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Faculty Women’s Club supporting the UCalgary family for 60 years

The women behind the culture of caring at the University of Calgary

Marjorie Norris laughs and sighs as she recounts the early beginnings of the Faculty Women’s Club (FWC). “We really functioned like a ladies’ auxiliary, but we were also like ‘handmaidens’ to the university, acting as hostesses, fundraising, organizing parties and pot-luck suppers. Really just helping out wherever needed.” In the early days, when UCalgary was still operating as the University of Alberta, Calgary Branch and housed in wooden barracks at SAIT, FWC members could be found at every Convocation ceremony, pouring tea ‘high-style’ on the lower level of the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. The day before, the women would have gathered for a sandwich-making bee to prepare all the food. 

Norris was one of the founding members of the club, which took shape in 1956 and was established by women to support women and to connect them to the university, and to the city of Calgary. “In those days, very few women had jobs outside of the home. We were all raising our children and we wanted to make a contribution to the university.” 

Very quickly, the club filled the need for welcoming new faculty members and their families to the university and to Calgary. “Faculty were coming from around the world; they didn’t know anything about Calgary, what the prices were like, what facilities the city had,” recalls Norris. FWC members operated like the ‘Welcome Wagon’. “When there was enough time, we would send them a letter introducing ourselves with a few facts about the city. Other times we would just greet them at the airport, or go to the hotel where they were staying to welcome them,” she says. From there, members helped new families settle in, find housing, navigate the city and learn local colloquialisms. 

Other efforts included just being good neighbours to one another. Marjorie Fauvel recalls arriving from in 1958 with her husband, Tony Holland (a math professor). “There was a very nice women’s group here. When we heard of a wife getting sick, for instance, we would go to their house. I remember going to someone’s house and scrubbing out porridge pots, and someone else would bring food. It got people together. Some people got cancer and we’d help. When I had my baby, people came over and helped to babysit, and things like this. It was very integrated.”

The university and the city were growing exponentially and FWC members realized they could facilitate a way to bring academics and key members of the community together in a new and unique way. The annual Town and Gown Ball they created became a highly anticipated event, with many people calling months ahead to get on the guest list. “We wanted to build on the university’s connection to Calgary and create a way for our university’s leaders and the leaders of the city to meet and share ideas,” says Norris. “We were two strong organizations that could be made stronger by working together to support and learn from each other.” 

As membership in the club grew, the women supported the new challenges that arose on campus and in the community. Here are only a few examples of their efforts:

  • The FWC created a volunteer tutoring program, matching members with Aboriginal high school students to enhance the students’ opportunities for post-secondary education. (1962)
  • Members raised funds to support students. The first scholarship was awarded in 1961 for $15, which paid for all of the recipient student’s books. The FWC now has three endowed scholarships and awards: annual scholarships for a graduate student with dependent children, an undergrad and an annual Calgary Youth Science Fair award for outstanding academic achievement. 
  • Members made and sold crafts to raise funds for the World University Service, a Canadian development agency focused on providing basic needs for post-secondary students.
  • The FWC was also one of the first groups to purchase art to start to build the university collection.
  • The FWC started Campus Pre-school Association as a parent co-operative in the basement of Kananaskis Hall to support mothers who wanted to take university courses. They also offered an early education program for children, which was not yet available in Calgary. This award winning pre-school is still in operation today, located in the Capitol Hill area and still operating as a co-operative.

This year marks the last chapter of a long journey for the FWC, as the club is ceasing operations. The work once done by members of the FWC has shifted over time into the routine operations of a growing university. Ancillary Services handles event management and food services, Human Resources welcomes new faculty and staff, and Development and Alumni Engagement lead large fund-raising initiatives like Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High

There are still a few special interest groups to which FWC members belong, such as a book club and a popular hiking group, whose slogan is “in sun or snow we always go”. Norris is still an active member of the special interest group called the ‘out-to-lunch-bunch’. She giggles in the way only a 93-year-old can when she recalls joining the group in the 1980s. “While our numbers have dwindled over the years, and many of the founding members are no longer with us, the friendships have lasted a lifetime and I still enjoy catching up.” 

On Saturday, President Elizabeth Cannon will host a luncheon at Hotel Alma in recognition of the 60 years of community-building that members of the FWC have done. The voices of the women and their accomplishments are memorialized in the anthology Golden Threads: Women Creating Community, published in 2009 in recognition of the FWC’s 50th anniversary. 

UCalgary Faculty Women’s Club celebrates 60th anniversary

Members of the University Ball committee 1965

Faculty Women's Club first scholarship 1965

Faculty Women's Club members selling Christmas flowers 1969

Inaugural University Ball at the Palliser Hotel 1964

Mrs. Armstrong and Lt. Gov. Grant MacEwan 1967

Receiving line at University Ball at Palliser Hotel 1967

Invitations to University Ball 1968

Invitations to the University Ball 1964

Greetings at the University Ball 1966

Faculty Women's Club president with pipers 1967

Faculty Women's Club meeting 1965

Making decorations for the Spring Ball 1972

Planning the menu for University Ball 1966

Engineering Wives' Club presenting Katie Ohe sculpture to the university 1968

Alumnae Ball committee 1968

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