To Serve Their Fellow Creatures
August 24, 1894 — Inaugural Meeting, Council of Women of Halifax, Academy of Music, Halifax, Canada
LADIES, — Allow me to thank all of you who have so very kindly come out in response to my invitation this afternoon to confer on the advisability of forming a Women’s Council on connection with the National Council of women of Canada, and in particular allow me to thank the presidents and members of the various societies and organizations belonging to so many different sections of the community who are here represented, and who make this meeting so truly a representative a influential one. I would also, before I go further, tender my best thanks to the press, who have been so good as to make known this meeting to the people of Halifax, and who have already put some of the ais of the Council before the public You will now ask me to give some account of myself an how it is that I have ventured to invite you to consider this matter. I could wish that the subject had been in better hands than mine for presentation on this occasion, but having been elected president of the National council of women of Canada.
I FEEL IT TO BE MY DUTY TO LAY ITS AIMS AND OBJECTS
before the women of the various districts of this country, leaving it to them in each case to decide whether they deem it advisable in their own interest an din the interests of each particular community to form an organization in affiliation with that Council. Finding that there were some ladies here in Halifax who desired to know more of the matter, more of what it all meant, I have ventured to convene this meeting to-day, and to endeavor to lay before you some report of our work. But allow me at the very outset, ladies, to say and to say very plainly, that I am most anxious that it should be understood that I am in no way desirous of urging this organization upon you against your own opinions or your own wishes. To be successful, such a council as is suggested must rise out of the spontaneous wish of those most concerned, and must also represent truly all the different sections of thought in each district. I must also disclaim personally ay responsibility or credit in the origination of the idea of this council. I have had nothing to do with it personally. I found it being inaugurated when I first arrived in Canada. It in part of a great movement which, 1 am sure, all the workers here present have been watching going on throughout the world for many years past. We can see traces of it in many directions, if we look back upon the history of women’s work. Looking back to a century ago, we can find scarcely any, if any, of those organizations and societies to which wo are now so accustomed. Organized women’s work was kept alive through all the past centuries by
THOSE NOBLE INSTITUTIONS AND SISTERHOODS OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
which have done such a glorious work for the poor, for the afflicted and for the young. We owe a great debt to those who have kept alive this idea of women’s work. And, again, later, the Society of Friends also took up the same idea and showed what was possible to be done. But as far as those societies, institutions and organizations, with which we are now so familiar, are concerned, we find but little trace of them. They must nearly all have originated in the last half century; most of them within the last quarter of a century, many of them even within the last ten or twelve years. But now on all hands we find a great network of such organizations having for their objects the welfare of the community in some direction or another. Therefore woman’s work has become a very real factor in the life of a community, and we can trace the rise and development of this factor during the reign of our greatest queen, a feature which will doubtless be one of the distinguishing marks of her reign. This being so, and women’s work having become organized in many directions, we find that the very fact of this organization perhaps has built up walls between the workers in a community. Those who are most keen and enthusiastic in their work are perhaps apt to become engrossed in their own particular groove. They have not time or leisure to find out what is being done by their sisters in the same community, and it is often the fact that when a body of workers are convened they are amazed to find a large company, such as those who are present to day, have before them as their objects the furtherance of the general welfare of their fellow creatures in some way or another. It has, therefore, naturally come about that there has been a desire for some further link between workers; and we can trace that in many directions among workers of kindred aims — among all those who work for the young, in Sunday school work, and in temperance societies. We find the smaller societies feeling the need of meeting on common ground and joining in some larger association or federation,
AND THUS SECURING A COMMON LINK IN THEIR WORK.
That feature has been very notable during the past twelve years in Great Britain. At that time there was an effort made in various towns there to link together all the women workers acting for the benefit of women and girls, and amongst the earliest cities of Great Britain to organize such a union, I am proud to say that our own city of Aberdeen was almost, if not quite, the first. These unions have gone on increasing both in Scotland and in England, and many of the large towns now have experienced the benefit of the movement. At first it was worked especially among women and girls; later, under its auspices, all kinds of religious and philanthropic work were undertaken; and now in the newer unions we find they are taking up secular as well as religious and philanthropic work. You will see the same idea underlying the operations of our council over here. It began, however, in a different way; with the different centres organizing themselves in Great Britain with a central body, on which all the different institutions and societies in the town or district were represented, forming an executive committee, and occasionally having meetings at which all these different societies came together and gave in reports of their work, and also pointed out any general need existing in the district. I can testify to that union having been most fruitful in our own city of Aberdeen.
AT FIRST PEOPLE WERE INCLINED TO SMILE
and ask “what is the good of it?” but nowadays when there is some piece of work which needs doing in Aberdeen we find when the matter is discussed that the general expression is “Oh, you had better ask the Ladies’ Union about it.” You will easily perceive that in a body where the different societies of a city or district are represented, when some need comes up, this body must know whether that need can be carried out by any existing organization. Very often a piece of work can be carried out by an existing institution, but the society not being known, the work does not go to the right quarter. We find that the Ladies’ Union also know who are likely to be the workers and who can best form the nucleus of some new society to carry out work in case the creation of such a society is necessary. These unions in various parts of the kingdom brought about the desire to be linked to each other, and this was accomplished by conferences taking place in some large centre every year, where all their different unions are represented. This year that conference takes place in Glasgow. Great care is taken at these conferences to select
SPEAKERS WHO REALLY KNOW SOMETHING OF THE SUBJECTS
upon which they are expected to speak. Subjects are selected, also, which possess general interest and bearing upon the motives which should inspire work, so that those coming to the Conferences go away feeling in the truest sense their responsibility deepened, and also having heard words of inspiration as well as of practical advice as to how to carry out their individual work. I can testify from experience how extraordinary has been the result and influence of these conferences, how those who are inclined to speak of it as being “all talk,” have gone to these conferences and have come away finding their faith deepened, their charity strengthened and an impulse given to the purpose of their lives that has lasted through years. I know workers in out of the way villages in the north of Scotland who still speak of a conference held in Aberdeen, some six years ago, as having been a great help to them in their work. So you will see, ladies, having come from Great Britain after the experience of this work, when I arrived here in Canada and found that
IT WAS PROPOSED TO CARRY OUT THE IDEA OF A NATIONAL COUNCIL HERE
somewhat on the same lines, I felt it a great honor and privilege to be elected president and to be allowed by the women of Canada to strive to be of some use in this direction. I dare say that a great many here know how that council was originated; but they will bear with me, for the sake of those who do not, if I very briefly explain that this National Council of Women of Canada was really the outcome of the Women’s Congress in Chicago last year. That Women’s Congress was organized by the National Council of women of the United States, which was formed in 1888, and it grew into
THIS WONDERFUL WOMEN’S CONGRESS
of which we have all heard, and at which representatives of wo many different countries of the world were present, and stirred one another by the reports which they were able to bring of the work which was being done by women for God throughout the world. At the close of that congress it was decided that an International council of women should definitely be formed and to that end the ladies representing the different countries of the world who were present were invited to consider whether steps should not be taken in their own countries to form a National Council. There were ladies from Canada present, not in an official sense but who yet were very much to the fore at the congress, as I had the pleasure of knowing by seeing them at the various meetings. These ladies assembled together at the close of the Congress sand decided to take steps to form this National Council of Women of Canada. Matters were in this position when I was invited to be present at a meeting at Toronto to which workers representing various national societies were, as far as could be arranged, invited by the committee of ladies appointed for that purpose, and at this meeting
IT WAS DECIDED TO GO FORWARD.
The preamble there adopted explains the matter clearly. It runs as follows:
We, women of Canada, sincerely believing that the best good of our homes and national 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.
Then follows the constitution, which provides that this National Council should be formed of representatives of all national societies, that is societies which are organized on a national footing throughout the Dominion, and representatives from all local councils which might he formed in the various centres of the Dominion. The second article is a very important one, and I will read it:
“This council is organized in the interest of no one propaganda, and has no power over the organizations which constitute it beyond that of suggestion and sympathy therefore, no society voting to enter this council shall render
itself liable to be interfered with in respect to its complete organic unity, independence, or methods of work, cr be committed to any principle or method of any other society, or to any act or utterance of the council itself,
beyond compliance with the terms of this constitution.”
You will see, ladies, that the constitution is very broad and comprehensive. It is one which should exclude none, but which should include all who desire to work for the benefit of their fellow creatures, and to take as the link which should bind us all together, the “golden rule.” We say simply the “golden rule”; but what more can be wanted ? It has struck me very much in going to the various meetings at Toronto, Montreal, London, Hamilton, Ottawa and Quebec, that
THE RIPENESS OF THE MOMENT FOR THE MOVEMENT HAS BEEN INSTINCTIVELY FELT
by all, and it has been the most gratifying feature of the work in all these centres that ladies of all our different churches and of all the different organizations are on our councils. All the sections of the Protestant Church are represented, and in each case, I think, in one form or another, ladies from the Roman Catholic Church are represented, as well, also, as ladies of the Jewish faith. It has been an impressive thing at these meetings to find ladies] of so many various forms of thought kneeling down together and asking for a blessing from our great Father upon our work for Him; and then from each of their different points of view narrating Low they had been led, according to their light, to help forward the work with which each felt entrusted. When you come now to ask me “what is the good of it;” I find it somewhat difficult to answer you, for in many respects
THE DEEPEST GOOD IS AN INDIRECT ONE WHICH CANNOT BE DEFINED,
but I feel most strongly that very much good has been done towards promoting real and true unity amongst us by bringing all these true workers together; by not in any way working against individuality or the internal regulations or the different church views of those who belong to us; but, which giving full scope for all and recognizing the advantage of the utmost individuality on all sides, at the same time also recognizing this bond between us all — recognizing, indeed, that we are all sisters working hand in hand, each by what we are shown to be the best and truest way for the common end. I need scarcely say anything more about the subject of unity, which is our main object, and which after all comes to us from learning to learn from one another; learning that there is very much that we can learn even from those against whom we may have had the greatest prejudice. There is in this a lesson which must produce most blessed fruit both to ourselves and to whatever work in which we may be engaged. Then, as to what may be called, perhaps, more practically results, we find
NOT ONLY INCREASE IN UNITY, BUT ALSO AN INCREASE OF POWER FOR WORK.
I may explain that our general organization is formed of an executive, which, as provided by the constitution, is composed of the presidents of every organization which joins. It represents in this way all those bodies who belong to it, with the addition of the few officers necessary to carry on the work. In most places this executive generally meets once a month, and from time to time they convene a general meeting having, of course, an annual meeting once a year. At stated periods, reports are given in from the various societies belonging to the council. Sometimes, if that is found too tedious, a report is made up of a particular section of work, perhaps of work amongst the young or amongst the sick, etc., and a discussion is invite don these papers. You will easily perceive that at these meetings there is an opportunity for worker? who feel that there is some particular need unfilled to bring that need before the representatives of the various societies in the city. Often at these meetings there are young girls and others who are not actively engaged in work, longing to find some vocation and not knowing exactly how to set themselves to work. You know, ladies,
IT IS A MOST DIFFICULT THING TO DO TO SET ONE’S SELF TO WORK,
and, as I say, it often happens that there are those who are only waiting for guidance and for inspiration ; and when at these meetings the various representatives put before the public the work which they are doing, that sort of aimless longing is quickened into healthy action. The first step is made and the new worker can go where she feels most drawn, assured that she will have the help of those who can guide and assist her and put her in the way of testing her inexperience by actual work. This is one practical side of the undertaking. So that when our societies call for new workers they are enabled in this way to obtain new recruits. In addition to that, as I have before said, any common need felt in the town can be brought before the representatives of the various societies — the workers of the place, and it can be ascertained whether it is a real or only an imaginary need; whether any existing organization can deal with it, or if it is a public need, the council representing all the various societies can go to the authorities who can deal with it with the assurance that if the representatives of all the organizations of women say that there is a real need affecting women and children, it will be a very strange thing if that need is not soon met. In addition to all this, there is another advantage which I think flows from our National Council, and that is
THE PROMOTION OF TRUE NATIONAL AND PATRIOTIC FEELING
in the deepest sense. It is the formation of a patriotic society in itself amongst those who can best promote it — amongst the mother’s, the “home-makers” of the country. A brilliant and well-known writer has lately written a work in which he contends that the making of mothers is the highest work of God in nature; and he traces back how it is through motherhood, even through the first uncivilized motherhood of savage races, that there has grown into the world the principle of true love and of living for others which our Lord Himself has taught us is the only true life and the only true means for the regeneration of the world. Looked at in this way, must we not feel that God has set a high and holy seal on our womanhood, and on the special work which belongs to it. We may not all be called upon to be the mothers of little children, but
EVERY WOMAN WHO IS BORN IS CALLED UPON TO “MOTHER” IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER;
and woe be to her if she turn aside from high privileges. What a wonderful vocation it is seen to be, when we look at this mothering simply from the point of view of our own homes or in a wider sense. Ladies, we who have been called upon to be the mothers of children know well how at times we feel overwhelmed with the immensity of the task which has bene confided to us as we look upon our children and their individual capacities, and the possibilities which lie in each of them when we see their wonderful love and confidence in us, and thing that to us is given the opportunity of making or marring them; of bringing them up so as to be true to their country and to their God — a blessing to their homes and generation. And as we feel our own incapacity, our own want of training, our own want of knowledge, we realize this very keenly; and yet even so we recognize that
THE CHILDREN ARE OUR BEST TEACHERS
and that in spite of all our failures, they must in some measure or another teach us how to live for others. Does not this same call come to every woman, in some way or another — in our home, through those who depend upon us; our friends, our servants? Are not those who are servants called upon in the same way? Does not that principle of mothering come in everywhere? What does it all mean after all? — to love, to understand and to serve? And if these home duties are rightly understood, if they are rightly accepted, does it in any way mean a narrow life? Sometimes people speak as if home duties and the more public duties to which women arc called nowadays clash. It is impossible to exaggerate the home duties — the building up of the units which form the real life of the nation. On the faithfulness of women to this duty depends the welfare of the country — the building up of home — the making of home with a high ideal running through every relation of life, where the love of things that are lovely and
true and of good report is felt in everything; where body and mind and soul are cared for; homes from which young men and maidens will go out not making pleasure and wealth the main objects in life, but who will
COUNT IT THEIR HIGHEST PRIVILEGE AND GLORY TO SERVE THEIR FELLOW-CREATURES,
their country and their God. But when it is spoken of as if these home duties clashed with the public duties, surely it is a wrong conception of what home means. Surely, to be able to build up a home in this way involves a wide view of life, a wide horizon. It will not do for the queens of our homes to draw a charmed circle around a few lives and think only of their comfort and welfare. Those who do so will assuredly find that they have missed their aim. For the sake of those nearest and dearest to us we need to know what life means — its sorrows and difficulties; we need to know all about the paths through which these dear ones will walk by and by. If we care not for those outside of our homes, if we hear not this call to “mother,” not only in our own homes, but in the social and national life of our country, it may be that it will be our own children who will feel the results of our turning a deaf ear to it. The call comes to us. It appeals to us in different ways. It may be for the young or for the orphans who are left at our doors; it may be for the reclamation of the erring ones, or for the prevention of calamity to those who are in slippery places; it may be that
THE RESPONSIBILITY LAID UPON US WILL URGE US TO LIFT UP THOSE WHO HAVE ERRED,
and who are earning the retribution of their sins. WE may be called upon to go to these with a message of love and helpfulness; or it may be to those who are in sickness or are being tempted. Or the call may come to us to help in some way to beautify life, to build up culture, to develop the intellect, to bring a high ideal into our social life ,into its pleasures and into the development of physical life. I the social life we hear the same call for mothering, in making amusement and recreation what it was intended to be — not the aim but the refreshment of life. Our various societies and organizations and institutions will each have their own place. We must recognize that these organizations are necessary, but while carrying out the individual work to which we are each called, let us recognize that it is good for us now and again to come together to realize that there is this common aim uniting us all to bow down to our Lord to ask Hm for inspiration that He may strengthen us to go on in this work hand in hand; to go forward strengthened by Him, and by the help which He is ready to give us through one another if we will but take it. And so, ladies, I have striven to put before you some of the objects of the Council, some of the aims before it; and I would ask you now to consider whether it does not strike you as a truly patriotic and national work, this gathering together in each place of all the workers of the place, and they in turn forming this grand national sisterhood from one ocean to another —
THIS SISTERHOOD OF WORK FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE COUNTRY;
and again that sisterhood stretching out its hand to those sisters of other countries who are now forming councils. And I am glad to tell you that not only in our own, but in other countries, these councils are being formed — in Germany, in Belgium, in France, in Sweden, in Greece and other lands. It is a grand movement if it is carried out in the right spirit, and I believe if taken up here it will be taken in this way; and I ask you now to consider whether by this means we cannot strive all together to do something more to make Halifax truly a city of God, to make Canada more and more a kingdom of God, united with all our sister workers throughout the world to make the world more truly God’s world.
Source: Inaugural Meeting of the Local Council of Women of Halifax Address by Her Excellency the Countess of Aberdeen August 24th 1894, (Halifax: The Morning Printing and Publishing Co.) 1894, pp. 4-16.