FWC 100th Anniversary Dinner Speech

FWC 100th Anniversary Celebratory Dinner – March 4th, 2017

I’ve been asked to give a short talk on the First 100 years of the Faculty Women’s Club.

Let me set the stage:  It’s October, 1917, with the Great War still raging in Europe. UBC has been open for a year, and with all the young men gone, there will be a lot more females, and they’ll need somewhere to live. The First President of UBC,  Dr. Wesbrook asked the Faculty wives to find suitable accommodation. So they formed a Committee, and the Committee formed a Club. The first Chairperson was Mrs. Wesbrook, and the first meeting of the Club was on October 2, 1917, with 19 members present. The aims were: To promote “sociability among the faculty and staff, to take an active interest in student affairs, and… such further activities as may from time to time arise.” The first thing this Club did, was to call on the Board of Governors to appoint a Dean of Women to bring attention to the lack of proper lunch facilities for the students.

The FWC began meeting in members’ homes once a month…and were encouraged to entertain students in their homes too, especially on Sundays. Several ladies gave talks about their travels: these were fascinating times. For instance, in 1939, Dr. Isabelle McInnes talked about her summer in Germany, “when she found the Germans already weary of Hitler’s regime, but lacking the leadership to combat it”.  Perhaps these talks were the beginning of the Travel Interest Group! When war broke out the Club voted to become a unit of the Red Cross. Only tea, cookies, bread and butter were to be served at meetings. Scant offerings indeed!

We were very involved in building a Student Building.  In 1940, when Brock Hall was opened, the FWC donated 2 Emily Carr Paintings – “Grey Gold” and “Early Fall” – as part of the furnishings for a lounge for women students, the MILDRED BROCK room.

After WW2, enrolment at UBC grew from 2,800 in 1945 to 7,000 in 1946! We began to push for Dormitories for women students. In 1951, three such dorms were named after Mary Ballert, Isabel McInnes and Anne Westbrook – the latter 2 FWC Past Presidents, and we helped to furnish them.

Despite the growth of UBC in the 1950s, it was a long time before the splendid buildings we now take pride in arrived on the scene, and there are many members who remember all the quonset huts which for a time housed lecture halls; I think I recall still seeing a few around in the 1980s when I first came to Vancouver. The Club minutes of March 25th, 1957 contained this report:

“In the camps which house over 900 students, there is a real need for recreational facilities. The Acadia Recreational Hall, for instance, has no draperies (as yet), no magazines or newspapers, no radio, no record player, one ashtray…”

The Club responded by sewing 42 pairs of curtains, donating dishes, books and paintings (no radios) and $50.00 to assist in furnishing the Women’s Common Room in Acadia Camp.

In the 1960s, as the University and the Club grew, we began to look for a permanent home. In 1965, the FWC offered to furnish and maintain part of a building in disrepair – Cecil Green House – as it is now called. We were the first group to use the building, and the Club moved into the basement in 1967, after a lot of work was put into its furnishings and clean-up, supported by Drs. Ida and Cecil Green who had bought the house and donated it to the University. Later, we installed new drapes and blackout blinds in the Kanakis Room upstairs, and 5 members worked on the Renovation Committee. It’s a beautiful space, and we appreciate and treasure the use of it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some at least, of the many, many interest groups that have given life and shape to the FWC: foremost among these is the now defunct “Gourmet Club”, founded in 1964 – a Club that still stuns us by its former members’ ability to produce amazing meals seemingly effortlessly, and by the stories that pour out of these women when they reminisce about it. That was followed by “Dining Out”. Founded in 2001, by Joan Bentley, a group of around 20 members try out restaurants all over the City…though I doubt if the quality of the food is as consistently brilliant!

Our Scholarship Work:

It took 50 years for the Ann Wesbrook scholarship to become self-sustaining. Our latest Scholarship, in contrast, will take just 2 years, an effort galvanized by this Centennial. All scholarships are geared towards women students to help them pursue their professions and dreams, though we have also given them to Men! Our scholarships now cover Medicine, Dentistry, Law, Orthopaedic Medicine, Mathematics, Music and Creative Writing, Engineering, Land and Food Systems, & Cartography. We have a scholarship for Mature women beginning or continuing studies, the Commemorative Bursary which honours every member of the FWC, and the Vancouver Centennial Scholarship for any female undergrad looking for a scholarship. Finally, our FWC 100-Year Legacy Graduate Scholarship, established in 2015, to give its inaugural scholarship this year, has now exceeded $76,000 of the $100,000 which we hope to achieve by the summer of this year.

The market crash in 2008 set us back and we’ve had to work really hard to  reach the present level of sustainability. Traditionally, money was raised at Christmas Fund-raisers, with raffles, bake-sales, silent auctions, luncheons, dinners, raising small sums, but adding up to create scholarship funds that are now self-sustaining. Latterly, and sadly, but thankfully too, I guess, Endowments are pushing our fund-raising efforts forward with larger sums that stun and humble us. Generous members donate annually, adding greatly to the coffers, and I need to thank ALL of them for the remarkable gains we are making in our Centennial Fund!

The history of the FWC is a microcosm of the enormous change in the lives of women in the past century, a change that might have occurred without the two Great Wars, but change that may or may not prove to be continuous and ongoing. I hope the world won’t go back to the days when University educations were for men only –  it’s hard now to even imagine that – but it’s only through education and dedication that we will see the fruits of our labour continue beyond our own lives. The FWC has done great work.

Tonight we celebrate each and every member of the Faculty Women’s Club who has contributed in many ways…many times.