HISTORICAL MONTAGE: The UNWLA's 75 years of activity
Following is the text of the photo/slide montage on UNWLA history that was presented during the organization's 75th anniversary banquet in Arlington, Va., on December 2. (The text was read, as indicated, by members of the UNWLA National Board.)
Iryna Kurowyckyj: This evening, we are ending our yearlong 75th anniversary celebration commemorating the founding of the Ukrainian National Women's League of America. Our organization's history can be traced to an event that occurred at the seventh quinquennial meeting of the International Council of Women held in Washington in 1925.
The International Council of Women (ICW) and the National Council of Women U.S.A. (NCWUS) were founded in Washington in 1888 on the initiative of a group of well-known American suffragettes led by Susan B. Anthony, May Wright Seawal, Cady Stanton and others. The National Council of Women in Ukraine (NCWU), under the leadership of President Sofia Rusova, became a member of the prestigious ICW in 1920 in Oslo, Norway.
In 1925, the year of the ICW's seventh quinquennial meeting, Ukraine was ruled by a foreign government that did not allow Ukrainian women to leave the country to participate in this important international event. NCW Ukraine was represented at the meeting by Ukrainian women from the diaspora: Hanna Chekalenko-Keller from Europe, and Olena Lotocky and Julia Jarema from the United States.
One of the questions raised during this meeting was whether the NCW of Ukraine, in the absence of any responsible government in the country it represented, could remain a member of the ICW. I would like to read from page 113 of the proceedings of the seventh quinquennial International Council of Women's meeting from the year 1925.
"Lady Aberdeen, the president of the International Council of Women, explained that, according to the rules laid down early in the history of the International Council by a special committee chaired by Mademoiselle Viradt, it was only possible to accept affiliation of the national councils of countries having a responsible government. Lady Aberdeen was afraid that under the circumstances, it would not be possible to continue the affiliation of the National Council of Women of Ukraine after the close of the quinquennial meeting. Madame Chekalenko-Keller asked that more time be given to consideration of this question and Mrs. Cadbury, one of the delegates, supported this." A committee was formed, but the "Ukrainian question" was not resolved and NCW Ukraine's affiliation with the ICW was de facto terminated.
It was at this meeting that Ukrainian women lost their membership in the ICW. They would no longer be able to speak on behalf of their troubled nation. Responding to this turn of events, Ms. Chekalenko-Keller suggested to Ukrainian women living in the United States that it was now their duty to find new ways to represent Ukraine in the international community. This could be done only by creating a strong and independent women's organization that could work with American women's organizations and in this way gain access to the ICW.
The idea became a reality. In May 1925, almost immediately after the meeting during which Ukraine lost its membership in the ICW, an organization of Ukrainian American women was formed in New York City. It was composed of five groups of women which had previously been formed in New York City and surrounding areas and was named the Ukrainian National Women's League of America.
Motria Voyevidka Sloniewsky: Even though the UNWLA had close contacts with the National Council of Women USA, it took our organization 27 years to become a member of this national group. When we achieved membership status, UNWLA presidents served on the board of directors of the NCWUS and were able to participate in all ICW meetings and speak on behalf of their enslaved sisters under the Soviet regime. Many members of the UNWLA served on the executive committee of NCWUS. In 1993, after 107 years, one of our own was elected president of NCWUS.
The turning point in the history of the Ukrainian women's movement was in July of this year when the National Council of Women of Ukraine once again took its historic place among the 79 councils of the world during the International Council of Women meeting held in Helsinki, Finland. At the General Assembly of the ICW, the Ukrainian language was heard for the first time in 112 years when Oksana Sokolyk, president of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women's Organizations, officially welcomed the National Council of Ukraine into the ICW.
In 1948 the UNWLA became the first ethnic organization to be associated with the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Our branches throughout the country continue to work on local levels with the GFWC. We attend their annual conventions and report on the situation in Ukraine and on the work of the UNWLA. During World War II, members of the UNWLA worked with the Red Cross. At one time we were members of the National Women's Party and of other women's organizations as well.
Iryna Kurowyckyj: While 1925 is the birthday of the UNWLA, a turning point that strengthened its aims and organizational structure came during the first congress, which was held in 1932. It was at this convention that UNWLA leaders presented their members with the new vision and the new direction it would need to flourish. Future generations will look back on our organization as it celebrates its 75th anniversary. They will judge us by our deeds, just as we have judged the work of our distinguished predecessors. It is hoped that we live up to the standards they set.
Sofia Hewryk: The UNWLA is a non-partisan, non-profit, non-sectarian organization that works on three levels: through its branches, its regional councils and its National Board. It also accommodates individual, independent members throughout the country.
The principal goal of the UNWLA is to unite women of Ukrainian descent (or those who are part of the Ukrainian community) who live in the United States in order to preserve Ukrainian ethnic identity, culture and heritage. The diversity of UNWLA members enriches the organization and its programs. It enables us to address ourselves to the myriad problems of modern society.
There have been 11 UNWLA presidents:
Julia Shustakewych (1925)
Julia Jarema (1925-1931)
Olena D. Lototsky (1931-1934, 1943-1965)
Annette Kmetz (1935, 1939-1943)
Anastasia Wagner (1935-1939)
Stephania Pushkar (1965-1971)
Lidia Burachynsky (1971-1974)
Iwanna Rozankowskyj (1974-1987)
Maria Sawchak (1987-1993)
Anna Krawczuk (1993-1999)
Iryna Kurowyckyj (1999)
Nadia Shmigel: We respond to changing needs by adjusting our social welfare programs. In 1927 and 1928 the UNWLA helped flood victims in Halychyna. For 30 years, aid was given to Ukrainians in the diaspora. In 1998 we extended our help to flood victims in Zakarpattia. During the recent crisis the UNWLA donated $104,000 for medicine and emergency relief assistance. We also sent two containers of clothing to flood victims.
In 1933 a committee was formed to help the victims of the artificially created Famine in Ukraine. UNWLA members helped schools, cultural groups, and other organizations and institutions. After World War II the UNWLA sent money and thousands of pounds of clothing and food to displaced persons camps. We founded a Mother and Child Fund to help widows with children to come to this country. In 1969, we created the "Piatsot"  Fund to assist the wives of political dissidents.
A more recent noteworthy endeavor was our successful effort, in cooperation with the Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund of Short Hills, N.J., to obtain a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unit for the Kyiv Emergency Hospital and Trauma Center. For this endeavor, the UNWLA received a citation from the government of Ukraine. Our organization has also purchased medical equipment and supplies for other hospitals in Ukraine.
Our newest project, "Milk and Buns" for the youngest school children in Ukraine is very much needed. We have visited the schools and they are doing well. The children, their parents and their teachers thank you for your generosity and support. Without your help our programs could not survive.
Luba Bilowchtchuk: The purpose of the UNWLA Scholarship/Child-Student Sponsorship Program is to enhance and create opportunities through education and to preserve Ukrainian cultural heritage within and outside the United States of America.
With gratitude to our generous sponsors and benefactors, the UNWLA Scholarship Program has been able to award scholarships to deserving needy pupils and students in South America, Europe and the United States. Priority is given to orphans and underprivileged children.
From 1967 to 1999 the UNWLA Scholarship Program awarded over 14,000 scholarships totaling $2.75 million. Hundreds of students have completed middle schools and high schools, and more than 800 have become professionals. Some of our former scholarship recipients have themselves become sponsors; others are now religious and civic leaders in their own countries.
We credit the success of the UNWLA Scholarship Program to the generosity of our sponsors and benefactors. But most of all, we are grateful to the UNWLA Scholarship Program Committee, whose countless volunteer hours have enabled our program to be as successful as it is today.
In 1998 the World Congress of Ukrainians bestowed its highest award, the St. Volodymyr Medal, on the UNWLA Scholarship Program for its 30 years of continuous assistance to Ukrainian students.
Iryna Kurowyckyj: In the first 25 years, the organization's charitable contributions came to $250,000. When the UNWLA marked its 50th anniversary, that figure had grown to $1 million. And as we celebrate our 75th anniversary, we can proudly state that our financial contribution to worthy programs and causes has risen to $6 million.
Slava Rubel: The first UNWLA convention book was published in 1935. It is a practice that has marked every UNWLA convention since that time.
Since 1944 the UNLWA has been publishing a bilingual monthly magazine titled Our Life. The magazine has been the responsibility of six editors: Claudia Olesnycky, Helen Lototsky, Lidia Burachynsky, Ulana Starosolsky, Olha Leskivsky and our current editor-in-chief, Irena Chaban. The editor of the English-language section of Our Life is Tamara Stadnychenko.
Oxana Farion: Through the years, we have published numerous brochures on various topics. UNWLA regional councils and branches also contribute to an extensive publication program.
Since 1967 the UNWLA has been administering an annual merit-based prize for literary works on Ukrainian themes: the Lesia and Petro Kovaliv Fund. An independent jury chooses the prize recipient.
Maria Tomorug: During its 75-year existence the UNWLA has played a major role in the Ukrainian American community. For example, we gathered funds for the joint purchase of a Ukrainian pavilion at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. The UNWLA also purchased an ethnic collection that was displayed in its own room at the fair.
Maria Pazuniak: The collection exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair was the true cornerstone for The Ukrainian Museum in New York City, founded by the UNWLA in 1976. The UNWLA, as co-purchaser of the building it shares with the UCCA, allowed its portion of the building to be used by The Ukrainian Museum to temporarily house its collection. The UNWLA has spearheaded a fund-raising campaign to provide a large and more suitable home for the museum.
Sofia Hewryk: There are other properties including the two buildings in Philadelphia that housed our headquarters at one time and a building that is currently used by the Regional Council in Detroit.
Oxana Farion: Other accomplishments of the UNWLA include the statue of Lesia Ukrainka in the cultural park in Cleveland and the reproduction of historical Ukrainian attire prepared Branch 64 in New York. The UNWLA was also active in raising funds to build the Taras Shevchenko Monument here in Washington.
Maria Tomorug: In 1979 the UNWLA was recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (c) 8 tax-exempt charitable organization. This means we must work within a federally approved framework of goals.
Katia Iwasyshyn: Preschool administration has become a UNWLA tradition. Educating our children about their cultural heritage has played a major role in our efforts to stop, or at least ameliorate, the assimilation process. Over the years, the organization has sponsored contests for children on the following topics: International Year of the Child, International Year of the Family, and the environment. In 1974 Branch 83 was instrumental in getting the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus to play at the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony held at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Iryna Kurowyckyj: The UNWLA is a major force in the Ukrainian community. In 1940 we were co-organizers of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and of the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee.
In 1948 we initiated a Ukrainian Women's Congress that led to the formation of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women's Organizations.
Members of the UNWLA were instrumental in getting non-governmental (NGO) status for the WFUWO at the United Nations. They presently represent three world organizations at the U.N. The UNWLA has participated in all four United Nations conferences on women. We were in Mexico in 1975, in Copenhagen in 1980, in Nairobi in 1985 and in Beijing in 1995.
UNWLA members have attended numerous conferences in Ukraine. We participated in the "Vital Voices: Women and Democracy" conference held in Vienna, Austria, and in the Conference on Social Development, which was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. The UNWLA is a member of the Ukrainian World Congress, and in May of this year our organization joined the Ukrainian World Coordinating Council.
Through the years our members have addressed many areas of concern to women and to humanity: human rights, the rights of children, family issues, health and environment, trafficking in women, and many others.
Martha Pelensky: Conscious of the importance of environmental issues, we published the children's booklet "Nature and Us." The entire world was galvanized when on April 26, 1986, the nuclear power plant at Chornobyl exploded as a result of an ill-conceived and poorly executed test run. The catastrophe released radiation 100 times that of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The UNWLA was a major player in coming to the aid of the victims.
Olha Trytyak: Throughout our 75 years of existence, the organization has accumulated valuable records that will be sorted and placed with the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) at the University of Minnesota.
Martha Pelensky: Conscious of the pace of rapidly evolving information technology, the UNWLA has also entered cyberspace. In the fall of 1999 the UNWLA website was launched. Our address is http://www.unwla.org.
Iryna Kurowyckyj: This is our story. These are our deeds. As we end our 75th anniversary celebration, we look forward to new challenges and new goals. We hope we will meet them with courage and strength, and faith in ourselves. Thank you.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 24, 2000, No. 52, Vol. LXVIII
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