The UNWLA was established in 1925 by five Ukrainian women's associations in New York City and vicinity. The reason for unification was the exclusion of the National Council of Women (NCW) of Ukraine from the International Council of Women at the ICW's General Assembly held in Washington, D.C. in May 1925. The NCW of Ukraine had been a member of the ICW since 1920. Its exclusion from the ICW occurred as a direct result of Ukraine's loss of national independence, a prerequisite for ICW membership.
At a meeting of Ukrainian women's associations in New York City following the delegation's return from Washington, it was decided to form a centralized organization. This decision was approved in June 1926, and the name given the new organization was Soyuz Ukrayinok Ameryky-Ukrainian National Women's League of America.
The goal of unification was to inform the free world about events in Ukraine, to support the homeland both spiritually and materially, and to promote the preservation of Ukrainian national identity, cultural heritage, and ethnic traditions in the United
The Ukrainian Women's Association (Zhinocha Hromada) of New York became UNWLA Branch 1
The UNWLA is guided by principles of Christian ethics, religious tolerance, political non-partisanship, and universal respect for human rights.
The UNWLA unites women of Ukrainian descent as well as those who are active in the Ukrainian communities of the United States.
The organizational structure of the UNWLA consists of a National Board and Executive Committee, Regional Councils, Branches, and Members at Large. UNWLA by-laws define the internal organizational structure and the division of responsibilities and duties. The highest legislative body of the UNWLA is the UNWLA Convention, which is held every three years.
In 1948 The UNWLA was the first ethnic organization in the United States to become an associate member of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Joining the GFWC gave the UNWLA an opportunity to participate in national and international events on an equal footing with other American women's organizations.
In 1952 The UNWLA became a member of the National Council of Women (NCW/USA). UNWLA presidents are ex officio members of the Board of Directors of the NCW/USA, and UNWLA members have been elected to serve on its Executive Committee. In 1992, for the first time in the NCW's 108-year history, a UNWLA member - Iryna Kurowyckyj - was elected President. Membership in the NCW/USA entitle UNWLA members to participate in its meetings and attend the triennial General Assembly of the International Council of Women (ICW). The 2006 ICW General Assembly was held in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Events in Ukraine often influence the path of UNWLA projects and programs. Initially, the UNWLA worked to inform the world about cultural and political repression in Ukraine under Soviet domination. The UNWLA organized demonstrations and protests, and forwarded petitions and telegrams to the attention of U.S. and European governments, to the League of Nations, and, after the Second World War, to the United Nations.
Since 1991, the year Ukraine proclaimed its independence, UNWLA members have been sending petitions to senators and congressional representatives, requesting their support for the advancement of Ukraine's political and economic reform. One example of the UNWLA's work in this respect was the organization's active participation in the Jackson-Vanik Coalition, which was instrumental in the successful push to turn the Jackson-Vanik amendment into law, thereby normalizing trade relations between Ukraine and the United States. The UNWLA continues to disseminate accurate information about Ukraine and Ukrainians and to correct media misinformation about the country and its people.
Since 1926, the UNWLA has been organizing exhibits of Ukrainian folk art at American institutions with the goal of familiarizing the public with the diverse cultural heritage of Ukrainians. Many UNWLA branches continue this important work.