NWORA Remembrance Vol.4 - NE99

NE99

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Forget-me-not Remembrance Vol.4 46 Y ears after its 1911 inception by German Socialist Klara Zetkin, when "one trembling sea of women" marched, International Women's Day came to be celebrated on 8 March each year. But serious thought about the role of women in Canada didn't begin in 1911. For, as long ago as 1838, when Anna Jameson published her book Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, a strong-minded woman examined the plight of other women in a wilderness setting In Canada. But Anna's husband, Robert Jameson, Vice-Chancellor of Upper Canada and the province's senior legal officer during the Rebellion years (37-38), was "much displeased" by what he read. And he wasn't alone. Most male reviewers didn't like it, either. But born in Dublin, Anna thrived on the attention of the British critics. In fact, the harsh reviews did what they usually do - they increased the book's sales. And in 1839, it was published in the United States. She was soon well known as a writer, feminist and art historian. As Anna told a friend about another friend's remarks: "The men," she says, "are much alarmed by certain speculations about women; and," she adds, "well they may be, for when the horse and the ass begin to think and argue, adieu to riding and driving." Thus, from an early time in Ontario's history, strong-minded women dared to speak and write outside the conventional "box" of their times. For it was the threshold of the Victorian age, with the Queen ascending the throne in 1837. Victoria was young and loved parties and dancing all night. And after she married Prince Albert in 1840, she confided to her diary how delighted she was with the pleasures of the marriage bed. Among the bold, there was a feeling that if a woman could be sovereign of a vast empire, then a woman could do anything. The steel clamp of "Victorianism" wasn't to set in until the full influence of Prussian-trained Albert took hold. Anna remarks that she finds that "really accomplished women" accustomed to the "best society" make the best pioneers. They do better than some women "whose claims of social distinc- tion could not have been great anywhere" but who "lamented for themselves as if they were exiled princesses.... Can you imagine the position of a fretful, frivolous woman, strong neither of mind nor frame, abandoned to her own resources in the wilds of Upper Canada? I do not believe you can imagine anything so pitiable, so ridiculous, and, to borrow the Canadian word, 'so shiftless.'" She tells of one woman for whom Canada was no paradise, the lack of servants and schools being a problem. But she met this with good cheer even though she'd just given birth to "a lovely baby, the tenth or twelfth of a flock of manly boys and blooming girls." The eldest girl "acted as manager-in-chief and glided about her household avocations with a serene and quiet grace." Since the Revolutionary War days, a woman's role in Canada had been as wife and mother. Thus Jameson's writerly independ- ence and gadding about was a scandal in itself. For a healthy woman married in her early 20s should look forward to decades of pregnancy, child bearing and suckling. And her biological plight would be bound to her job as homemaker. -- Thus a woman not only had to be an "angel in the house," but she also had to be tough about it: The women milked the cows, fed the chickens. A STRONG-MINDED WOMAN IN EARLY CANADA By Terence Cottrell BA(Hons), MA, JD.

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