The Catholic Women’s League was founded in 1906 in Britain by Margaret Fletcher.
Margaret was born in Oxford, England in 1862, the daughter of an Anglican clergyman. In the early 1860’s, children were taught fortitude: Margaret’s memories of her early days of cold morning baths (there was no central heating), hard beds and daily walks whatever the weather. This training stood her in good stead in her adult life, when she found herself having to face up to difficulties.
In spite of tough living, it was an exciting age for women, when educational methods were being improved. Oxford High School, to which Margaret went, was one of the pioneers in this field.
At the age of seventeen, Margaret went to the Slade School of Art in Chelsea and then continued her studies in Paris, where she gained her first steps in international thinking by meeting students in other nationalities, giving her the opportunity to have long discussions with them about life, religion and politics.
Margaret returned to Oxford to run the family home after the death of her mother, but all the while she had the urge to fight for improved educational opportunities for women. The Suffrage movement had begun, but she saw many dangers in it.
She had always been deeply religious, but could not blindly accept everything she had been taught. An avid reader, Margaret always searched for the Truth. The turning point came after reading the writings of St. John of the Cross, when she decided to become Catholic.
Seeking the advice of a priest friend, she was instructed at the Jesuit church in Farm Street, London and was received into the Church on 9th September, 1897. They had many talks together on the subject of education, the outcome of which was that, having obtained permission from Cardinal Bourne, Margaret Fletcher launched a new quarterly called The Crucible. This was aimed at rousing interest of teachers and schools to get better social education for women. It ran for eight years and in one of its last issues the proposal came for a league of Catholic women.
Returning once again to Oxford, she took an active part in parish work. She because friends with Mary Miller, who had travelled widely in Europe doing research work on Catholic secondary education for girls. She told Margaret about the newly founded Catholic organisation in Germany, brought into being by the German heirarchy as an alternative to the secular National Council of Women.
In 1906 a National Conference was held in Brighton, and permission was obtained to distribute leaflets about the proposed League. Later that year a meeting was called in London attended by seventy women and a committee was elected. All were adamant that Margaret Fletcher should be president.
Margaret Fletcher insisted that the league need women with ‘balanced common-sense” and it should “utilise the average woman in convincing the Catholic world that business-life methods and intellectual gifts are excellent weapons in the service of God.”