MARCH 15, 2016

APRIL 25, 1986

A 1986 report by Beryl Wright and Shong Wong

The original of this report is in the University Archives, the University of Hong Kong

1957 - Established

1958 - Registered with the Hong Kong Registrar of Societies Affiliated to the International Federation of University Women

HKAUW was born from discussions between two graduates of the long established University of Hong Kong, Mrs. Mona Leong (Science) and Mrs. Mathilda Ng (Arts) and two expatriate graduates, Mrs. Ruth Kirby, a graduate of London University and Ms Beryl Wright, a graduate of the University of Sydney, Australia’s oldest university. The last named was already a Life Member of the Australian Federation of University Women (NSW Section) and in the course of traveling to Bangkok in 1950 to attend the first UN Department of Information Conference for Non-Government Organizations, had made the acquaintance of Mrs. Dorothy Forsaith of Perth (WA), the then National President of the Australian Federation of University Women.

When Dorothy learned that Beryl had gone to work at the University of Hong Kong in 1955, she lost no time in urging upon her the duty of getting underway a Hong Kong Association. Hence the founding discussions already described, which began in 1956 and found an enthusiastic response, not only among local graduates but also among many of the expatriate graduates who form a substantial professional community in Hong Kong.

HKAUW report for 1961 records that already 14 nationalities were embraced in the membership and their degrees represented some 40 universities from all over the world. Not a few of the expatriate members had already joined their original national associations, and their experiences helped with the formulation of the local Constitutions, which required minor details in addition to the general framework set up on the IFUW as a guide to all.

Because Hong Kong is such a fascinating crossroads and a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures, there was never any shortage of visiting graduates passing through and the CIR’s (Chairman, International Relations) role has always been a busy one. Also the wives of some of the Consuls were enthusiastic early members who were able to enrich personal contacts for all of us.

The officers of the first committee were:

Founder President - Beryl Wright

Secretary - Ruth Kirby

Treasurer - Shong Wong

C I R - Mona Leong

Later there were 2 Vice-Presidents and 2 Secretaries, one for recording minutes and one for correspondence.

The usual IFUW special officers were appointed as operations expanded.

It was fortunate for our young association, affiliated with IFUW in 1958 (the 51st member if I remember correctly) that there was an International Conference in 1959, held at Helsinki, Finland. It was also fortunate for the Founder President that just as her two years of office had been completed, her first long leave from the University of Hong Kong also fell due. At the Conference, delegates were seated in the alphabetical order of the country they represented. There was great excitement when Hong Kong was seated between Greece and Iceland which had long been adjacent. Also the novelty of having a representative from the “Far East” was indeed welcomed, although the Japanese Association had been in existence for some time.

For the International participants it was a very well managed and inspiring experience. The cordial hospitality of the Finnish members in organizing their first IFUW Conference and the subsequent tours and saunas provide unforgettable memories to your Founder President.

In 1959 there were still many distressed women graduates in Europe and the IFUW Relief Committee with headquarters in Switzerland appealed irresistibly to the delegates to have their associations make contributions to keep the fund alive. This is no way deterred interest in the plight of distressed women graduates in Hong Kong especially as, among them, were pioneer university educated Chinese women, some of whom had been unable to finish their courses owing to the disturbed state of China for so many years.

All this was reported to HKAUW on my return, the result being that HKAUW both contributed to and received individual help for a few proved needy cases from the IFUW Relief Fund.

The various international scholarships also became realities and we established our own scholarship for a graduate to pursue postgraduate studies overseas. The conditions of this have been changed slightly from time to time and of course the original sum has had to be considerably enhanced as the value of money has changed.

A milestone of the early years is worth recording. As early as 1960 one of our local graduates, Ng Yuk-Lin, was a successful candidate for a highly competitive IFUW scholarship and went to Harvard to do research on plant physiology.

Another interesting reflection on the kind of problems we brought to IFUW, concerned the verification of the status of women who had become displaced persons through war and turmoil. We have recorded, in the 1961 Annual Report the case of a resident of Hong Kong who clamed a Law Degree of Harbin University which no longer existed. As a result of the evidence submitted by this claimant, IFUW Standards Committee and Council ruled that the Harbin Law Degree up to 1935 be recognized.

Another special social problem which engaged HKAUW in the early years concerned the repercussions of traditional Chinese Marriage Laws on women who had become residents of Hong Kong after the war and whose children as well as the mothers themselves, could not claim the legal protection implicit in the British type Laws of Hong Kong, in the event of marital conflict. Associated with this was the equivocal position of concubines and their children, who might be abandoned to fend for themselves in the event of the father’s alienation. All women’s organizations were much exercised about these problems and the Hong Kong Council of Women, with which HKAUW was affiliated, was presided over by Mrs. Ellen Li who was also a founder member of HKAUW and a prominent and valuable authority on many social issues. Mrs. Li was later awarded an honorary doctorate of the University of Hong Kong and she also endowed a perpetual Bursary to be administered by HKAUW.

The changes in the social issues affecting women have changed over the years and mirror the changes in developed societies generally. As material welfare in Hong Kong has improved, problems are less basic. For example, by 1964 the last student to be awarded IFUW relief aid was in her final year and HKAUW had already begun to supplement the small residue so that an emergency could be met on a short term basis.

However, conditions in Hong Kong are ever changing as it is such a dynamic society and the influence of instability in neighboring territories, especially in China, can bring stormy periods to Hong Kong. Such a period was experienced in 1967 when the Cultural Revolution in China caused civil disturbances in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, in 1961, The Chinese University of Hong Kong had been constituted from three well established post-secondary colleges. This opened a university education to some hundreds of students who had been unable to qualify for a place in the University of Hong Kong. In both universities, there were in their final year in 1967, students of whom the economic condition of their families had been strained. One of our early members, Mrs. Ruth Vischer, had returned to her native Switzerland and through her kind offices, the IFUW Relief Committee volunteered to assist some seven final year students. This is an example of the spontaneous interest we have received many members of IFUW, notably, as well as Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand. It was as a token of gratitude for the generosity we had received that we sent a donation to the Winifred Cullis Fund of IFUW which is used for assisting a graduate research student to follow a special aspect of her work in England.

Regular Local Activities

From very early, as well as the statutory monthly meetings at which some very interesting addresses were often given, there has been an annual afternoon party for new graduates. Although the number who subsequently joined the association has been smaller than our persevering hope, it has been a cordial way of making graduate aware of HKAUW and the International contacts and facilities to which it is a key. After the ChineseUniversity graduates were included, it has been a way of reassuring them, since some of them had been late in becoming proficient in English. The writer believes hat any bi-lingual person, but especially those brought up in a bi-lingual family are better equipped in outlook to meet and mingle with the wider world than the mono-lingual folk.

The patrons of HKAUW, usually the wife of the Governor (and Chancellor) and the wives of the two vice-chancellors, have been warm in their support of HKAUW, and have regularly attended the party for new graduates. Sometimes they themselves have been graduates.

Another early activity was the founding of interest groups which met for study and discussion in members’ homes. The groups were necessarily small, but enthusiastic and in 1960-61 the topics were Chinese Folk Costumes, Buddhism and Hong Kong Social Services. The group on Buddhism expanded into a study of comparative religions.

At most meetings associated with any sort of entertainment, donations to the local scholarship fund were received and by 1963 the first one was awarded to a graduate of Hong KongUniversity who was a member of HKAUW and who proceeded to LondonUniversity to study for a Ph. D. in Economics.

The plan was to award the scholarship every third year, when the capital deposited would, hopefully, have yielded enough interest. During the 1970s, as funds increased, even though the useful amount of the scholarship had had to be increased, it was awarded annually, always to a member of HKAUW. An interesting situation arose, as some of the successful applicants surrendered their claim as they had been successful applicants for more competitive scholarships to study in the UK, USA, Ireland and Japan.

Now, in 196, a number of scholarships, local and international, have become available to members of HKAUW and details, as printed in the annual membership directory may e found in Appendix (7).

However, there was one very special effort made in 1980 to raise funds for a Silver Jubilee Scholarship and the list of donors make interesting reading. Both local individuals and businesses were donors (“local” includes international businesses represented in Hong Kong) and four overseas Associations of University Women.

Before completing this reference to scholarship, it seems necessary to mention the spontaneous donation of $100 Canadian by the New Westminster University Women’s Club of British Columbia, Canada, for the best first year student, beginning in 1969 and continuing each year until 1982. HKAUW Committee decided to award it in alternate years to Hong Kong University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong. For 1981 and 1982, HKAUW made the award up to HK$2,000 so that a student with some degree of need, in each university, could receive HK$1,000.

Up to this point, the history of HKAUW has been on the personal experience of the Founder President and Founder Treasurer along with the records of the Association which had been deposited in the Hong Kong Archives Section of the Library of the University of Hong Kong in 198, at the suggestion of IFUW.

More recent years have seen HKAUW involved in the world wide problems of equal pay, maternity leave, equal opportunities for women and such issues. At the same time, there was one very locally oriented project which seems to be of special interest and therefore deserves special mention.

According to a newsletter in 1984, HKAUW became interested in he development of YIN NGAI SOCIETIES (meeting traditional virtues in women as well as drive and determination). These had begun in the early 1980s with the purpose of providing housewives and other “non-working” women to get together for mutual help and self-improvement. Those especially in need of such provision were mainly residents of public housing estates and he New Towns, but also new settlements which had proliferated in the New Territories in the late 1970s and 1980s (and are still doing so). The Secretary for this New Territories and the District Officers warmly welcomed the scheme and HKAUW, impressed with the growth of these mutual help societies, undertook to do a survey, with the aid of questionnaires, to clarify the needs and purposes of the societies. In spite of the relatively small geographical area of the New Territories, each “residential centre” was likely to have individual needs and problems of its own, which needed to be encompassed in the general purposes and procedures.

Reference to this project was made at the Greonigen IFUW Conference in 1983 and elicited much interest.

The most recent information on this valuable participation by HKAUW in a government favoured project, reveals that the Yin Ngai Society has flourished and has some 3,000 members, with a Central Council. The responding members, representing about one third of the questionnaires distributed, were very positive about the value of the Society even though most of them were not willing to serve on committees Naturally in such a group, only a few of whom had received any secondary education, although almost all had had some primary education, many were unable to express the dissatisfactions they vaguely felt. However, half of the respondents felt satisfied with the Society in varying degrees.

The overwhelming number of respondents wanted activities which would enable family life as well as heir own self-fulfillment. “Cooking” rated over 70% as the first preference for a “housekeeping workshop”. An even higher percentage wanted “to increase family happiness”, as the motivation for preferred activities and there was also interest in simple health and hygiene courses, languages, especially English, and various craft skills.

The writers are most grateful to Mrs. Kay Li for procuring a copy of the report on this project for our reference in this study.


The general impression of the history of HKAUW is that it reflects the vitality for which Hong Kong is so famous. Although embracing only a couple of hundred members at any one time, the constant renewal occasioned by arrivals and departures may well be the key enlivening factor. It has been sad hat “to part is to die a little”, but this sort of change is also the way to new life with all organisms and perhaps with all organizations, too. Certainly there is evidence that even associations of university women have become torpid in some more settled communities. At the beginning, we decided that any one presidency should not exceed two years and it is clear that the constant changes of personnel throughout the committees has thrown up new interests and new ways of meeting challenges. Finances have continued to grow and a nucleus of keenly interested members has always existed. The founder president and treasurer have therefore found the preparation of this history both reassuring and uplifting.

Dated April 25, 1986 Signed by Beryl R. Wright and Shong B. Wong