Our History

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Each of our Member Organisations has its own unique history and charism.

The League in NSW can trace its origins back to the Catholic Women’s Association which was founded in Sydney in 1913. Although initially a forum where ‘Sydney’s Catholic women could meet and enjoy each other’s company…’,1 it gradually transformed ‘from an organisation with an almost exclusive interest in social activities to one with a dominating charitable function…’.2 CWL South Australia was established in 1914 along the same principles as the Catholic Women’s League in England, uniting Catholic women in a bond of common fellowship for the promotion of religious and intellectual interests and, social work. The Catholic Women’s Social Guild, now known as the Catholic Women’s League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga, was a new ecclesiastical movement founded in 1916 by a small group of visionary young professional women who sought to change the world through prayer and action.

The League in Queensland was modelled on the Catholic Daughters of America. “In 1927 when Archbishop James Duhig approached the Ladies Committee of the Seamen’s Catholic Club and suggested the formation of a branch of the Catholic Daughters of Australia (CDA), he could hardly have imagined what lay ahead.”3 The Catholic Women’s League of Tasmania was modelled on the League in South Australia but was also influenced by the Catholic Women’s Social Guild of Victoria—a branch opened in Hobart in early 1936.

The Catholic Women’s League of Western Australia was established along similar principles to both the Leagues in South Australia and England. At the time of their foundation in October 1936, CWLWA also benefited from a visit by Countess de Hemptinne of Belgium, President of the International Junior Catholic Women’s League, who was travelling to Adelaide to attend the Seventh Interstate and Overseas Conference of Catholic Women.

The League in Canberra and Goulburn began as a small group in St Christopher’s Parish, Canberra, in 1945 but ‘the intervening years have seen it develop and grow, spreading to the city of Goulburn and to towns and country centres throughout the archdiocese.’4

In the Northern Territory, the League, then known as the Council of Catholic Women, was established in 1962. Sadly, the League is no longer operating in the Northern Territory but we hope and pray that it will be re-established.

The various Catholic women’s organisations started to work together at the national level as early as 1928. Our Federal Conferences grew out of the International Eucharistic Congress held in Sydney that year.5 This first gathering of representatives of Catholic women’s organisations in Australia was such a success that they ‘…agreed to hold Inter-State Conferences at regular intervals, and to combine in as many ways as possible to influence public opinion.’6 As a consequence, the Federal Council of Catholic Women was formed, uniting women throughout Australia in prayer and action.7

‘At the 1961 Conference in Canberra, the name of the Federal Council of Catholic Women was changed to the Australian Council of Catholic Women.'8 At the national conference in Canberra in 1975, the peak representative body was re-named the Catholic Women's League Australia.9


1 Hilary Carey, Truly Feminine Truly Catholic: A History of the Catholic Women, 1987, p 9.
2 Ibid.
3 Most Reverend John Bathersby, Archbishop of Brisbane, Foreword of ‘The Essence of a Vision’ by Rita A. Daley, May 1997.
4 Sheila M. Tilse, A Power for Good, 1998, p 1.
5 Lucille Quinlan M.A. and Ursula Clinton B.A., What is this Catholic Women’s Guild, 1938, p 19.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Rita A. Daley, ‘The Essence of a Vision’, 1997, p 47.
9 Ibid.
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