The National Council of Jewish Women was the first of its kind in Canada. Established in 1897 in Toronto, this volunteer-run organization has enabled women to impact and strengthen their communities, promote women’s rights and further human welfare through service, education, and social action.
The early years of the Council were dedicated to providing opportunities for Jewish women and girls, most of whom were new immigrants working in urban centres. Their Council House at 44 St. George Street hosted women-only activities like athletics, vocational programs, study groups and cultural events. During the Second World War, the Council supported a servicemen’s centre and blood donor clinics. Post-war, they established elder-care programs, started an annual Passover Food Drive and provided clothes and toys to Holocaust survivors and Israeli children.
Most significantly, the Council were strong and forceful advocates for the advancement of women’s rights, influencing public policy at the local, national and international levels. They established support groups for former residents of women’s shelters and voraciously fought for the rights of Jewish women denied a religious divorce by their husbands.
125 years later, the National Council of Jewish Women is still going strong. Their extensive archival collection at the Ontario Jewish Archives documents the important role Jewish women continue to play in civic society and demonstrates how a grassroots organization can turn progressive ideals into action.
Film sponsored by the Leah Shopsowitz Fund & National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, Toronto
There is one word that describes the collection of the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada — inspiring! The women of the Council appear to have tackled every social and economic crises of their time. Whether it was women’s rights and betterment, economic instability, domestic violence, community safety, or newcomer support, this group of women have been active agents of change for over 125 years! The collection at the OJA is rich in showcasing the important women’s issues and feminist causes addressed by the Council over its 125 years, particularly its Toronto section, which was the nucleus of the organization. It also demonstrates the connections the Council provided between Jewish communities in smaller towns and larger city centres. It enhances our understating of the important role Jewish women played as volunteers in the community and illustrates the Council’s commitment to Jewish values and furthering human welfare. With close to three metres of textual records and over 2400 photographs, the collection presents endless opportunities for research into volunteerism, women’s organizing and empowerment, and human and civic rights in the 20th century and beyond.