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It was in 1910 that Madame de Vélard, President of the Patriotic League of French Women (later Action Catholique Générale Féminine, ACGF) suggested uniting the leagues of Catholic women throughout the world.

This meeting, called “the Committee for Initiative”, took place in Brussels (Belgium) and brought together the Leagues from Germany, England, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Spain, France, Lorraine, Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay, along with the International Catholic Society for Girls, ACISJF.

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During the 1914-1918 War the Union ceased to function and only resumed activities in 1921.

Nevertheless the President managed to keep in touch with the Vatican as well as with several national leagues.



In 1921 there was an executive meeting in Cracow (Poland) to re-launch the Union and prepare for the fifth International Congress taking place in Rome the following year.


Fifth International Congress in Rome: “Preservation and Propagation of the Faith”; women’s campaign for morality; against traffic of women; for preparation of women for civic responsibilities.

Mrs Steenberghe-Engeringh (The Netherlands) was elected president (nominated by the Pope) and remained so for 30 years. Under her guidance the Union (IUCWL) expanded rapidly and was in a position to become WUCWO in 1952. With 19 new organisations the Union numbered 40 leagues in 20 countries.

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May 14, 1940, Mrs Steenbergh-Engeringh destroyed the archives in Holland “so that the invaders could not lay hands on them and use them to find people who had collaborated with us (the Union).” (Notebooks February 1946)

In June 1940, the German police searched the UILFC offices. Dr. J.H.E.J. Hoogveld, chaplain to IUCWL since 1930 was arrested by the Gestapo and died as a result of the ill-treatment he suffered. During this time work went on locally in some countries depending on their circumstances.



Contacts were made for the resumption of international work.

In 1946 the United Nations created the Commission on the Status of Women before adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.


Eleventh International Congress in Rome preceded by a study week “Christian Women’s contribution to the Human Community”. In order to obtain consultative status with UNESCO the “Youth Section” broke off from the Union to become the World Federation of Young Catholic Women. However, it remained closely linked to UILFC and its president took part in meetings of the Bureau. In the same year, IUCWL obtained consultative status with ECOSOC.

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WUCWO: MATURITY 1952 - 1999


Thirteenth International Congress in Rome: “Peace in the world and the contribution of Catholic women”; the new statutes were voted in by the Bureau and approved by Rome.

The Union officially adopted the name of World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (WUCWO). Marie du Rostu (France) already Vice-President of the Youth section in 1926, was elected President by the Bureau (not nominated by the Holy See).

WUCWO comprised 166 organisations from 66 countries from all over the world, numbering 36 million women. From 1952 onwards many countries from Africa, and also from Asia Pacific and Oceania joined WUCWO, consolidating it as truly international in scope.

Among these 166 organisations were large international organisations such as International Association of Charities (IAC). Also, since its foundation, the International Society for Girls has taken part in Board meetings with the right to speak but not to vote.

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In March 2001, the WUCWO General Assembly was held in Rome (Italy) on the theme «The Prophetic Mission of Women». More than 750 women were present representing all continents. At the dawn of the new Millennium WUCWO women gave a strong message of hope. Priorities voted: Education, Violence against women, and human rights.

Maria Eugenia Díaz de Pfennich (Mexico) was reelected President General.

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