The history of the CU&UWA is quite brief: it was inaugurated May 21, 2011 at the ACM of the CUC, Toronto. However, the roots of previous women’s organizations that contributed to this Founder’s meeting are deep and extensive. They include years of women’s gatherings in western Canada; a booklet about historical foremothers that was generated in Atlantic Canada, a recent Ontario publication by ministers and lay Chaplains that has a curriculum component, and decades of involvement with American and British Women’s organizations.
The first UU Women’s Retreat was held 1987 at St. Michael’s Retreat House, Lumsden, Saskatchewan under the umbrella of the Western Canada District. “Gatherings” have occurred every year since (except 1992 when GA was held in Calgary); 2011 was the 25 Anniversary year. “Gathering” is a more accurate name than Retreat, ‘considering the nature of our activities, the mood of celebration, and the rare opportunity for women to gather together to nurture themselves among other women seekers’. (See Ruth Patrick, with B. Hone, document, 2008)
“Concise Portraits of Canadian Unitarian and Universalist Women” is a booklet prepared by the Uppity Women’s study group, lead by Mary Lu MacDonald and Irene Baros-Johnson of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax. Profile of eminent women leaders remind us of how many other women have served with distinction as ministers, minister’s wives, chaplains, lay leaders in our respective congregations and the wider community. In fact, two of the current Council founding members are past presidents of CUC itself.
We are not certain when Canadian women began to serve on the Unitarian Univerisalist Women’s Association of the UUA (USA) but know that the following were Board members: Peg Gooding, Ottawa, Shirley Kitchen, Winnipeg, Beth Hone, Lumsden; Katie Stein Sather, Edmonton, and Betty Donaldson, Calgary. Nancy Knight served on “the Woman’s Alliance”: and was elected to the Clara Barton Sisterhood. Betty Donaldson was the first Canadian to receive the UUWF Feminist Thealogy Award. (This record of service is probably incomplete because no lists were maintained.) However, when CUC became independent from UUA approximately 10 years ago, UUWF was shifting from a membership organization to a foundation based in Washington DC. While some individuals remained members of the UUWF, no formal association continued (unlike the Welcoming Congregation movement). Canadian women have been profoundly influenced by the three Goddess curricula (Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, The Goddess Remembered, Rise up and Call her Name) which Donna Read of the National Film Board co-produced under great difficulty. These programs are still offered regularly in many congregations.
Some of us hoped to develop a Canadian UU organization to address such issues as education, human rights and equality of income for women. Tentatively, this organization was called: Canadian Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation. These efforts to build a Canadian national women’s organization were initiated in 2001 and cumulated in applications from the Prairie Women’s Gathering, supported by the Vancouver Island Women’s Retreat, with application packages being submitted to CUC in 2008 and 2010. Finally, at a pre-conference workshop in Victoria, sufficient momentum was attained to organize a meeting within the Toronto ACM , 2011. A committee chaired by Janice Tait and mentored by Vyda Ng organized a Founder’s meeting that attracted women from all regions of Canada. At that meeting the organizational name was changed to Canadian Unitarian and Universalist Women’s Association (CU&UWA) and a national Council elected: Dr. Betty Donaldson, Mary Lu MacDonald, Ruth Patrick, Margaret Linton, Gillian Burton and Janice Tait. “Invisible Influence”, a Kingston Unitarian Press publication edited by Jean Pfleiderer, Heather Fraser Fawcett, and Kathy Sage, was launched at the inaugural meeting of CU&UWA. It includes an RE curriculum written by Debra Faulk and Susan McEwen that is the first Canadian national women’s curriculum.
Informal contact with the British League of Women were established during the 1990s when Connie and Joyce Thompson, both past Presidents of the League visited Canada and attended the Prairie Women’s Gathering several times. As a consequence, Betty Donaldson and Ruth Patrick have also participated in various British League activities in England.