Author Tags: 1900-1950, Women

A little-cited pioneer of Canadian women's writing, Marie Joussaye moved west in the late 1890s to live in Kamloops, Dawson City and Vancouver. According to Lindsey McMaster’s Working Girls in the West: Representations of Wage-Earning Women (UBC Press 2008), Marie Joussaye, originally from Belleville, Quebec, 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. She 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 of 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." According to McMaster, she 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 life 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."

[BCBW 2008] "Women" "1900-1950"