The Women Graduates Union is a Non Government Organization (NGO) was formed in 1915 on the initiative of the Association of British University Women in India.

Dr. Annette Benson, a member of the Association and Medical Officer-in-Charge of the Cama Hospital, called a meeting at the Hospital, attended among others by Mrs. Hester Gray, Miss Bhicaijee Engineer, Dr. Jerbanoo Mistri, Miss S. Parekh, Mrs. Agnes McKenzie and Miss Olivia da Cunha, at which the Bombay Presidency Women Graduates Union as it was then called, was formed. Dr. Benson was elected President, Mrs. Anstey, Secretary and Miss da Cunha, Treasurer of the Union which from its inception opened its doors to graduate women from any university.

In 1888 the first woman from Bombay Province passed the Bachelor of Arts examination in the first class. She was Miss Cornelia Sorabji who became the first Secretary of the Federation of University Women in India in 1921 and later its President. Subsequent women graduates appeared in the nineties and by 1915 there were in all some two hundred of them in the Presidency.

The Union afforded the women graduates opportunities of meeting at regular intervals, exchanging ideas and awakening interest in social and educational matters. The Union’s functions, seeming no more than a diversion from theroutine of a profession or the drudgery of home, drew its members into widening fields of public work. Its annual receptions to new women graduates became, as the Union’s activities spread, an initiation into public life no less than a celebration.

By 1918, the Union had some 126 members. Membership fluctuated between 130 and 180 until 1939, an exceptional year being 1937 when there were 250 members. The period of the Second World War saw a suspension of the Union’s activities and a drop in the membership. When the Union was revived, it had just 77 members in 1948. Since then it has grown in numbers to 634 members in the Diamond Jubilee year and is the largest unit of the Indian Federation of University Women’s Associations.

In 1925, in response to the persistent demand of the Union, the first three women Justices of the Peace were appointed from the members of the Union – Dr. Turner Watts, Dr. Kashibai Naorange and Miss Bhicaijee Engineer.

From 1950 the Union devoted considerable attention to all – India legislation, concerning itself with civil liberties and fundamental rights, with basic legislation like the Hindu Code and with efforts to enact for the whole country legislation corresponding to the Bombay Children’s Act.

During 1962-65 its activities consisted in carrying out socio-economic studies as, for example on the working woman and the education, training and employment of women graduates. Somewhat later the Union made a thorough study of the question of the national language for India.

Another piece of legislation which has engaged the attention of the Union is the Adoption of Children Bill, 1972.

In 1962, the Union was represented at the Citizens’ Meeting convened by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, to organize Bombay’s contribution to the national effort for defence against Chinese aggression.

In the 1965 emergency the Union repeated the efforts made by it in 1962 and gave its full support to defence work as it did again in 1971.

In 1972 the Union undertook a detailed study on "Occupational Trends of Women in India from 1901-1971."

In 1974 the difficulties encountered by foreign students in India led to the formation of an International Students Group.

Women Graduates Union took the keenest interest in education from its very inception. For the decade 1929-39, the Educational and Social Reform Committee of the Union devoted special attention to schools, scrutinizing the curricula, reviewing the standard of teaching, and keeping a vigilant eye on the text–books. The Union at the instance of the Government gave its views on the proposals of the Adult Education Committee (1938), especially those relating to adult education of women. Two members of the Union, Miss Amy Rustomjee and Miss Godavari Gokhale, were members of the Committee.

The Union attached the greatest importance to arrangements for the care of women studying in colleges. When the provisions of the Karnataka University and the Gujarat University Acts were under consideration, the Union put forward recommendations relating to hostel accommodation for women, the appointment of a woman graduate, who could be expected to understand students’ problems, as warden in such hostels, college retiring rooms with sanitary arrangements for women, and the inclusion of a department of Home Economics.

This led to the starting of counseling and guidance services in 1970 starting to cover two schools in the Dadar area. Students of the VIII, IX and X standards received vocational guidance for solving their personal problems. A Child Guidance Clinic was started for these two schools at the Union’s request, by the Indian Council for Mental Hygiene. St. Xavier’s Institute of Education carried out vocational tests at special rates which were paid by the Union.

A Counseling & Guidance Centre was inaugurated in 1975. It is manned by members of the Union who are qualified to offer these services.

From 1972 the Union has held special meetings on Teacher’s Day every year at which it has advocated state-wide practice of programme learning for in-service teachers and a refresher course was organized as a sample of what could be made available. In 1974 class room teachers and a professor of education spoke on and discussed professional problems and education in other countries.

An exhibition was held in 1956 on “Our Educators” with the object of enlightening the public about the magnitude of the teacher’s work, their great contribution to the life of the country, and the necessity to improve their social, economic and working conditions. It was inaugurated by Dr. John Matthai, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bombay who was sufficiently impressed by it to request the Union to arrange a section of the exhibition held the following year to celebrate the centenary of the University of Bombay. This section dealt with the progress of women’s education in the University during the previous hundred years and drew from the Vice-Chancellor special mention in the inaugural address. The Union was also gratified to learn that in the opinion of the Rector of the University, this section was one of the highlights of the exhibition. At the request of other organizations this exhibition was taken to different parts of India and was also sent abroad

When the Union celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1965 an exhibition was held on the theme, "The Role of University Women in a Developing Economy".

The exhibition gave wide and comprehensive display to the new dimensions in the sphere of education, professions and employment. It was inaugurated by Dr. Zakir Husain, Vice President of India, who had this to say of it: "The competence with which the Exhibition was organized impressed me greatly. The choice of themes, the collection of material, the graphic skill in representation and above all the very efficient manner in which the exhibits were explained by members of the Committee made it a pleasure to go through the Exhibition”.

To celebrate International Education Year in 1970 an exhibition was held to illustrate the year and the progress of education in India. For this exhibition the Union had the kind co-operation of the Union Ministry of Education and Youth Services. The Minister, Mr. V. K. R. V. Rao inaugurated the symposium which was held at the same time. A section of the exhibition was devoted to the activities of the Indian Federation of University Women’s Associations which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in the same year.

To celebrate its Diamond Jubilee in 1975, also celebrated as International Women’s Year, the Union organized an exhibition with a difference. This was held to show the creative work of women and the eminence achieved by them in this field. On display were paintings, sculpture, graphics, ceramics, textiles, weaving, interiors, architecture, arts and crafts and publications. Not only did Bombay artists participate, but exhibits came from different parts of India. Inaugurated by Dr. Narayana Menon, Executive Director, National Centre for the Performing Arts, it was visited by large numbers of people including tourist parties and was given wide publicity by newspapers, radio, T.V. and the Films Division. The Union has received requests to make such an exhibition an annual affair.

The Time and Talents Club gave scholarships to be awarded to an undergraduate by the Union, from 1962 to 1967. In 1971 the Princess Victoria Mary Gymkhana asked the Union to select two children from Municipal Schools in 'A' Ward to be given the Dhun Desai awards for excellence both in studies and in sports.

The Federation of University Women in India (now called the Indian Federation of University Women’s Associations) was founded in Calcutta in 1921 and formed part of the International Federation of University Women. The Union was affiliated to the Indian Federation in 1921, being one of the four or five units which went to form the Federation.

Miss Amy Rustomjee, President of the Union, was elected the first Asian Vice-President of the International Federation of University Women in 1956.

In 1966, at the instance of the Indian Federation, the Government of India appointed Mrs. Deena Ahmadullah, a member of the Union, to the Press Council of India. She was the only woman to have served on the Press Council.

In 1975, Mrs. Sarala Bnnerjee, another member of the Union was nominated to the Senate of the S. N. D. T. University as a representative of the Indian Federation of University Women’s Associations.

In 1970, the Golden Jubilee of the Indian Federation of University Women’s Associations was celebrated. The celebration was marked by a Roll Call of Honour where fifty distinguished women lit lamps to signify the fifty years of the Federation. On the occasion of a symposium on “Education and Social Progress during the next Three Decades” was held to celebrate International Education Year. This symposium was inaugurated by Dr. V. K. R. V Rao, Union Minister of Education.

An exhibition highlighting International Education Year and progress of education in India was arranged. A section was devoted to the activities of the Indian Federation of University Women’s Associations.

Distinguished Vice President of India inauguarates the Annual Orations

In 1965, to celebrate its golden jubilee the Union established a Golden Jubilee Oration to be delivered annually by a distinguished invitee. In the establishment of this, as in its implementation, the Union had the help and support of the Governor of Maharashtra and the Chancellor of its Universities, Dr. P.V. Cherian and of Mrs. Tara Cherian, an eminent university woman, who was Chairman of the Celebrations Committee. Dr. Cherian donated a golden jubilee medal on the occasion. The Union was fortunate in having the distinguished Vice-President of India, Dr. Zakir Husain to deliver the first golden jubilee oration in 1966.

In 1973, for the first time in the history of the Union an overseas project was undertaken on the initiative of the President. A group of fifteen members, led by the President, spent six weeks in the United Kingdom. The visitors to Britain stayed with families selected by the CYEC and were exposed to cultural, social and commonwealth events. In return, they gave regular service in the British Museum Library, India Office and Birmingham Public Libraries, in the Commonwealth Institute, in schools and in Community Relations Council Offices and field services. The venture was considered a very successful one by the CYEC as also by the Indian High Commission in London and some members of the British Federation of University Women.

In 1975, a return visit was jointly sponsored by CYEC and the Union and a group of thirteen British women, led by Miss Ann Kimber, Assistant Executive Secretary, CYEC London, visited India. All these women worked with immigrants in Britain and their experiences in India were invaluable for their work. They visited many schools, factories and welfare centres in addition to the usual sight-seeing excursions. They too lived with Indian families and got an insight into the Indian way of life and of family relationships. Both groups included teachers and lecturers and where the Indian group had management executives, librarians and a textile designer, the British group had a bacteriologist, an educational psychologist, a music/dance teacher dealing with spastic children, a production manager in a mill and a police officer from Scotland Yard’s Juvenile Bureau. Both groups consisted of women in their twenties.

In the paradoxical situation of a one-world theory and fresh racial tensions everywhere the Union believes that this exchange of young people is of benefit to both countries. The Indian women appreciated some of the difficulties encountered by the British in the task of integrating the Asian with his different culture and values into an old established society and the British women came to understand some of the otherwise, to them, bewildering attitudes of the immigrant population in Great Britain.

In 1973, the President started the Union’s own Newsletter for the first time, which she also edited. Called “University Woman”, it gives the members of the Union notices of events to be held, information of the Union’s activities, and news from other sources from all over the world which might prove of interest to women. This Newsletter is sent to all associations forming part of the Indian Federation of University Women’s Associations and to the headquarters of the Federation.

Establishment of the Hostel Cum Club House for working women

More than forty years ago the idea of serving the working women of Bombay by establishing a hostel for them occurred to the Union, but the idea seemed too ambitious for the meager resources at the disposal of the Union. The idea recurred more than once particularly in the context of the club houses of the International Federation of University Women in which the scholars of the Union and other members had lived when in Europe.

It was in 1959 that the idea of a hostel for working women was mooted in more concrete terms and it was not until the following year that the Union took steps to make this long standing dream a reality.

The Government of India, helped finance this venture. But this project required imagination, vision and courage and a group of workers, led by the President, approached the Governor of Bombay, Sri Prakasa, who had always been a friend of the Union. He roused the interest of Mr. J. C. Jain, then General Manager of the Times of India, who turned out to be a tower of strength. In later years, other stalwarts who headed the ad hoc fund raising committee were Mr. S.K. Wankhede and Mr. K.M. Chinappa. They were ably assisted by the members of the Union, who were enthused by this ambitious project.

The Hostel accommodates 103 residents in 35 single and 31 double rooms and 3 double rooms with attached bath.

The lounge has been named the Jubilee Hall as the Union specifically raised funds for it in 1965, its Golden Jubilee Year. The club house open to all members of the Union, is for the first time in sixty years a congenial meeting place for social and cultural events. The members congregate in here instead of hired halls. The multipurpose hall was air conditioned in 1975, the Union’s Diamond Jubilee Year.

To commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of WGU, Diamond Jubilee Medical Research Scholarship was instituted in 1977. The scholarship is for research in women’s diseases and may be held by both men and women.

In 1984, the Mithan Lam Scholarship for training of professional Social Workers was established. This was followed by the J.N. Heredia Scholarship for training nursing students in 1984.

  • The WGU also instituted the Amy Rustomjee International Scholarship. So far it has been awarded to a Sri Lankan, Miss Damyanti Piyadasa, Japanese, Miss Michiko Nishino and an Italian, Miss Giancarla Ceppi.

  • In 1983, Dr. Indira Narayanswamy was successful in being awarded the Australian Federation of University Women, Queensland scholarship for post doctoral research in the U.S.A.