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BY: Mariah Williams


Despite it's young age, Canada has an extensive history. However, a key section seems to be missing women. It is time we started to learn about these forgotten women, because our history is not complete without them.

Women are an important part of our life. There would be no life if women did not exist. So when did women become such a hassle to society? Why is speaking the words of a feminist like speaking the words of the devil? Whoever made these silly notions must have had something wrong with their heads. Women equaling nothing seems so out of date, but is it really? Less than one hundred years ago women were not seen as people and basically had no rights. Go back in history about 115 years and you'll see conditions for women were even worse.

"Young women were forbidden to read about politics or business because it was believed that worldly knowledge would corrupt the purity of their minds" ( James, 4). If worldly knowledge corrupted the minds of women, what does this say about men who were supposed to read and be part of politics and business? Society has come a long way from forbidding women from politics and business, but we must not forget what and who helped stop the oppression of women, and how this "freedom" is carried on today.

After Confederation things were changing for Canada. It was the birth of a new country. A massive railway was soon to start construction, which would change the face of Canada. With the birth of a new country, the birth of a new generation of women was beginning to breathe. Due to the building of the railway urban centers were rapidly growing in population. Half of this population was women, which meant women's roles were changing in the society of urban centers. Urban centers also started the industrial revolution. Manufacturing goods on a large scale was a main industry in cities. Women could find jobs in this manufacturing sector.

" The establishment of manufacturing in a relatively large scale created employment , and women became the mainstay of the labor force in at least one industry and formed an important sector in several others" ( Prentice, 67). Women in rural areas were not as involved in the work force as were men. They helped with things around farms, but did not hold a dominating or equal role. Since Canada was more rural than urban, there were more women living in the country. Unfortunately, the mindset of the late 1800's and early 1900's left women with no opportunity to make a life of their own without a man to "take care of them".

Fortunately, some women and men did not agree. During the late 1800's the "Toronto Women's Suffrage Association" later named the " Dominion Women's Enfranchisement Association" was started by Canada's fist women doctor, Emily Howard Stowe, and daughter, Dr. Augusta Stowe-Gullen. Women's suffrage groups were what first started the Women's Rights Movement in Canada. Women's groups first sought out to change laws, most specifically political rights for women. It was not easy to make these changes at this time.

"Most 19th century Canadians, women as well as men, believed that the sexes had been assigned to 'separate spheres' by natural and divine laws that over rode mere man made laws". (Hurtig, 2330). It is true that women and men have some 'different spheres' that nature has created. The mindset in society during the early 1900's was merely man-made. The natural way would be men and women as equal, not men over women. It took a lot of work for this mind set to change, but we are far from equal in the many minds that make Canada today. In 1918, a mere 82 years ago, women gained the right to vote in federal elections. A year after, in 1919, women had the right to stand for the House of Commons, but could not be appointed to the Senate until 1929. These great changes in women's rights just didn't appear out of mid air. Strong women such as Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and Dr. Emily and Augusta Stowe went against the 'order' of society to fight what they believed in. Women did not start entering politics seriously until the 1970's and are still a minority today. This means there are still changes to be made, and goals to strive for.

Women, although not commonly, were involved in the work force throughout history. Women had a dominant role in child raising which is hard work, whether it is valued as a 'job' or not. Women also had a dominant role in education. Elementary school teachers were almost all women by the 1900's. This was because women were thought of as good nurturers for young children. Most women, prior to and during the 1900's , taught in 'dame' schools, which taught girls to be "proper ladies" and grow up to become teachers. Even though women were filling jobs as educators, they were not being paid equal to male teachers, even though they were working the same job.

" Women received less than sixty per cent as much as men in 1860, about seventy five per cent as much in 1900 and about eighty per cent as much in 1950". ( Bassett, 150). Women who had no one to depend on (spouse, parents) incomes were shocking in the late 1800's.

Female workers of 16 years of age without dependents

(Source: Annual Report on the Ontario Bureau of

industries, 1889)


Average number of hours/week worked 54

Average number of days/year worked 259

Average wages/year from occupation $216.71

Cost of clothing $ 67.31

Cost of board and lodging $126.36

Total cost of living $ 214.28

Surplus $ 2.43


(* The Canadian Encyclopedia. Second edition. Volume 4.

"Women in the Labor Force" Pg.: 2325-2326. Hurtig/1988)

Women were also oppressed concerning religion through history. One would think that religion, being the dictator of good and evil through most of society would not discriminate against women, but this is not always the case. " I had always heard that women had nothing to do in public, respecting religious exercise, and that it was absolutely forbidden in the Scriptures for a women to pray in public or to have anything to say in the Church of God". (Conrad, 9) . If you believe in Karl Marx, the father of Communism, than the church was another tool for society to oppress women. Religion was a way for heads of society to keep minorities and women "controlled". Not all religious women accepted the role the Scriptures told them to. In 1885, the "Women's Christian Temperance Union: (WCTU) formed in Ontario, led by Letitia Youmans.

The WCTU was first formed to vote on the prohibition of alcohol, believing it was the cause of most of society's problems. The WCTU later offered their valuable support to the women's suffrage movement. The most advancement for women's equality, especially in the work force, was due to both World War One and Two. While most Canadian men were off at war, women had to "temporarily" fill the place of men in the work force. This drastically changed things for women in society forever. Women also had important roles in the war.

" Those (women) accompanying the French and English military forces of the 18th and 19th century cooked, laundered, sewed and administered to the sick, and if necessary assisted in wartime operations" (Hurtig, 2325). After the First World War, women's growing equality sort of slowed down. Men took back most of their jobs, and some women went back to their traditional roles in society, but progression can not be reversed. The Second World War brought more change for women, and this time it stuck. Women again filled the jobs of men who were away at war, and were also a big help concerning the military. When the war ended, not all women went back to their "traditional" roles in society, because these roles were quickly changing. The development of the birth control pill in the 1950's started another women's movement during the 1960's. This liberation is when stereotypical roles of women were really given the boot. Women were gaining a better stand, and did not need to depend on a man or her parents.

"Women were increasingly getting the education needed for better paying work, and public opinion supported their right to work and get equal pay". (Burt, 80). We must not forget what type of strong minded women helped start the revelation for women. While over hundreds of women helped fight against the patriarchal society, a few key women stand out. Women like Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy.

Nellie McClung was born in 1873 and lived most of her life in Western Canada. Nellie led an extraordinary life in many roles- mother, wife, teacher, writer, midwife and an ardent advocate of women's rights. She was a strong person, but things were not always in her favor. " She was threatened with violence and libel suits. She was burned in effigy". (Benham, 1).

One of the things Nellie is famous for is 'getting the vote' for women. She held a mock election in which women played the role of men to show the inequality of politics. This demonstration was successful, and women won the right to vote in 1929. Another woman that helped change the oppressed role of women was Emily Murphy. Emily was appointed as judge of the juvenile court for Alberta in 1916, which would mean that she was the first female magistrate in Canada. The women of Western Canada were one of the first groups of women to fight against inequality. This is because in the west there was a lot of farming, in which women were a big help. Women knew how important they were to the economics of society, and decided to take a stand on this oppression.

Women of minority groups such as Asian or African Canadians had twice the amount of oppression against them. Most minority women in Canada have immigrated here to find work, or start a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, immigrants find it difficult to blend into Canadian society, and this has been the case all through history. There are many barriers, language for example, which prevent women from integrating into society.

"While immigrant men integrate relatively quickly into Canadian society through their participation in the labor force, many immigrant women, especially if they do not speak English, become marginal members of society". (Burt, 184). A really interesting comparison is the role of black women in the church community compared to that of white women. As mentioned earlier, women were not allowed to speak publicly about the church or share their opinions of the church. This is the opposite in the black community. Black women hold an important part in the church community.

" While men have been the founders of the churches, women have always been actively involved and have recently been taking leadership positions" (Braithwaite, 46). Black women also had a strong position in the black community. They helped the community’s economy by waving baskets to sell, child rearing, working as house cleaners and a number of other jobs in the community. In the Asian Community, women were treated much like women in the North American community. Many Asian women helped out around the home and not much else was expected. Girls were not valued as important. This mindset did not change until around the 1950's and is still evident in some Asian communities today.

Over the past one hundred years, society has come a long way, for the better in treating women with the same equality as men, but there still needs to be change. Women are still receiving less pay than men in the labor force. This is occurring for many reasons. One of them is because most women entered the work force latter than men, therefore usually having lower positions with companies. This is a problem for many women, especially older women who can not save a lot of money and have little or almost no retirement savings. The government is not doing their best to help.

" They (women) will have to rely on government programs at a time when public clearly moving toward more individual responsibility and less involvement by government." (Lipovenko, The Globe and Mail). Hopefully, since more women are strongly active in the work force that this problem will disappear over time. There are also many programs about women's education in universities and even some high schools. Attention should be placed on women's history at the high school level because there are still many people who do not attend university. Maybe if women's history were discussed in school, children and young adults would appreciate what walls women have had to climb over in the past one hundred years. There have been many mountains for women to climb just to have the right to become, legally, a person and there still are walls left to climb. Children saying "You throw like a girl!" is a reminder that there still needs work to be done. Let's hope that our generation and generations after it give birth to strong women like Nellie McClung to help keep fighting against oppression. We can not just let it take it's own course and say nothing about it. That would set society back at least one hundred years.




Bassett, Isabel. The Parlour Rebellion. Toronto, Ontario, 1975.

Benham, Mary, L. The Canadians: Nellie McClung. Toronto, 1975.

Braithwaite, Rella & Tessa Benn-Ireland. Some Black Women Profiles of Black women

In Canada. Ottawa, 1993.

Burt, Sandra, Lorraine Code and Linday Dorney. Changing Patterns: Women in Canada. Toronto, 1988.

Conrad, Margaret. Recording Angels: The Private Chronicals of Women From the

Maritime Provinces of Canada. CRIAW, Ottawa, Ontario, November 1982.

"Cool Women".

"Her Story: An Exhibition".

James, Donna. Emily Murphy. Ontario, 1977.

Lipovenko, Dorothy "Women Face Poverty, Study Says". The Globe and Mail.

April 18, 1995.

Marr, WL & D.G.Patterson. The Canadian Encyclopedia: Women in Canada.

Edmonton, 1988. Pp. 2323-2330..

Prentice, Alison & Susan Trofimenkoff. The Neglected Majority. Toronto, 1977.


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