Educated and Empowered: The Canadian Federation of University Women in Windsor, Ontario

Photos and documents from CFUW collection.
By Karleigh Kochaniec
Posted October 27, 2023

When locals and tourists enjoy Windsor’s riverfront parks, do they realize that one piece of that property was saved thanks in part to the activism of educated women? Assumption Park was once at risk of being bought out by developers. In a targeted letter-writing campaign, women of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Windsor Club sought the support of political figures and other community members to access a grant that would allow the City of Windsor to purchase the park for public use. Although CFUW women played a significant role in preserving Assumption Park, their contributions are seldom noticed. The same is true of their decades of work advocating for issues related to gender equality, access to education, and women’s health, to name only a few of the Club’s concerns.

In March 1919, Mrs. J. A. Cooper, Mrs. R.F. McWilliams, Miss May Skinner, and Miss Laila Scott established the Canadian Federation of University Women, inspired by the emergence of the International Federation of University Women (now known as Graduate Women International) in the previous year. The four women drafted a constitution and began working towards its approval. In August 1919, an organizational meeting took place where six clubs from different Canadian cities adopted the constitution and selected their first officers and chairs of committees. It was at this meeting that the newly established CFUW highlighted their primary interests, with education being at the top of the list. Over the years, the CFUW grew, and in 1945, the University Women’s Club of Windsor was admitted as a member of the CFUW, taking a new name as the CFUW Windsor Club.

During the early to mid-twentieth century, being a woman in an academic institution was uncommon, as stereotypical gender roles discouraged women’s entrance into both academia and most sectors of the workforce. As a distinct and visible minority in universities, women formed groups within and outside of their institutions to promote and protect their interests. (This practice is still common as various underrepresented groups in academic institutions create spaces for themselves as a form of collective activism, mutual support, and solidarity.) Any woman who was a graduate of any university could join their local CFUW club after graduation, in order to meet socially with other educated women and promote issues like peace, education, and improving the lives of women and girls. Although CFUW membership was initially restricted to university graduates, it is now open to any woman who supports the goals of the CFUW.

In the Winter 2023 semester, as part of the Public History Practicum course (HIST 4810) I completed a placement in the Leddy Library Archives & Special Collections (ASC). My project involved arranging the CFUW Windsor Club records held by the ASC – a large collection of documents and images that reflect one group of Windsor-Essex women’s history of sociability and activism between 1945 and 2001. From the contents of the CFUW Windsor Club fonds, it is evident that its members were committed to a variety of feminist causes and were active in political and social matters pertaining to the Windsor-Essex region and beyond. For instance, the CFUW Windsor Club provided scholarships to women in post-secondary education, supported Indigenous concerns and activism, promoted environmental concerns, worked to improve the status of women in Canada and around the globe, and supported other local organizations and charities.

Upon looking into this collection, I came across materials pertaining to the local, provincial, and national CFUW organizations, in addition to the International Federation of University Women. There are also materials related to the American Association of University Women, another member group of the IFUW. The records include meeting minutes from the local, provincial, national, and international organizations, newsletters, correspondence, event posters, reports, photographs from club events, educational resources, and materials from their various special interest groups.

Unsurprisingly, the Windsor Club had close ties with the University of Windsor, Numerous members were UWindsor alumnae, and the club often interacted with departments such as Sociology, Religious Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Social Work, and History. A variety of  CFUW events and meetings were held on campus and the club was invited to university events that pertained to their interests. The CFUW fonds even includes correspondence with Dr. John Francis Leddy, an important former president of the University of Windsor, who is the namesake of the Leddy Library. Dr. Leddy was a staunch supporter of the club, and his wife, Kathleen Leddy, was an active member.

Throughout my public history placement in the ASC, as I worked with the CFUW Windsor Club fonds, I not only learned about this group of educated women’s activism in the Windsor-Essex region, but also experienced the intricacies of a career in  archives. Throughout my practicum, I learned how archivists curate collections and organize materials in a way that attempts to reflect the organization’s structure and activities in the most accurate way possible, while ensuring it is still accessible to patrons. Although this project was challenging at times, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to further grow my knowledge of local history and of the inner workings of public history institutions.

If you are interested in learning more about the promotion of women in education, women’s activism in the twentieth century, and local feminist history, the Canadian Federation of University Women Windsor Club fonds (F 0011) contains  primary sources pertaining to the local, provincial, national, and international participation of university women in feminist causes and concerns. You can find this collection in the Leddy Library Archives & Special Collections by contacting

The CFUW Windsor Club remains active today and continues to be committed to the “pursuit of knowledge, promotion of education, improvement of the status of women and human rights, and active participation in public affairs in a spirit of cooperation and friendship.” For more information about the current activities of the CFUW Windsor Club, visit their website at

Sources Cited:

Karleigh Kochaniec earned her BA in History and Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Windsor. In the Winter 2023 semester, she completed a placement with the Leddy Library Archives & Special Collections as part of the course HIST 4810: Public History Practicum. In September 2023, she returned to the University of Windsor to begin her Master of Arts studies in History.

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Archives & Special Collections
local history
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women's history
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