Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal:1902 In the early twentieth century, at least nine out of ten women belonged to an organization. Although these organizations all had different goals and purposes, they were similar in that they were all activist groups working towards the improvement of women’s lives. In other words, Canadian women organized themselves in hopes of social, political, and economic power and equality. Nevertheless, most of these organizations, reform groups, and grassroots charities were made of white, middle- and upper-class women who continued to exclude other women based on race, ethnicity, religion, and class. Excluded from mainstream organizations, the wives of Black railroad workers in Montreal organized themselves in 1902 as the Coloured Women’s Club, which is now the oldest Black women’s organization in Canada. It not only functioned as a social club but its main goal was to address problems faced by the Black community such as poverty and discrimination. More specifically, the Coloured Women’s Club assisted new immigrants from the West Indies adapt to the Canadian cold by offering warm clothing. Unlike mainstream women’s organizations, the Coloured Women’s Club dedicated itself to the supporting those who continued to live in marginalization. For example, the Club suggested strategies for both new and old Black families to deal with discrimination. The formation of the Coloured Women’s Club remains significant because it demonstrates that the immigrant women, coloured women, and working-class women that the mainstream organizations excluded did not remain in the dark. These minority groups organized themselves to actively support their own communities and other marginalized communities that the mainstream organizations continued to ignore. Another organization of Black women includes the Workers’ Missionary Society, which formed in Halifax in 1917. The goal of this organization was to support education in the Black community by building more schools. In this way, minority women participated in the Canadian women’s movement in their own ways. In other words, despite exclusion from the mainstream women’s organizations, minority groups, affected by both race and class, persisted to organize themselves to march towards equality.
Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal:1902 The Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal
Bell Strike: 1907 On January 31, 1907, 400 Bell telephone operators, also known as Bell’s “hello girls”, demonstrated militancy when they walked off from their jobs and began to strike for better working conditions. The strike occurred when the company demanded more hours of work without increase in pay. Without protection from unions or laws ensuring safe working conditions, Bell operators, which were all women, suffered mental and physical exhaustion, fatigue, and stress. Although perceived as a “white-collar job”, telephone operators received very low pay while working in strenuous and stressful environments. Each woman looked after 80-100 switchboard lines, and on average they picked up 300 calls per hour on uncomfortable stools. Furthermore, they also worked in dangerous conditions, for operators who picked up long distance calls were often subject to severe electric shocks. Thus, when the company demanded the operators to work three extra hours without a pay raise, women joined in solidarity and protested the telephone monopoly. Bell managers argued that these women should be satisfied with their “pin money”, for after all, they were only working to buy clothes. In fact, more than 40% of the women were self- supporting and depended on every penny to make a living for themselves. Public support and sympathy for the women finally caught the attention of the Minister of Labour, Mackenzie King. After listening to the women’s legitimate complaints, a compromise was reached that ended the strike. The women did not gain much because they had no union protection; however, this is an example in Canadian history of women actively and aggressively fighting for their rights through public demonstration and strike. This event demonstrates that women were not only organizing themselves into clubs and charities, but they were also organizing themselves into militant groups, fighting, challenging, and struggling with employers to protect themselves and their rights.
Bell Strike: 1907 Bell’s “Hello Girls” in Toronto, circa 1909
Lemieux-Hayashi Gentlemen’s Agreement: 1908 After a major anti-Asian riot in Vancouver’s Chinatown in 1907, the Minister of Labour, Rodolphe Lemieux, paid a visit to Japan to meet with the Japanese government. This meeting resulted with the Lemieux-Hayashi Gentlemen’s Agreement, which limited the number of male labourers entering into Canada to 400 migrants per year. This agreement is significant in the history of Canadian women because it set off a new wave of immigration: the immigration of Japanese picture brides. Although the agreement decreased the number of male immigrants, women were not included in the 400 quota. Canada’s immigration policy dictated that Japanese women were only allowed to enter provided that she had a spouse already living in Canada. Thus, an influx of Japanese women entered Canada as wives of Japanese immigrants already living in Canada and the majority of these women were picture brides. The picture-bride system is often ignored and hidden in the study of Canadian women. Often viewed as a shameful part of history, the picture-bride system is not adequately addressed in the standard study of the past. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that such systems dealing with the selling and buying of brides overseas and turning women into commodities were responses to Canada’s racist and sexist immigration policies. The system was a response to Canada’s anti-Asian policies that limited Asian migrants. It was also a response to Canada’s sexist policies that feared that Chinese and Japanese women would threaten the purity of the white society. The Gentlemen’s Agreement is important to recognize in the study of Canada’s past because it triggered the picture-bride system. It is important to recognize the picture-bride system and the struggles these women faced and suffered upon their arrival in Canada. They were not only subject to hostility and discrimination but also subject to strict subordination to husbands that they barely knew. The experiences of these marginalized women should be further studied instead of being left in the outskirts of history.
Lemieux-Hayashi Gentlemen’s Agreement: 1908 Japanese Picture Brides Arrive in North America, circa 1919
Federation of Women Teacher’s Association of Ontario: 1918 Although the Women’s Teacher’s Association of Toronto formed prior to the twentieth century along with many other regional teacher organizations, it wasn’t until 1918 that the first province-wide professional association for female teachers formed. The meeting was held at the University of Toronto in the spring of 1918. In a crowded room, Bertha Adkins, who became the Federation’s first secretary-treasurer, gave her famous speech titled, “Why are Women in the Same Training and Qualifications as Men Relegated to the Less Remunerative Positions?” Like many other women’s organizations at the time, the Federation came together in hopes of better working conditions and pay for women. More specifically, the Federation was concerned with professionalism. In other words, the Federation wanted teachers to be recognized as professionals and teaching to be recognized as a profession. The Federation believed that the formation of a professional association would promote the professionalism of teaching and with this recognition, women teachers would be treated as professionals with better working conditions and better pay. In reality, both urban and rural teachers faced poor working conditions. Without the laws and policies to protect female teachers from salary cuts and without the legislation to protect female teachers from contract- related disputes such as illegitimate dismissals, women teachers were powerless against all decisions made by school boards. Working in overcrowded classrooms with the constant shortage of supplies and resources, women teachers were underpaid and often treated like domestic labourers while boarding in students’ homes. In this way, teaching had an ambiguous status, for although it was idealized as a respectable profession, women often worked in fatiguing and stressful environments with very low pay. Thus, the Federation organized itself in hopes of changing the grim realities of female teachers and fought for equal pay as male teachers, better conditions, better training, minimum wage laws, and contract protections.
Federation of Women Teacher’s Associations of Ontario: 1918 The Federation wasn’t formally recognized as a professional association by the Ontario government until the Teaching Professions Act in 1944. Finally, at this moment, education and teaching became professional. The Federation and its efforts are significant in the history of Canadian women because they ensured women teachers achieved the true professional status that they hoped for. Without recognizing the efforts of the Federation, one may never understand that teaching wasn’t always considered a profession and that teaching didn’t become a respectable job overnight. It took decades of work by organizations such as the Federation of Women Teacher’s Association of Ontario to turn teaching into profession and ensure that all women teachers acted as professionals and were treated as professionals. Miss Doherty and Students, Bear Island, Ontario, 1906
Canadian Federation of University Women: 1919 Throughout the early twentieth century, women struggled in their quest for higher education. By 1905, most provinces required children to attend school up to a certain grade; however, girls continued to work at home or were sent to work by their families, and therefore school attendance was very poor. When girls attended schools, they were often separated from the boys in order to study “domestic science” in order to be prepared for their future roles as mothers and wives. Throughout their schooling, girls were treated as second-class citizens in co-educational environments and were discouraged from pursuing higher education. In fact, women were not admitted into universities until 1884 when McGill University became the first university to open its doors to women. Nevertheless, admittance and recognition was slow. By 1900, however, 11 percent of college and university students were women and by 1919, 13.9% of undergraduates were women. Most of these undergraduates concentrated in faculties of arts and education. Although women were still refused entry into medicine and law in the early twentieth century, the first generation of women graduates organized themselves into the Canadian Federation of University Women. It is important to recognize that most female graduates at this time came from well-to-do families, and thus the group only represents a specific group of women. In any case, they remain significant as they demonstrated for all Canadian women, both rich and poor, that women have intellectual abilities equal to that of men: women can receive the same education and instruction, and succeed as intellectual equals to men. The first generation of women graduates realized this and came together to form a long-lasting sisterhood and solidarity through the Federation.
Canadian Federation of University Women: 1919 Women Graduates Marching to Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto, circa 1915 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Women_graduates_University_of_Toronto_circa_1915.jpg
Agnes Macphail Agnes Macphail was the first woman to be elected into the House of Commons as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. She was first elected in 1921 and then was re-elected in the 1925, 1926 and 1930 federal elections. She was the sole female in the House of Commons for 14 years. Macphail was also the first woman President of the Ontario CCF, but later pulled out due to the party’s possible communist connections. Macphail fought for equality, not only amongst men and women, but also for other groups which she felt were disadvantaged, such as farmers, workers, and the disabled. In 1935 she was re-elected to the House of Commons, but this time as a member of the United Farmers of Ontario. She was also the first woman delegate to the League of Nations, where she worked with the World Disarmament Committee. Terry Crowley wrote, “No matter how her formal political affiliation changed, Agnes Macphail served as a vehicle through which the influence of Canadian women was felt in the redefinition of government's role in Canadian society during the first half of the 20th century.”
The Persons Case: 1927 The ‘Famous 5’ did not back down. They appealed the ruling before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of London and in 1929, the Council reversed the Supreme Court’s ruling, stating that the term ‘person’ was ambiguous and that if Parliament had wanted to exclude women from the term, it should have stated that outright. The ‘Famous 5’ had won and in 1929, women officially became persons and acquired the right to exercise official functions, to attend university, and to practice a liberal trade. In 1927, Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise Crummy McKinney and Irene Parlby, also known as the ‘Famous 5’ contested the legal interpretation of the term ‘person’ before the Supreme Court of Canada. These women and many other lobby groups were not happy with the social, economic, legal and political rights of women. So the ‘Famous 5’ took on the Supreme Court. The ruling however, was disappointing. It stated that the term ‘person did not apply to women because when the British North America Act was signed, women were not considered as ‘qualified persons’ and if the Constitution had included women in this definition, it would have specifically been mentioned.
Cairine Wilson: 1930 Cairine Wilson was the first woman appointed to the Canadian Senate. She was appointed in 1930 only a few months after the Person’s Case officially declared women ‘persons’, thus giving her the right to sit in the Senate. She sat as the sole woman in the Senate, and it was another 23 years before another woman would be appointed. During her time in politics she was a very active member of the Ottawa Women’s Liberal Club and was not only a founder of the club, but also served as president for three years. She was the first female president of the League of Nations Society in Canada and in 1949 she became the first woman delegate to represent Canada in the United Nations General Assembly. She served in the Senate until her death in 1962. http://canadaonline.about.com/od/womeningovernment/p/cairinewilson.htm http://www.heroines.ca/people/wilson.html
Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw: 1932 In 1932, Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw became actively involved in Canada’s first and illegal birth control clinic. Dr. Bagshaw entered Toronto Women’s Medical college in 1901, only 18 years after it had opened. Bagshaw’s medical career began and was played out, for the most part in Hamilton, where she was a family physician with a primary focus in obstetrics and for three consecutive years in the 1920s she signed more birth certificates than any other doctor in Hamilton. In 1932, she became the medical director of the clinic in Hamilton, despite criticism from both the medical and religious communities. She was director for 30 years and during that time she provided information, and education which helped women to believe that women are in control of their reproductive destinies. She felt that it was not in the countries, or the women’s, best interest for people to continue to have children that they couldn’t afford to provide for. I was not until 1969 that the clinic became legal and it eventually began to receive government grants. In 1976 at the age of 95, Dr. Bagshaw, who was the oldest practicing physician in Canada, decided to retire. She was she was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1973, and in 1979 she received the Governor General Persons Award. http://www.cdnmedhall.org/dr-elizabeth-bagshaw
OTF Approves Equal Pay for Men and Women: 1946 In 1945, at the annual meeting of the Federation of Women Teachers Association of Ontario, FWTAO, they decided to endorse the idea of equal pay and equal opportunity for advancement for both men and women teachers in Ontario. They took their idea’s to the newly formed Ontario Federation of Teacher’s hoping that that organization would join with them and give more weight to their efforts. This was a revolutionary idea in a time period that felt that the work of men was more important and therefore, better paid. The society followed a male breadwinner ideology in which the man, as the provider of the family, belonged in a well paid job, and women belonged either in low-wage job ghettos or in the home. In February 1946 when the equal pay discussion came before the OTF, it was met with some opposition. It was thoroughly deliberated over and finally passed at the December 1946 meeting. However, even though the equal pay resolution was passed, there were still many opponents of the idea and many school boards and men’s groups were not thrilled with the idea of equal pay and bargaining jointly with women teachers. While differences in pay were slowly eliminated by salary schedules, boards were able to get around the issue by offering sports or supervision allowances or marriage bonuses to their male teachers. It would take another 20 years to phase out these inequalities. www.etfo.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/About%20ETFO%20Documents/ETFO%20History%2 0Documents/history-pt3.pdf
Thérèse Casgrain: 1951 In 1946 Thérèse joined the “Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation” and became the first female provincial leader for a recognized political party, leading the Quebec wing of the party, the Parti social démocratique du Québec, from 1951-1957. In 1970 she became the first woman from Québec to be appointed to the Senate. She became an iconic leader for women’s rights and is best remembered for her campaigning for just that in the years before World War II. Her political history is riddled with accomplishments including the founding of the League for Human Rights in 1960, the Quebec branch of the “Voice of Women” in 1961, and the Fédération des femmes du Québec in 1966. She became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967. Alongside her political career she managed to maintain a marriage and raise four children. Thérèse Casgrain, National Archives, undated.
Marilyn Bell: 1954 On September 8, 1954, at the age of 16, Marilyn became the first woman to swim across Lake Ontario. She swam 52km from Youngstown, New York, to a breakwater on Toronto’s shoreline. By proving that women were formidable athletic opponents, Bell caught the attention of her country. Radio news coverage gave hourly updates on her 21 hour journey, rumours abound that reporters from The Toronto Star and The Toronto Telegram actually fought each other for the chance to interview her while she was swimming. Bell had more than just the water to contend with as she fought to stay afloat with lamprey eels attacking her legs and trying not to choke on oil spills. Her coach, Gus Ryder, was later publicly attacked for refusing to pull her out of the water when she seemed to be semiconscious but he was eventually forgiven for this. When she surfaced on the other side of the lake, Bell was greeted by nearly 100,000 supporters of both Canadian and American origin. She would later become the youngest person to ever swim the English Channel and the Strait of Juan de Fuca but nothing would ever top what “was said to be a quintessential Canadian Achievement: an individual, grim and steadfast, who was not defeated by the elements.” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). Marilyn Bell, CBC Digital Archives, 1954
Ellen Fairclough: 1957 Ellen Fairclough was a chartered accountant before she entered politics and from 1946-1949 she held a position as a member of the Hamilton City Council and won a federal seat in a 1950 by-election. Her position allowed her to introduce measures that would help equalize immigration and eliminate the inherently racist system including introducing a bill requiring equal pay for equal work done and creating the Department of Labour Women’s Bureau. In 1957 she became Secretary of State and the first female Federal Cabinet Minister as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration under the Diefenbaker Government. In 1962 she became Postmaster General but was defeated in the 1963 election after which she left federal politics and returned to her Hamilton roots. She became the Chairman of Hamilton Hydro and Treasurer of the Zonta International women’s group. She was bestowed with several honourary titles before she died including the Dame of Grace (1985), Order of St John of Jerusalem (1985), Knights Hospitaler (1985), and the Persons Award (1989). In 1992 she was named Right Honourable by the Queen of England and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1995. She published her memoirs, Saturday’s Child, in 1996. Ellen Fairclough, Canada Post, undated.
The Royal Commission on the Status of Women: 1967 The Royal Commission on the Status of Women was created by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in response to a campaign mounted by a combined effort from 32 women’s groups, led by Ontario activist Laura Sabia. Equality being it’s focus, the Royal Commission was to examine the roles of men and women in Canada and create steps to create equal opportunities in all aspects of Canadian society for both sexes. Florence Bird was appointed as the Chair of the Commission, she had previously been a journalist and broadcaster. Other female commissioners included Lola Lange, a farmer and activist; Jeanne Lapointe, a professor of literature; Elsie Gregory, an aeronautical engineer and Doris Ogilvie, a judge. The comission began public investigations in the spring of 1968 and for 6 months they attended public hearings all over Canada, including the Far North where they were presented with briefs and testimony which attested to the widespread problems experienced by women from all walks of Canadian life. The Commission produced a 488 page report containing 167 recommendations on the issues brought before them (equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, day care programs, birth control, family law, the Indian Act, education opportunities, managerial positions, part-time work and pensions). By the 1980’s most of the recommendations had been either partially or fully implemented. Lester Pearson, IRDC database, undated
Rosemary Brown: 1972-75 Rosemary Brown was a social worker, a politician and a mother. She was the first black woman in Canada to become a member of a provincial legislature (1972) and the first woman to run for leadership of a provincial political party (NDP, 1975). She used her duality as a black individual and a woman during the chaos of the 1960’s Civil Rights movements that rocked North America in her role as the Ombudswoman and founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council. It was her fellow members who convinced her to enter provincial politics and in 1972 she became the first Black woman to sit in British Columbia legislature as an NDP candidate. During her 14 as part of the NDP she made several great changes including creating a committee to remove sexism in British Columbia’s educational texts and materials and was a key player in the formation of the Berger Commission on the Family. Rosemary Brown, National Archives, undated. With her slogan “Brown is Beautiful” she ran for the leadership of the NDP in 1975 she brought attention to the fact that she was not only a woman but a Black woman, a first in Canada. Unfortunately, she lost the race, coming in second place. In 1988 she retired from Provincial politics and put her efforts into international affairs. Human Rights were a passion of hers and she became the CEO of an advocacy group called MATCH international. In 1993 she was named Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which she held until 1996. She was bestowed with numerous awards before her death including 15 honourary doctorates from Canadian universities as well as the Order of British Columbia (1995), the Order of Canada (1996) and the United Nations’ Human Rights Fellowship (1973).
Bertha Wilson: 1975/1982 1 st Woman appointed to the Canadian Court of Appeal 1975, 1 st woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada 1982. Born in Scotland, she immigrated to Canada with her husband in 1949 and forced her way into Dalhousie over the Deans objections in 1954. She graduated in 1957, moved to Toronto with her husband in started to work in a Bay Street firm. She made partner in 1968 and given the title “research director” while still kept hidden from the background. But the rumours were flying about a “secret weapon” in a Bay street firm. In 1975 Berth Wilson stepped into the limelight when she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. She proved her reputation and was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in March 1982. In 1988, in R. vs. Morgentaler, she was part of the instrumental majority in striking down Canada’s abortion law.
Ursula Martius Franklin –1984 First University of Toronto female professor. 1984. Born in Germany, she earned her doctorate degree in physics from the Technical University of Berlin and moved to Canada in 1949. She conducted post doctoral research at University of Toronto and in 1967 was the first woman to join the department of Metallurgy and Materials Science. She continued teaching and doing research and in 1982 was awarded the Distinguished Lectureship by the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, the first for a woman. In 1982 she was appointed as an officer to the Order of Canada and in 1984 was bestowed the highest honour the University can give to its faculty members, she became a University Professor.
Roberta Bondar: 1992 1 st Canadian Woman in space. 1992. As a little girl she knew she wanted to go into space but the obstacle was that a woman could not be an astronaut. She went on to get her degree in zoology/agriculture from Guelph, a master’s in experimental pathology from Western, a Ph.D. in neurobiology from University of Toronto and finally an M.D. from McMaster in 1977. In 1983 an ad in a newspaper looking for “Canadian men and women to fly as astronauts” caught her eye and she went for it. She made the short list and was the only woman. Her science background aided in her being chosen and in 1992 Roberta became the first Canadian woman in space.
Rose Toodick Boyko: 1994 1 st Aboriginal Woman on the Canadian Superior Court, 1994. Born to a Ukrainian father and a first nations mother Rose she went to school for nursing and became one of the first aboriginal nurses working in remote Cree communities in James Bay. She then went back to school for her BA and then Law School. She was called to the bar in 1982. “It wasn’t so much a question of making it happen, as it was trusting in the universe, trusting that something would emerge. I didn’t dare to dream because I couldn’t take for granted that anything would come my way.”
Hoda Elmaraghy: 1994 1 st woman Dean of a faculty of Engineering in Canada, University of Windsor, 1994. She grew up in Egypt and decided early on she wanted to become an engineer and Graduated 3 rd in her engineering class at the University of Cairo. She then immigrated to Canada, along with her husband,to accept a scholarship to McMaster University to pursue a doctorate. Mechanical Engineering had not progressed to include many women in Canada and she found herself often the only woman at meetings and conferences. In 1977 she became assistant Professor at McMaster and the only woman faculty member for 12 years. In 1994 she was appointed Dean of Engineering, first woman dean of an Engineering Faculty in a Canadian University, she says “pioneering, fighting an uphill battle all the way”.