Cathy Telfer (Past President), Marlena Goncalvez (President Elect), Jean Coulson, and
Kelley Robertson (President). (Chatham-Kent Kiwanis Club submitted photo)Cathy Telfer (Past President), Marlena Goncalvez (President Elect), Jean Coulson, and Kelley Robertson (President). (Chatham-Kent Kiwanis Club submitted photo)

CK Kiwanis Club honours first female member on International Women's Day

From not being able to get her own credit card to becoming the first female member of the Kiwanis Club of Chatham-Kent, a local woman is reflecting on all the strides made in gender equality over the past several decades.

In honour of International Women’s Day, the Kiwanis Club of Chatham-Kent is celebrating Jean Coulson, the first female member in the local club, who joined in 1989.

Coulson said she first decided to get involved in Kiwanis when she moved from Windsor to Chatham to open an office of Kelly Services. Following the move, Coulson wanted to get more involved in the local community in order to get her name out there and let people know what services were offered.

After talking to an acquaintance about the club, Coulson said the positive work the Kiwanis organization did piqued her interest.

Formerly a men’s only club, Kiwanis International passed a bylaw in 1987 that supported women joining. Coulson decided to throw her name in to join the Chatham-Kent club.

"I must admit, I was a little bit apprehensive," she said. "But at the same time, I had been through some things recently in my life and I thought 'I've got to try. Even if it's something that doesn't work out, if the men in the club don't like you for whatever reason, go anyways.' I guess I was just determined. I was determined to make it work. You get tired of thinking 'well, I'm afraid to do this, I'm afraid to do that.' No, I'm not afraid to do it. I'll do it."

However, being the first woman to join the club came with some challenges. Coulson said initially, she wasn't readily accepted by some of the male members.

"They weren't rude to me or anything but they just sort of ignored me," she explained. "Other members were just great. They were happy to see the club expand to allow women."

Prior to joining the Kiwanis Club, Coulson was no stranger to facing obstacles because of her gender. Coulson and her husband moved from Sault Ste. Marie to Windsor for her husband's job with a steel company before he passed away in 1986.

"At that time, I couldn't even have a Sears card because I was a woman. The Sears card was in his name. I applied for different jobs [at the steel company] that had been in the past occupied by men and I couldn't get them because I was a woman," Coulson explained. "There was one particular job that I had applied for that I had been doing for six months because somebody had left. But they waited and they moved a man in that position. At that time, I didn't fight hard against it, but as time went on, I got more put off by it and decided I wasn't going to take it anymore, and be persistent and do what I know is right."

As time went on, more women started to join the Kiwanis Club of Chatham-Kent, which now has a large number of female members.

Coulson said her time with the club has been invaluable and allowed her to meet countless people while giving back to the community and being a part of something.

"Try for whatever you want to do. Do whatever you want to do. It doesn't matter if it's work, clubs or anything else, but don't be afraid," she said. "There's no reason that a woman can't do the same job... I wish I knew back then, what I know now. It's evolved, its changed and its a better world for it. It's just a matter of change. It happens slowly sometimes but stick with it and it works."

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