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NEWS: University Women’s Club of Toronto celebrates 120 years (Summer 2023)

September 14th, 2023 · No Comments

Over a century of events and philanthropy

Past President Judith Lewis doing the honours of cutting the UWC’s anniversary cake. She was president from 2002 to 2004 and again from 2008 to 2017. HAILEY ALEXANDER/GLEANER NEWS

On April 23, the University Women’s Club of Toronto (UWC) celebrated 120 years with over 160 members. The celebration took place on May 1 at the University of Toronto’s Faculty Club at 41 Willcocks Street, east of Spadina, where the club holds its events.

The evening began with a toast to the club’s ongoing accomplishments from Susan Freeman, former club president. The group enjoyed sandwiches and cake as Chris Ward, director of scholarships, joined Freeman in a walk down memory lane. Ellen Thompson, co-director of communications, distributed  booklets (generously provided by The Printing House) in memory of the club’s past 120 years. After a night full of laughter, the members left with a “happy birthday” from Ward and Wendy McCallum, current club president.

Founded in 1903 by 22 young women, this club was the first of its kind in Canada. Their initial objective was to support women with opportunities to advance in intellectual, cultural, and social pursuits. Jane Hamer, current club member, said these women achieved their ambitions “with distinction” despite gender-based inequities. Today, former UWC members continue to serve as “models of vision, perseverance, and determination.”

When it was first established, the club met in tea rooms, churches, and members’   homes. They purchased a house at 162 St. George Street in November 1929. At the time, there were limitations on women’s ability to own property, so the club set up a holding company in order to legally own their clubhouse. In 2010, the UWC sold their building to the University of Toronto and relocated as a tenant at 41 Willcocks Street, the University of Toronto’s Faculty Club.

Throughout its history, the UWC’s activities have reflected the times. During the Great Depression, they provided activities for children, hosted sewing classes and baby clinics, collected books, offered financial support to various organizations, and provided whatever they could to children in need. During World War II, they made hundreds of sewn and knitted garments and collected materials like coupons and stamps. In recent years, the club has reached out to organizations in need of support, provided scholarships to young women pursuing a post-secondary education, hosted book groups, invited guest speakers, and explored games like bridge and mahjong.

Prior to the pandemic, the UWC added around 15 new members every year. McCallum said there has been substantial growth recently with over 60 new members since January 2022.  

“Covid is relaxing. This is drawing people out, and we’ve had many [newcomers],” McCallum said. 

The club’s demographic has changed from 60 and older to much younger, with some members still attending university. Lucia McCurdy, director of membership, introduced many new faces to the group during the club’s 120th anniversary celebration. Over 80 guests were there to welcome them.

According to Hamer, the club continues to honour their mission by “supporting women on the margins” and providing scholarships for “young women pursuing a post-secondary education.” 

In May, the club awarded a $6,000 scholarship to nine female Toronto high school students entering their first year of university in the fall. McCallum said the club has come a long way from awarding roughly five scholarships of similar value to nearly double that amount this year. 

While these awards are non-renewable, the UWC also offers multi-year scholarships to female high school students pursuing post-secondary education across Canada. 

In 2019, the club began hosting receptions for scholarship recipients and their families. “We couldn’t do it during the COVID years, but we did it last year and we’re going to do it again this year,” McCallum said. 

The 2023 scholarship reception was held in June.

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