In 1892, when Victoria University moved to Toronto, there were fourteen women students, seven of whom needed help finding proper accommodations. Aware of the difficulties faced by the women, Margaret Proctor Burwash, wife of Vic's Chancellor-President and a former teacher, and Margaret Addison, Vic 1889, began discussing the need for a residence in 1895. Lillian Massey also shared their concerns and had convinced her father, the businessman and philanthropist Hart Massey, Vic 1844, to reserve $50,000 of the $200, 000 he left in his will to Victoria for a women's residence. In 1897, Margaret Burwash and a few influential women met in the Vic chapel with the General Superintendent of the Methodist Church Conference Dr. Carman, Chancellor Burwash, members of the Vic staff and the Board of Regents. The result was the formation of the Barbara Heck Memorial Association. The Chancellor's wife became president and Margaret Hopkins Cox, wife of Vic's treasurer Senator George Cox, became treasurer. The Association was sanctioned by the Board of Regents which authorized it to raise money.
The main mission of the Association was to build a residence for women students, to honour United Empire Loyalist pioneer Barbara Heck "the Mother of Methodism in America" by naming the residence after her, and to celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee, by the advancement of "the future queens of the homes of our Church and land." They also encouraged the formation of the Victoria Alumnae Association in 1898 believing the Vic women grads could assist with fund raising.
In 1902 the corner stone was laid for the first residence for women - Annesley Hall. It was built with significant contribution of the fundraising efforts of the Association. Margaret Addison because the first Dean of Residence when the building opened in 1903.
The Barbara Heck Memorial Association changed its name to the Victoria Women's Residence and Educational Association in 1904, and became the Victoria Women's Association in 1912. It began to attract additional members that included Vic alumnae, wives of professors, and women from Methodist churches who believed in the cause.
The Association also worked to renovate and furnish other residences for women, and also formed a boarding house committee to inspect and recommend rooms off campus. They also furnished a parlour for the women students who commuted to the Vic campus in 1912 and in 1930 created a women's staff room, both in the College building.
In 1925, VWA member Agnes Euphemia (Pheme) Wood convinced her husband Edward Rogers Wood to donate their home at 84 Queen's Park, Wymilwood, to Victoria for a women's residence and student centre.
Other activities and projects of the VWA included events to help with Church Union (formation the United Church of Canada) including an event held over 3 days with over 1000 guests from the three Toronto presbyteries. The VWA also became a member of the local Council of Women, helped with the war effort by working for the University Hospital Supply Committee, donated to the Armenian relief in 1922; and joined the League of Nations in 1925, among other activities.
The executive arm of the VWA was the Committee of Management which operated from 1902 until 1932. It had eighteen members, nominated by the VWA and approved by the Board of Regents. Margaret Burwash (1902-13), Mrs. R. N. (Mary Jane Crossen) Burns (1913-30), and Mrs. A. E. (Florence Warner) Lang (1930-32) served as Presidents. The Committee was responsible for Annesley's furnishings and equipment and for its administration. In 1932, the Board of Regents hired a warden to take over the administration of residences from the Committee of Management and the Committee merged into the Women's Council.
No longer involved with the administration of the residences and the student centre, except in an advisory capacity, the VWA found a new role for itself as a link between Victoria and the parents of the students. Therefore, in 1933 the VWA decided to invite the mothers of first-year students to join the organization. The VWA expanded its membership base in 1965 by inviting men to become part of the Association
In contemporary times, the VWA continues to act as a liaison between Victoria and the alumni, friends and relatives of past and present students, and members of the public by hosting events such as lectures, luncheons, as well as raising money for Vic students in financial need, primarily with the Bursary Fund.
Until 1964, the presidents of the VWA were the wives of Victoria University administrators. Marguerite Fidler was the first president not connected to the administration.
List of Presidents :
Margaret Burwash, 1897-1912
Julia Graham, 1912-1913
Margaret Addison, 1921-1933
Maud Brown, 1933-1949
Ethel Bennett, 1949-1958
Helen Frye, 1958-1964
Marguerite Fidler, 1964-1966
Ruth Fallis, 1966-1968
Dorothy Crummey, 1968-1971
Alice Jackson, 1971-1974
Ruth Hodgetts, 1974-1975
Susie Eggert, 1975-1978
Doris Stokes, 1978-1980
Audrey McCullough, 1980-1982, 1999-2000
Joan Breukelman, 1982-1985, 1999-2000
Audrey Chapple, 1985-1988
Joyce Clarke, 1988-1991
Margaret Roots, 1991-1994
Marian Gibson, 1994-1999
Anne Sinclair, 2000-2004
Diane Dyer, 2004-