St. John’s Status of Women Council (formerly known as the Newfoundland Status of Women Council)
In the early 1970s, many women felt compelled to take action on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. In St. John’s, this desire was further fuelled by the reports of the Strategy for Change Conference in Toronto that was attended by Shirley Goundrey, Iris Kirby, and Vi Hodder from St. John’s. In addition to this, over 200 women from St. John’s attended a St. John’s Business and Professional Women’s Club seminar in May 1972 that featured Judge Doris Ogilvie, one of the Commissioners on the Status of Women, as guest speaker.
Several women at this seminar decided that action was needed to change the status of women in Newfoundland. They organized a public meeting in City Hall on May 16, 1972, where fifteen women were selected to form the interim committee of the Newfoundland Status of Women Council (NSWC). The Interim Committee began work on a constitution, applied for the Council to legally become an association, published their first newsletter in July 1972, and sought funds to open a Women’s Centre.
During the summer of 1972, another event added to their momentum. The Social Action Committee of the St. John’s YWCA brought feminist filmmaker and writer Bonnie Kreps to St. John’s. Bonnie Kreps promoted the idea of consciousness raising groups and contributed to the NSWC’s discussions on the need for a Women’s Centre. The Social Action Committee had already been active on several women’s issues and many of the women in this group became charter members of the NSWC when it had its first general meeting on September 18th and chose its first Executive.
In February 1973, the NSWC received a grant of $3000 from the Secretary of State’s office to set up the first women’s centre in the province. It turned the money over to a collective which opened a Women’s Place on Duckworth Street. However, eventually the NSWC split from the rest of the collective because of philosophical differences and moved to a new location. The Women’s Place collective continued on for another year and several of its members went on to start the first crisis service for abused women in St. John’s.
After being located in several locations, the NSWC finally was able to purchase a permanent Women’s Centre on Military Road in 1977, thanks to donations of $100 each by a group of its members. This Women’s Centre officially opened in June 1978. The St. John’s Rape Crisis Centre, which was started by some NSWC members, was also housed in the Women’s Centre.
In 1984, the Newfoundland Status of Women Council officially changed its name to the St. John’s Status of Women Council (SJSWC) in recognition of the other Status of Women Councils that had begun since its inception. It remained in the Military Road Women’s Centre until 2006, when it moved into its present location on LeMarchant Road.
Since its earliest days, the NSWC/SJSWC has played a major role in the advancement of women’s rights in St. John’s and the rest of the province. It was active in promoting change in the Jury Duty Reform Act and the enactment of the Matrimonial Property Act. It actively encouraged the participation of women in politics, and worked to reduce sexism in education and correct inequities for women in the workplace. It also started up the transition house in St. John’s; worked to ensure women were guaranteed equality in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and became involved women’s health issues, among other things. Today, the SJSWC remains active in women’s issues and is particularly involved with developing housing for women.
This is an Excerpt from Let’s Teach About Women. Find out more here