As part of this important strike, workers demanded shorter hours of work, a living wage, and an end to abusive treatment by shop foremen. Women workers also shut down mills for 10 days. Unfortunately the workers lost this strike, but their militancy later led to improvements in the industry.
At the 2nd International Women’s Conference, German socialist Clara Zetkin calls for the creation of an International Women’s Day. March 8 was later recognized as the official International Women's Day around the world.
Quebec legislation cuts work hours for women textile workers from 60 to 58 hours per week. Other legislation follows to further limit the work week.
Women textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts go on strike, calling for “Bread and Roses." Bread and Roses comes to symbolize women’s demands for equality and dignity, and the “Bread and Roses” song becomes an anthem for Canadian women in the labour movement.
Gutteridge ensured that equal pay was written into the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council constitution. She also played a major role in promoting women’s groups and labour activism and helped achieve British Columbia's first minimum wage law.
Armstrong helped the Retail Clerks unionize women department store workers in Winnipeg. As president of Winnipeg Women’s Labour League, she was also a leader of the Winnipeg General Strike. The strike commenced on May 15, with more than 30,000 striking workers shutting the city down.
The league emerged in Canada around WWI and was modeled on the British Women’s League. It served as a defender of women workers and the labour movement. Members were working class housewives and wage earners; many were Finnish, Jewish, or Ukrainian. Radical for its time, the League called for equal pay, maternity care, and birth control for all women. It also succeeded in exposing the shortcomings of minimum wage laws at the time.
Prior to the 1920s, divorces were finalized by the Canadian Senate. Family assets were generally the property of men, leaving divorced women and their children destitute. During this period, Judge Emily Murphy and others pushed for women representation in the Senate, and more equitable family property laws.
British Columbia passes maternity leave legislation, granting mothers six weeks leave before and after giving birth. No other Canadian jurisdiction would implement maternity leave until 1964. At this time, 17.7% of women aged 14 and older were participating in the labour force, mainly in office work. Also in 1921, Alberta became the first province to provide public health nurses, municipal hospitals, and free dental and medical care for children.
Agnes Macphail, CCF MP
Macphail became the first women Member of Parliament by campaigning for prison reform and old age pensions. First elected as a member of the Progressive Party of Canada for the Grey Southeast electoral district in the 1921 federal election, she later joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).
Also in 1921, Liberal Party candidate Nellie McClung was elected to the Alberta legislature, where she went on to advocate for old age pensions, mothers’ allowance, legal protection for widows, better factory conditions, a minimum wage, and birth control.
A prominent suffragette and reformer, Murphy was appointed as a police magistrate in 1916, becoming the first female police magistrate in the Commonwealth. She wrote books and articles under the name "Janey Canuck."
Murphy urged the Government of Canada to appoint a woman to the Senate – without success. The government cited the British North American Act (BNA Act), which stated that only “qualified persons” may serve in the Senate, inferring that women are not “qualified persons” and therefore ineligible for service. In August 1927, Emily Murphy and four Alberta women – Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby petition the Privy Council of Great Britain to rule on women’s eligibility for serving in the Senate. On October 18, 1929, the Privy Council rules that the BNA Act should apply equally to women, stating that the exclusion of women from public offices was “a relic of days more barbarous than ours." Women were now considered “persons” under the law and therefore eligible for nomination to the Senate. The ruling would come to be known as the Persons Case.
An activist who advocated for public libraries, mothers’ allowances, equal parental rights, and divorce and penal reform, Edwards helped establish the National Council of Women (1893) and the Victorian Order of Nurses (1897). She also published Canada’s first magazine for women, entitled “Working Women of Canada."
An advocate for rural women, Parlby was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1921. She was appointed as the first female cabinet minister in Alberta and, as a minister, successfully sponsored the Minimum Wage for Women Act (1925). Parlby spent her entire life supporting initiatives to improve the lives of women and children.
A novelist who wrote 15 books, McClung was a social reformer, suffragette, and famed Canadian journalist. She led the first campaign to enfranchise North American women, beginning with Western Canadian women in the early 1910s. McClung served as a Liberal Member of the Alberta Legislature for Edmonton from 1921 to 1926.
After being hired by the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, Roback organizes a strike of 5,000 garment workers – a breakthrough union struggle for women in Quebec. In 1943, Roback helped secure the first union contract for over 4,000 workers at a RCA Victor munitions plant — nearly half of the workers were women.
Women's labour was once again needed for war-time production in factories, shipyards, and ammunitions plants. At first, only a single woman was recruited. As demands for war-time production grew, however, childless married women and later women with children were also recruited.
At the time, day care and tax breaks were introduced to incentivize women to work. Women were also needed in the army, and were encouraged to volunteer in support of army services and nursing.
The women’s war effort raised awareness of the important contribution that women made outside of the home – and challenged the stereotype that women were unable to do so-called “men’s work." War work also gave many women financial independence – women realized that they could work outside of the home without neglecting their children.
Originally a secretary at a union office in Quebec, Plamondon was elected president of the Montreal Labour Council in 1955, becoming the first woman to lead a major Canadian labour organization. A year later, she became a vice-president of the newly-formed Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). During her career in the labour movement, Plamondon served as a UFCW Canada international Vice-President, the long-time president of UFCW Canada Local 744P, and as a vice-president of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP).
1941 - The Canadian “Rosie the Riveter,” Ronnie “The Bren Gun Girl” (Veronica Foster)
The Bren Gun Girl was a young woman named “Veronica Foster," who became a Canadian icon by representing nearly one million Canadian women working in the munitions sector during World War II. She was popularly known as “Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl” and worked for the company John Inglis Co. Ltd producing Bren light machine guns on a production line on Strachan Avenue in Toronto. Foster became popular after being featured in a series of war-time propaganda posters; most images featured her working for the war effort, but others depicted more casual setting, like Foster dancing the jitterbug or attending a dinner party.
Foster can be seen as the Canadian precursor to the American fictional propaganda tool "Rosie the Riveter."
View this short video produced by the CBC to learn more about Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl.
Parent headed the unionization push for Dominion Textile plants in Valleyfield and Montreal, Quebec. In 1946, more than 6,000 cotton workers succeeded in forming a union. Parent was also a founding member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, representing Quebec for eight years.