“The format of Canada’s first and only national feminist newspaper was similar to women’s pages being published in magazines and newspapers across the country at the time. Sandwiched between reports from groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the National Union of Suffrage Societies of Canada were columns on gardening and music.”
November 4, 2014
When I picked up this article today, I thought about Margret Benedictsson. In the first part of this blog at writingsmall.wordpress.com, I published a post that includes a story I wrote about this early feminist suffragist and writer of Icelandic descent under the headline “Margret Benedictsson: A forgotten suffragist”.
Certainly in Canada, Margret Benedictsson is forgotten. Most Canadians do not know she ever existed.
For this reason, I was really surprised when her name came up while I was chatting with someone doing an interview on tourism with me during my visit to Iceland in April of this year. She told me that they study Margret Benedictsson’s contributions to Canadian society in grade school in Iceland.
In Canada, nada mas when it comes to Margret Benedictsson. Canadians certainly live up to our reputation of not celebrating our own in connection with this suffragist.
And I bet you never knew about the country’s one and only feminist newspaper.
If you read on, you will now.
October 1, 1981
Feminist newspaper raises consciousness: 1915
by Tanya Lester
When 1975 was named International Women’s Year, feminists were optimistic that women would take some giant steps towards achieving equality with men throughout the year. But during World War 1, Canadian women set their sights on a more long range plan when they dedicated the whole century to women. The National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) was hopeful enough to name its national newspaper the Women’s Century.
The Toronto based newspaper’s purpose was to discuss women’s issues. The format of Canada’s first and only national feminist newspaper was similar to women’s pages being published in magazines and newspapers across the country at the time. Sandwiched between reports from groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the National Union of Suffrage Societies of Canada were columns on gardening and music. The Women’s Century staff knew its readers had a wide range of interests, but attempted to give its subscribers a more national view of happenings in the women’s movement while it was published from 1915 to 1921.
“The success of this Journal depends on the co-operation and support of every Canadian woman interested in the great reforms of every Canadian woman interested in the great reforms for which women are working,” the newspaper’s statement of principles began. It went on to list the reforms as being “the Just and Humane Regulation of Child Labor; the Cause of Temperance; the Fight against the White Slave Traffic; Proper and Sanitary Housing; Pure Milk Food and Water; the Care of the Feeble Mined and the Aged Women; the Franchise: the Crusade against Consumption; the establishment of a Minimum Wage.” The statement concluded that “all activities in which progressive women have a part will be discussed in the Women’s Century.
Although not specifically mentioned in its statement of principles, the paper emphasized the NCWC’s “Made in Canada” policy. The NCWC believed buying Canadian products would help decrease unemployment and contribute to improving the country’s economy. The “Made in Canada” slogan appeared on the front page of each newspaper issue. Some advertisements in the paper reflected the policy.
But it was this policy which almost alienated Western Canadian women from the journalists Cora Hind and Violet McNaughton, disagreed with the policy. They believed merely buying Canadian products would not solve unemployment nor improve the sometimes low prices paid to Canadian farmers for their products. Many Westerners felt Canadian companies had to become more responsible before Canadian workers could benefit from a “Made in Canada” policy. People, like McNaughton, also believed that Canada was not self-sufficient economically and should develop interdependence with other nations. However, credit must go to both McNaughton and the Women’s Century staff for preventing Western alienation of the newspaper. McNaughton continued to contribute Western women’s views, on behalf of the Women’s Section of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers, in a number of articles for the paper.
With Mrs. J. Campbell-MacIvor, as editor-in-chief, the paper began during an exciting time in the women’s movement. Women across the country were fighting to win the vote and to reform the laws as they applied to their sex. It was wartime and women were taking jobs that had been traditionally those of men. But with the end of war, the death of the paper soon followed. Almost five decades passed before Canadian women again started to seriously think about publishing women’s rights newspapers. Today, feminist newspapers and magazines continue to spring up in regions across the country.
To read the first posts in this blog, go to writingsmall.wordpress.com
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Readerby Tanya Lester is available to purchase from the author or go to the title and author name at amazon.com to read the first few pages and buy it.
Tanya Lester’s other books are Women Rights/Writes, Friends I Never Knew, and Friends I Never Knew. These books are available in some library systems as well as at the Provincial Library of Manitoba.