March from Ellen's Corner

Please let us know which section of the Mary Stewart Collect means the most to you and we will publish it in the April newsletter! Share your thoughts and drop a line to angela.scott@bellaliant.net by April 5th, 2021. More details below.

Last month as I continued my Pandemic “poking around” I came across a copy of two pages from a book with nothing to identify the original publication. I was very interested in what I read, some of which I already knew, but some was very new. This might be the same for you.

"Collect for Club Women"

The left hand page of this copy is entitled “Collect for Club Women”. What follows are the words of our Mary Stewart Collect printed in beautiful calligraphy by someone who obviously was quite artistic, and it is signed Mary Stewart. The right hand page tells the story of that Collect that Women’s Institute know so well and that has been used by women’s groups for many years in Canada, the United States and beyond as a prayer at their meetings. Mary Stewart wrote the Collect in 1904 when she was Principal of Longmont High School in Colorado, USA. She explained that” It was written as a prayer for the day. I called it a “Collect for Club Women” because I felt that working women together with wide interests for large ends was a new thing under the sun and perhaps, they had need for special petition and meditation of their own. This must have been true for the Collect has found its way about the world especially where English speaking women get together. Indeed, it has been printed in many forms in many lands."

Apparently after some years Mary Stewart was concerned that widespread use of the Collect had resulted in some changes. Entry into the story is our own Canadian Mrs. Alfred Watt. She was living in England and through her efforts the first Women’s Institute was organized in Wales in 1915. There are few dates given this article, but I would think that some time in the 1920s Mary Stewart was on a trip to England and spent some time visiting Mrs. Watt in her home. While there she spoke to Mrs. Watt of her concern “about the garbled versions” of her prayer which were being circulated. As a result, Mrs. Watt’s son Robin, an artist, copied the prayer in the beautiful calligraphy. Mary Stewart supervised his work “down even to the points of a comma or a period”. This copy is then THE accurate version of Mary Stewart’s creation. If you are wondering what lines were being garbled, it is that the line “Let us take time for all things…” should come before “Teach us to put into action.”

Reading this aroused my curiosity. Where, when and how did Mary Stewart and Mrs. Watt become acquainted? Who, when and where was the decision made for the Women’s Institutes to adopt this Collect? Was it after Mrs.Watt had attended the FWIC Board Meeting in November 1919? And who, when and where was the decision to change Collect for Club Women to the Mary Stewart Collect?

I did locate a 1938 Women’s Institutes of Nova Scotia Handbook and there was no mention of a Collect in that. Then the 1953 edition had the words of the Mary Stewart Collect, and they have appeared in every edition right to the present. And I regret that I must confess that Nova Scotia is guilty of printing and repeating the “garbled” version for all these decades. I wonder how that happened.

Ellen McLean has been an active WI member for close to seventy years. Throughout those years, she served in many roles including President of the Women's Institutes of Nova Scotia, President of the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada (FWIC) and President of the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). Testimony to her excellent leadership and service, Ellen received an honorary doctorate degree from St. Francis Xavier University, been inducted to the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, received the Order of Canada as

well as being the first recipient of the

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Women of the

Year Award.

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