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Our history

England and Margaret Fletcher


Catholic Women's League was founded by Margaret Fletcher in 1906. The first meeting was held in London after consultation with Archbishop Bourne. This non-political organisation, open to all women, was formally constituted in 1906. Margaret Fletcher had a Spiritual Adviser appointed to the League, Fr. Bernard Vaughan SJ, as a guarantee of orthodoxy.


The League was attractive to women because it was national, organised, disciplined, united in aim, secular, and loyal to the hierarchy, characteristics preserved to this day. In 1910 similar Leagues in Germany, France Italy, Spain and Switzerland met with England in Brussels for the first International Conference of
Catholic women. This was a remarkable achievement in so short a period of time.

Margaret Fletcher remarked that "It is not just parish work let alone local influence that we are after, but to enrol women for national ends." She concludes her autobiography: "The long effort to organise Catholic lay women nationally has prospered. Time has brought other societies into existence with more specialised aims and at long last, all are working in mutual helpfulness in co-operation with the hierarchy."

Catholic Women's League in Australia

The inaugural meeting of the Catholic Women's League in Australia, and for that matter in the southern hemisphere, took place in Adelaide, South Australia, on 25 October 1914. The foundress, Miss Betty Leworthy, MBE was the first Secretary. The first President, Mrs P McMahon Glynn, was the wife of a parliamentarian, and in 1916 was presented at Court. While in London she received permission from England's Catholic Women's League to bring back the English badge so that CWL of South Australia could use it.

New South Wales was established as a Catholic Women's Association in 1915 by Mrs Esther Cannon with the approval and patronage of Archbishop Kelly. The name changed to Catholic Women's League in 1960. Victoria was founded as Catholic Women's Social Guild of Victoria / Wagga Wagga in 1916 under the patronage of Fr Lockington. It became Catholic Women's League in 1970.

Catholic Daughters of Australia was established in Queensland in 1927 under the patronage of Archbishop Sir James Duhig. The first President was Mrs. P K Copley. The title was retained until 1975 when it became Catholic Women's League.Catholic Women's League of Western Australia was established in 1937 by Archbishop Prendiville. The first President was Mrs J P Maxwell.

The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn opened its first branch in 1946 under the patronage of Monsignor Patrick Haydon PP of St Christopher's.Catholic Women's League Tasmania was founded in 1941 under the leadership of Mrs Gwen Mullins.

1962 saw the opening of Darwin's branch under the title of Council of Catholic Women. Evonne Sullivan was a foundation member of League in the Northern Territory and has since been awarded an Australia Medal for her work with women.

All States and the ACT are represented in the Member Organisations of Catholic Women's League Australia Incorporated (CWLA Inc.), but in its formative years the national body underwent a series of name changes. From the time of the first National Conference held in Sydney in 1928 it was known as Federal Council. The name was later changed to Australian Council of Catholic Women. In 1975, after all States and Territories had achieved uniformity of name it finally became Catholic Women's League Australia.