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In The Beginning...

One Friday evening 75 years ago, a group of young women attending a class at the Technical School listened to the speaker for the evening, Mrs. Helen Parker, and decided to organize a business women's club. They quickly elected officers and Miss Mary Lean became their president. From her photographs, Miss Lean was an eager, pretty, intelligent young woman. A week later, the club was given a name, The Canadian Business Women's Club. By their fourth meeting, the members had agreed on an amendment to their constitution to change the word 'business' to 'self-supporting'. Meetings and resolutions quickly followed and at a meeting of the executive on February 23, 1910, it was decided that an annual fee of 50¢ be asked for at the next Friday meeting and that the pledge, “I promise to live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King”, would be repeated on the installation of a new member.

On April 5, when the club held its second open meeting, it was noted that the lecture room was filled to overflowing. On May 2 the third open meeting was held in the hall of the Conservatory of Music. It was estimated that there were 500 in the audience. Reading the brief minutes of those early meetings, one can sense the mounting excitement and interest in the club; these young women were hungry for learning, and it seems that they imbued everyone with their enthusiasm and eagerness to devour any ideas presented to them.

By May, designs for a pin were being submitted. It was reported that the club handed $908 to the YWCA for the Guild Campaign Fund...and still had on hand the amount of $91.65.

Developments in the club in these early days were abundant and demonstrated the wide range of social, business and educational interests actively pursued by club members.

In September a committee was appointed to visit sick members and girls who were strangers to the city. Skating parties, walks, and social meetings were frequent activities.

In October the Board decided that the membership be asked to give a voluntary 10¢ toward the cost of refreshments. By the end of the first year they had organized a Reading Circle, an Outing Circle, a Social Committee, and a Press Committee.

1912: A group of BPW Toronto Members

In April 1911, membership fees were raised from 50¢ to $1. The Club agreed in May that four members write. In short story form, an account of the year's work of the club to be published in the Saturday editions of the World, Telegram, Star and Globe.

Several early meetings of the Club were held at the YWCA on Elm Street, now the Elmwood Club. Executive meetings were held at the home of the president, Reading Circle meetings in a lecture room at U of T's Faculty of Education, and open meetings in various halls throughout the city. The Guild Parlour at 21 McGill, now the home of yet another women's club, was used for their second Christmas “At Home” party.

By the end of their second year of operation, Club members had become more involved in the community. Their commitment to issues concerning working women of the day was evident. In November, they moved, to request that the women of Toronto do their Christmas shopping before December 15 in order to give the shop girls a chance to rest before Christmas and enjoy the holiday. Moreover, the club was being asked to agitate for the establishment of trade and vocational schools in the city as a means of increasing the efficiency and economic value of young women. An investigation into acceptable living wages in Toronto Concluded that $9 per month would allow a girl to live “quite respectably”.

In December, Mrs. Louise Ryckman Sykes from New York City, who had just returned from a Munich course in social subjects, addressed the Club. She stated that women must demand proper conditions, without which high efficiency would not be possible, and that, above all, women must respect themselves and their work.

At the second Annual Meeting on June 4, 1912, the retiring president, Miss Lean, spoke of the Club's work and growth from 20 to 200 members. Miss Ruby Hunter was elected second president of the Club. In September it was decided to incorporate. A letter of enquiry from Montreal showed how far afield recognition of and interest in the Club‟s ideals and activities had spread.

Throughout 1912, it was obvious that Club members devoted much time to examining the nature of women's roles in business, politics and education.

At a meeting in January, Sir James Whitney, Premier of Ontario, spoke of the benefits derived from good organization and the part business women were taking in the world. On March 4, the speaker was a Miss O'Sullivan, superintendent of Mercer Reformatory, who gave an interesting address on “Our Wayward Sisters”, speaking of “the evils of the day” and on the great need for “a house for feeble-minded women”. The Women's Suffrage Association were guests of the club in April. In November a Resolution was drafted and forwarded to both the local Council and the Provincial Government urging that more women inspectors be appointed for factories as “the present force of two for the whole province is quite inadequate”. Finally, several university extension courses were made available to members at a cost of $5 per term each. Courses included botany, ancient and modern history, psychology, geology, constitutional law and political economy.