Women’s History

16 June 2015

Women’s History
Edited by Wendee Kubik and Gregory P. Marchildon
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$34.95 ISBN 9780889773127

The history of women in the Prairies is a story of accomplishment and ongoing struggle – clearly depicted in Women’s History, edited by Wendee Kubik and Gregory P. Marchildon, This is the fifth volume in the History of the Prairie West Series, designed to appeal to a wide audience, from general readers to professional historians.

Although Women’s History focuses on the three Prairie Provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba, it also extends to the American West. The book includes an array of subjects, including prohibition, vagrancy, suffrage, political activism, and union organizing.

Women’s History is divided into six sections – Politics, Law, Agriculture, Labour, Journalism, and Ethnicity – covering the period from the 1870s to 2005. The seventeen analytical essays by fifteen authors were previously published in various issues of Prairie Forum; they are now conveniently located in this one volume.

Each section contains essays appropriate to that area, often with intriguing titles such as “Spinsters Need Not Apply: Six Single Women Who Attempted to Homestead in Saskatchewan between 1872 and 1914,” and “25¢ an Hour; 48 Hours a Week; More Toilets; Less Cats: The Labour Struggles of the ‘Girls’ at the A.E. McKenzie Company in Brandon.”

To get an idea of working conditions at the McKenzie Seed Company, one need only look at the experience of Margaret Black. After being interviewed and told she had the job, she asked what the wages were. McKenzie replied, “I’ll work you for a month and then tell you what I’ll pay you.” She declined the offer.

Although Women’s History is a broad title, the book covers a range of difficult occupations, from homesteading to factory work to nursing. Nurses’ training, for example, was rigorous and restrictions were harsh. Besides steering clear of liquor and tobacco, nurses were forbidden from eating pie and ice cream in their dormitory rooms. One nurse in training was suspended for playing a slot machine and swearing.

The section on Politics cites a number of Saskatchewan firsts, including first female Member of the Legislative Assembly, Sarah Ramsland; first female Lieutenant Governor, Sylvia Fedoruk; first female leader of a provincial party, Lynda Haverstock; and first female Minister of Finance, Janice MacKinnon, whose legislative nickname, “Combat Barbie,” indicated her personal toughness that was so necessary to succeed in politics.

This 479-page volume contains an index, endnotes, tables, figures, an assortment of appendices, and forty-two black and white photos of Prairie women, their lives and work, set in the context of their times.


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