Author Tags: Labour, Women
With chapters devoted to 'The Urban Working Girl in Turn-of-the-Century Canadian Literature', and 'White Slaves, Prostitutes and Delinquents,' Lindsey McMaster's Working Girls in the West: Representations of Wage-Earning Women (UBC Press 2008) is a relatively lively academic study of female wagers in Western Canada prior to World War I, emphasizing Vancouver. Particular attention is paid to Bertrand Sinclair's novel North of Fifty-Three and Isabel Ecclestone Mackay's The House of Windows.
"This book focuses on the representation of women more than on the real women and what they actually did," McMaster writer. "It is not a history of the working girl in the West but a study of how she was imagined, represented, and constructed as a figure within the cultural narratives of Canada, the West, and the empire." That said, Helena Gutteridge and Helen Armstrong are the heroines of McMaster's chapter on 'Girls on Strike.' "With the arrival of Helena Gutteridge in 1911," she writes, "Vancouver's women workers gained a remarkable leader, and as is the case of Helen Armstrong in Winnipeg, this kind of female leadership seems to have made a major difference for women's participation in unions and labour activism." McMaster cites Carolyn Strange's book Toronto's Girl Problem: The Perils and Pleasures of the City, 1880-1930 as the key influence on her approach. 978-0-7748-1-456-0
Including a chapter about white slaves, prostitutes and delinquents, Lindsey McMaster’s Working Girls is a lively academic study of Western Canadian female wage earners prior to World War I.
Helena Gutteridge and Helen Armstrong are the heroines of a chapter devoted to Girls on Strike.
“With the arrival of Helena Gutteridge in 1911, Vancouver’s women workers gained a remarkable leader,” writes McMaster, in Working Girls in the West: Representations of Wage-Earning Women (UBC Press $32.95).
“And as is the case of Helen Armstrong in Winnipeg, this kind of fe-male leadership seems to have made a major difference for women’s participation in unions and labour activism.”
In terms of Western Canadian literature, particular attention is paid to Bertrand Sinclair’s novel North of Fifty-Three and Isabel Ecclestone Mackay’s The House of Windows.
McMaster has introduced an obscure pioneer of Canadian women’s writing, Marie Joussaye, who moved west in the late 1890s to live in Kamloops, Dawson City and Vancouver.
According to McMaster, Marie Joussaye published “the only work of Canadian literature written by a working girl and addressed to her peers,” The Songs that Quinte Sang (1895).
SFU professor Carole Gerson has traced Joussaye’s life story as the youngest of five children in a working-class Catholic home in Belleville, Quebec.
Joussaye worked essentially as a servant, and later as a coordinator of other servant girls in Toronto, but yearned for a job as a journalist.
“If I spoke to an editor or haunted a newspaper office, there was an evil construction put upon it ...
“Young men pushed themselves forward by sheer persistence and a little talent, but what was permitted to them was resented in my case.”
Joussaye married in 1903 and was involved in various legal disputes, and once served two months of hard labour. She published a second collection of work-related poems, Selections from Anglo-Saxon Songs (1918).
One of her poems called Only A Working Girl, published in 1886, became something of a rallying cry within the Canadian labour movement. It culminates in this advice to her fellow women:
So when you meet with scornful sneers,
Just lift your heads in pride;
The shield of honest womanhood
Can turn such sneers aside,
And some day they will realize
That the purest, fairest pearls
Mid the gems of noble womankind
are “only working girls.”
McMaster cites Carolyn Strange’s Toronto’s Girl Problem: The Perils and Pleasures of the City, 1880-1930 as the key influence on her approach. “It is not a history of the working girl in the West,” says McMaster, “but a study of how she was imagined, represented, and constructed as a figure within the cultural narratives of Canada, the West, and the empire.”
[BCBW 2008] "Women"