year, being instrumental in the starting of an employment bureau. Quebec is to try to start a plan for training servants, and others are anxious to secure the appointment of police matrons to look after women newly arrested. It is wonderful how soon the work comes to our hands when we get together and talk over the needs of our community.
Let it be clearly understood that we are not demanding rights by this Council; we are but seeking to help one another to perform our duties in a higher spirit and with a deeper motive that ever before, although, indeed, it may lead us to see duties where we never saw them before. But let us never seek to escape the discipline which has sanctified womanhood, but rather let us glorify in it. Let us make it yield us its full fruits, teaching us to give our very best and our very selves to whatever work for the common good God calls us. Let us always remember our basis, the promotion of “the golden rule of love.” What more can we require? It can exclude none. It includes all, and in all our different councils we rejoice to know that we have the support and co operation of all sections; of all the various Protestant denomination; of representatives of the Roman Catholic church and its institutions. Here I would gratefully acknowledge the great support given to use by several of the archbishops and bishops of the church; and then again we have our Jewish sisters also with us. We welcome them all. Let them only be united in one common aim — the uplifting of humanity. Whether this is attempted through what we may call the more secular work of life or the educational work, or the promotion of culture in any way, or the promotion of good and healthy recreation and all physical development — anything of that sort as well as directly philanthropic work — we want them all. We want them all to be drawn together by this beautiful and sacred bond of love.
Source: “National Council of Women of Canada, Meeting to Inaugurate the Local Council of Victoria and Vancouver Island on Thursday, November 8, 1894.” (Victoria: The Colonist Printing and Publishing Co.), 1894, pp. 1-6.