Led by its first president, Lady Aberdeen, the NCWC became the champion of women and children, and its goal continues to be to improve the status of women, families and society through education and advocacy.

One of the founding members of the National Council, Dr. Augusta Stowe-Gullen, was the first woman to obtain a medical degree in Canada and was a leader of the women's suffrage movement. In 1918 the council contributed to the passing of the Act to Confer the Electoral Franchise Upon Women at the federal level and played a vital role in women finally being declared "persons" in 1929 (see Persons Case).

In the 1930s, NCWC President Winnifred Kydd and Nellie McClung were members of Canadian delegations to the League of Nations. In 1930 Cairine Wilson, an active member of the Ottawa Council of Women, became the first woman to be appointed to the Senate.

Due to the wide-ranging interaction of its federated organizations, NCWC has been a leader in bringing developing issues to the government. The NCWC's federated structure includes local and provincial councils and national affiliates that continue to generate policy suggestions at the grassroots level. Resolutions are studied and voted on before becoming part of NCWC policy. Ultimately the ratified resolutions are communicated to government in the form of annual briefs and letters to government ministers.

The National Council of Women and its members have played an active role in the formation of many vital Canadian institutions, such as the Victorian Order of Nurses, the Children's Aid Societies and the Consumer's Association of Canada. NCWC has also been involved in developing government agencies such as the Women's Bureau of Labour Canada (1954) and the Federal Bureau of Aging (1978). The Council supported the call for a Royal Commission on the Status of Women and the resulting formation of the now disbanded Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

In the 1960s the NCWC called for a Royal Commission on the Status of Women; in the 1980s it demanded the entrenchment of women's rights in the Constitution. The NCWC continued in the 1990s to focus on a wide variety of issues affecting family and society. The National Council presents briefs to parliamentary committees and royal commissions and from time to time may be represented on special advisory committees.

Today the National Council of Women of Canada continues to be concerned with a wide range of issues involving women, the family, the community and the state. It has inevitably been affected by recent trends in Canadian society such as the increased movement of women into the workforce, the growing importance of the media, the technology of instant communication and the development of single-interest advocacy groups. In 1997 NCWC received Consultative Status (II) with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations and established an important connection for members of the National Council of Women and its affiliates nationally and internationally.