Community Service

A Brief History of International CU Day

This year's slogan: 'Local Service. Global Good.'

October 16, 2014
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Certain events in the history of the credit union movement have emerged as being especially significant. In the 1840s, for instance, the workers and weavers of Rochdale, England, created a democratic consumer cooperative.

In 1852 and 1864, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Raiffeisen founded the first true credit unions in Germany. These milestones were followed by efforts in the early 1900s by Alphonse and Dorimene Desjardins, who started a credit union (caisse populaire) in Lévis, Quebec.

Shortly afterward, Alphonse, along with Americans Edward A. Filene and Roy F. Bergengren, helped establish credit unions in the U.S.

As time passed, a need gradually emerged to establish a specific annual occasion to call attention to the impact these financial organizations have on the lives of millions of people—to honor the gifts and achievements of the many pioneers who founded credit unions and their service groups over the past 150+ years.

It was also considered important to pay tribute to the many people today who continue to demonstrate the commitment that is building new credit unions or sustaining and developing existing savings and credit cooperatives.

The first CU Day

On January 17, 1927, the Credit Union League of Massachusetts celebrated the first official holiday for credit union members and workers. January 17 was chosen because it was the birthday of America’s “Apostle of Thrift,” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).

Two American credit union pioneers believed Franklin symbolized “the life and teaching embodied in the spirit and purpose of credit unions.”

At that time, however, there was so much activity in the development of credit unions in North America that people were either too busy to celebrate or too new to the movement to recognize the significance of their actions. Thus, after a brief trial period, the practice of Credit Union Day ceased.

Second chance

In 1948, CUNA and the CUNA Mutual Insurance Society decided to try a new national Credit Union Day celebration, setting aside October as “Credit Union Month” and the third Thursday of October as the national day of observance, “Credit Union Day.”

By then, many more of America’s credit union leaders believed there was a need for an occasion that would bring people together to reflect upon their cooperative history and their credit union achievements, and to promote the credit union idea across the country.

Credit unions, state credit union leagues, and credit union chapters were all encouraged to celebrate the new holiday in some way. To help with publicity, CUNA produced Credit Union Day kits as part of the POP Program (Public Relations, Organization, Publicity) to “make credit unions known and wanted round the world!”

The kits provided suggestions for holding a Credit Union Day dinner, sponsoring parades, and electing a Miss Credit Union. It also provided posters, fillers, press releases, newspaper and radio advertisements, and proclamations for officials to sign.

Although there was a need to raise funds for movement causes, the leaders saw Credit Union Day and the associated POP Program as ways to publicize the credit union movement, not make money.

Thomas Doig stressed the point in a letter to managing directors in 1951: “Credit Union Day is not a money-raising scheme, as a number of people still think. It’s first and foremost a public relations effort to publicize the credit union movement as a whole, but primarily to help leagues, chapters and credit unions gain prestige and understanding in their own areas.”

More critically, Credit Union Day was a way to pay homage to the men and women who dedicate their lives to credit union development.

NEXT: A worldwide focus

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