Gender Equality Week
September 18 to 24 is Gender Equality Week in Canada, and this year’s theme was “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities.” In an official statement, the Honourable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, described the week as a time to “recognize the important progress we’ve made towards gender equality while also recognizing the important work that lies ahead of us.”
a local connection
One organization with local roots that was dedicated to the advancement of women was the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC). Founded it 1893, it is one of Canada’s oldest advocacy groups, and is still operating from its headquarters in Ottawa. The NCWC, a member of the International Council of Women (ICW), was created by its first president—and former Vernonite—Lady Ishabel Aberdeen.
Lady Aberdeen was the wife of Lord Aberdeen, Canada’s Governor General from 1893 until 1898. When she established the National Council of Women, she was also the president of the ICW. In 1895, Lady Aberdeen established a Vernon Branch of the NCWC, with Addie Cochrane serving as president.
The NCWC began fighting for women’s suffrage in 1910; however, the NCWC was considered to be an elitist organization by several well-known suffragists, including Nellie McClung, due to its middle-class composition and lack of French Canadians and women of colour.
The case was similar here in Vernon, in that the local branch was mostly made up of women from Vernon’s more wealthy families. However, both the local and national chapters of the Council of Women made important contributions towards gender equality in Canada.
One of the most prominent accomplishments of the Vernon branch was the petition for a hospital, which led to the opening of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital in 1909. Meanwhile, the NCWC established the Victorian Order of Nurses to provide at-home nursing care, and supported the rights and opportunities of women in the workforce.
Mysteriously, the local branch of the NCWC virtually disappeared in 1920, and the reason for this is unknown. In 1959, it was resurrected as the Vernon & District Council of Women which operated until 1974 before folding due to low membership numbers. However, since then, other local organizations have continued to protect and promote the rights of women and gender equality for all.
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator