National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded

The National Council of Women of Canada gathered numerous organizations of differing viewpoints under its aegis, helping to empower women through education, debate, and participation in public-policy making. By the end of the 1890’s, the group had achieved a number of objectives on behalf of women in the areas of labor, justice, education, and nursing.

Summary of Event

Twenty-two Canadian delegates attended the meeting of the International Council of Women (ICW) that was held in conjunction with the World Congress of Women World Congress of Women
Chicago World’s Fair (1893)[Chicago Worlds Fair (1893)];World Congress of Women and the World Exposition in Chicago in May, 1893. Adelaide Hunter Hoodless, one of the Canadian delegates, remarked that Canada was the only country at the conference with no official organization. Hoodless and other delegates would soon meet and discuss the question of founding such an organization for Canada. National Council of Women of Canada
Canada;women’s rights[Womens rights]
[kw]National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded (Oct. 27, 1893)
[kw]Council of Women of Canada Is Founded, National (Oct. 27, 1893)
[kw]Women of Canada Is Founded, National Council of (Oct. 27, 1893)
[kw]Canada Is Founded, National Council of Women of (Oct. 27, 1893)
[kw]Founded, National Council of Women of Canada Is (Oct. 27, 1893)
National Council of Women of Canada
Canada;women’s rights[Womens rights]
[g]Canada;Oct. 27, 1893: National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded[5890]
[c]Women’s issues;Oct. 27, 1893: National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded[5890]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Oct. 27, 1893: National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded[5890]
[c]Government and politics;Oct. 27, 1893: National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded[5890]
[c]Social issues and reform;Oct. 27, 1893: National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded[5890]
Aberdeen, Lady
Hoodless, Adelaide Hunter
Edwards, Henrietta

About fifteen hundred women, representatives of most women’s organizations in Canada, met in Toronto Toronto five months after the meeting in Chicago, forming the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) on October 27, 1893. Lady Aberdeen Aberdeen, Lady , the ICW president, was elected president of the newly formed NCWC. Another founder was Henrietta Edwards Edwards, Henrietta , an early women’s right activist and also the founder of the Working Girls’ Association in 1875. The NCWC joined the ICW officially in 1897.

As outlined in its constitution, which was drafted by the clerk of the House of Commons, the NCWC was structured to be similar to the ICW in administration and organization, and in spirit: The ICW was made up of women’s organizations from around the world; the NCWC came to be an association of already established groups. The ICW provided a means of communication among women’s organizations around the world; the NCWC was to establish a communication network among associations for the exchange of goals and the means to achieve them. Finally, the ICW had no power over its members; similarly, any association that joined the NCWC would not lose its independence.

The NCWC’s strength came from the councils and their membership. By the end of 1890’s, the NCWC had more than two hundred local councils and six affiliated national organizations, among them the Young Women’s Christian Association Young Women’s Christian Association[Young Womens Christian Association] (YWCA) and the Dominion Order of the King’s Daughters. Local membership consisted of philanthropic organizations, educational institutions, church aid and missionary aid societies, and religious associations.

There also were eight national-level standing committees made up of local-council representatives. NCWC yearbooks contained reports from these committees. NCWC funding came from three sources: membership fees, donations, and fund drives. Local meetings were concerned with social issues and the running of cities, but they also were interested in the shaping of the country. Their discussion resulted in petitions to local and provincial governments and in memoranda to the NCWC. The press and personal relationships were also used as tools of persuasion.

The NCWC had a number of characteristics, which also were used as the basis for criticism. First, it was predominantly Anglophone and Protestant. As a result, the English language, values, institutions, and projects were supported and promoted. Except in Montreal Montreal , the group was not able to recruit French-speaking women in Quebec. Also in Montreal, the active orders of Catholic women seldom joined NCWC activities. Second, its members were from the middle or upper classes, and they focused their work mostly in towns and cities, not in rural areas. Racial minority groups were usually recipients of NCWC work. Leaders of other organizations were usually from the middle and upper classes, but their members were from different social strata. For example, many factory workers, shop girls, and servants joined the YWCA.

Finally, NCWC philosophy was neither particularly innovative nor radical. Its agenda emphasized the betterment of existing social conditions rather than the initiation of challenges to the established norms or to demands for a new social order. It would not get involved with such issues as women’s rights and the sweating system, which exploited women garment workers. The preservation of the family and the state were major objectives in the preamble to the NCWC constitution. Devoted members such as Hoodless Hoodless, Adelaide Hunter believed women’s destiny was in the home, and she never supported women’s suffrage. On the contrary, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) Women’s Christian Temperance Union[Womens Christian Temperance Union];in New Zealand[New Zealand] and the YWCA Young Women’s Christian Association[Young Womens Christian Association] were involved in lobbying for major legislative reform programs. The “radical” associations joined the NCWC because they hoped to convert the organization’s conservative majority to support their agenda.

The NCWC achieved a number of objectives at both the local and national levels. Besides its response to disaster relief, it worked effectively for the just treatment of women by the justice system and in the workplace, worked toward increased educational training and other related opportunities, and worked for increased and sufficient medical care.

First, women inspectors were hired at factories and workshops in Ontario Ontario;Factory Act and later in Quebec. Quebec;women in Provisions of the Factory Act of Ontario, extended to include shop girls, provided for better working conditions. There were changes in arrangements for women prisoners in various places where female police matrons were appointed, while young girls were sent to a separate facility.

Second, in 1898, women were appointed to boards of school trustees in New Brunswick New Brunswick;school boards , Nova Scotia Nova Scotia , and British Columbia British Columbia;school boards . Other educational appointments included those to school commissions, advisory boards, and boards of education. Hoodless Hoodless, Adelaide Hunter , who had campaigned for the importance of training in domestic science (home economics), saw her proposal implemented in Ontario in 1898 and in the organization of cooking classes and schools.

Finally, educating mothers about infant care started in 1896 as health cards were distributed door to door and at meetings in poor districts. The NCWC’s most important achievement was providing care to poor people—immigrants in remote areas, Western farmers, and urban industrial workers. The goal was accomplished with the founding of the Victorian Order of Nurses in 1898. The following year saw nurses sent to fifteen branches and cottage hospitals established for children in Halifax, Regina, and Victoria.


A number of volunteer-service organizations run by and for women had already existed by the time the National Council of Women of Canada was founded in 1893. As a group consisting of specific organizations, however, the NCWC had proved to be an effective voice for women in voluntary work and various initiatives and lobbying efforts.

Also, while many organizations were founded to achieve a specific goal (for example, women’s suffrage) and then fade away after that goal was achieved, the NCWC was meant to survive and expand. Its staying power could be explained by its vision of consensus, in which women could cooperate to find solutions to agreed-upon issues. In addition to being the voice of female opinion and the lobbyist of policies for women and children, the NCWC provided women a place for political and social education. Also, with the inclusion of different religious organizations against the background of bitter religious conflicts during the 1890’s, the organization had raised consciousness of religious tolerance.

Before the women’s vote was granted, the NCWC had succeeded in drawing together both conservative and radical elements under its aegis. The NCWC was able to fulfill its vision by providing a locus for disparate groups of Canadian women.

Further Reading

  • Bumsted, J. M. The Peoples of Canada: A Post-Confederation History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. A survey of Canada’s history from the late 1880’s to the early twenty-first century. Discusses Canada’s social, cultural, political, and economic conditions and provides documentation and analysis of social reform.
  • Bystydzienski, Jill M., and Joti Sekhon, eds. Democratization and Women’s Grassroots Movements. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. Sixteen case studies in Canada and across the world on how community-based actions, programs, and organizations contribute to the creation of a civil society and thus enhance democracy.
  • Naples, Nancy A. Grassroots Warriors: Activist Mothering, Community Works, and the War on Poverty. New York: Routledge, 1998. Voices of women who fought for social and economic justice in New York City and Philadelphia. Influence of gender, ethnicity, and class on political consciousness and practice.
  • Strong-Boag, Veronica, and Anita Clair Fellman, eds. Rethinking Canada: The Promise of Women’s History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. A blend of classic essays and contemporary writings, featuring key developments in Canadian history and highlighting women’s distinct experiences, identities, and aspirations.
  • Trimble, Linda, and Jane Arscott. Still Counting: Women in Politics Across Canada. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2003. Examination of women’s involvement in Canadian politics and the need to rethink masculinist political culture.

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Canada;women’s rights[Womens rights]