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Established in 1922, the Country Women’s Association (CWA) aims to improve conditions for country women and children in Australia. Women living in rural areas have long felt isolation, and suffered a lack of adequate health and support facilities. The CWA grew out of the need for country women to have better services and a unified voice in a male-dominated rural society. The CWA is now the largest women’s organisation in Australia.
Grace Emily Munro (1879-1964), founder of the CWA, was herself a country woman, married to a grazier with four children. Dedicated to improving medical conditions for women and children in the bush, she trained in first-aid and home nursing, giving classes in rural communities. A conference organised by Munro in 1922 resulted in the formation of the CWA of NSW and she was elected its first President. Within a year there were 68 branches of the Association across NSW and Queensland. Although Munro stepped down in 1926, she continued her fundraising efforts and was appointed a MBE in 1935.
“The drawing together of all women, children and girls in the country and making life better, brighter and more attractive, thus helping stop the drift from the country to the city”
- Aims of the Association, Country Women's Association NSW, 1920s
The CWA works to bring the local communities together by providing social activities and a range of educational, recreational and medical facilities for rural families. In country towns across Australia, they set up baby health centres, women’s rest rooms, and raised funds for bush nurses, maternity wards, local hospitals and schools. The CWA rest rooms in Merriwa (below) were described as 'the prettiest ever seen' when they were officially opened by Shire President Mr A. M. Jennings in 1930 (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Dec 1930).
Of course, the CWA is also known for its simple, wholesome food and recipe books which have influenced generations of family cooks across Australia, both in the country and the city. Their prize winning cooking attracts awards at country show and Sydney’s Royal Easter Show each year. CWA branches at both state and local level around Australia have published collections of recipes from their members and communities. The popular Coronation Cookery Book, first published in 1937 to coincide with the coronation of King George VI, is still in print and is now in its 15th edition.
The CWA remains an active advocacy and support group for women in country areas. By improving conditions and opportunities for rural woman and families, they increase the viability and sustainability of rural communities, making rural life better and happier. From humble beginnings, the CWA of NSW now has over 400 branches and over 10,000 members statewide.