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The Role of Women’s Labor in British Columbia Report

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Updated: May 4th, 2019

The epoch of industrial capitalism of XIX-XX centuries was full of difficulties and challenges. The women were engaged in economic life of the country all over the world, and Canada is not an exception. Through women’s hard work, the female part of the human society asserted themselves as equal members of society.

Exactly women’s work in the industrialized and capitalistic world of XIX-XX inspired the report. The aim of the paper is to understand the role of women’s labor in British Columbia during the period of industrial capitalism.

In XIX century, British Columbia was one of the British distanced colonies that experienced industrial capitalism and colonialism in its own way. The immigration of aboriginal women to British Columbia was one of the wide-spread phenomena of that time.

The role of women grew in the context of Euro-Canadian labor, as many countries enriched and capitalized itself by means of exploitation of the aboriginal population of the colonies. Millions of women from different parts of the world became the servants of the dominant English class.

For example, the Indian women processed different materials that allowed them to manufacture baskets, gloves, moccasins, make rags and mats, etc. for the benefit of the white race. Other aboriginal women sold berries to European tourists. Some of them were employed to do a laundry work and other productive activities.

There was a high demand in handicrafts and clothing for traders, tourists, hunters, and travelers. The exploitation of hard labor and skills of the aboriginal women in British Columbia was accompanied with numerous problems. The position of such women in society was miserable. In the capitalistic world, they could not but to choose paid domestic work or seasonal waged labor in order to survive.

Canadian industrial revolution happened in 1851-1921. This period was exhausting and painful for many women. Certain changes were inevitable. That time, domestic service was the most accessible paid employment for such women. Those women, who moved from rural unprofitable areas to urban industrialized localities, could find paid work within manufacturing enterprises.

As the service sector developed intensively, the women could be engaged in sales, nursing, teaching, etc. By the World War I, the amount of women with white-collar jobs prevailed over women in manufacturing. However, the life of the women in the rapidly developing Canada became more complicated.

Women faced the evident difference between the life of a woman at home and the reality of a hard work within the industrialized world. Often, they experienced poor working conditions; for this reason, the protests were the natural reaction. Gradually, the phenomenon of an employed woman outside her home led to changes in public’s opinions.

Migration became challengeable experience for many women who searched for the better life. Sometimes, such women achieved their aim, and settled in the farming territory, where it was possible to live a peaceful and happy life. Nevertheless, some of them died of a hard labor; some of them had to wait for their husbands who went off to the distanced places to make money (for example, to Klondike).

There was a tendency to migrate to the western, more profitable regions. There were different motives: a successful marriage, a high-waged job, etc. In the same time, more and more immigrants entered Canada in the beginning of XX century (about a half million). They came from the USA, the British Isles, France, Poland, Ukraine and other countries of the continental Europe.

Of course, immigrants faced lots of barriers: language gap (for those who did not speak neither English nor French), racial and cultural hostility. Many white women saw the future of Canada without female representatives of Asian countries. For this reason, there increased the cost of a head tax for those immigrants who wanted to live in Canada: in 1904, it was $500.

It led to the presence of illegal female immigrants who were brought by businessmen (especially, the Chinese girls). The migration helped women to escape from the past life; absence of a good job and financial status made people search a better life abroad. The migration of that time had its own tendencies: often, it became impelled and illegal.

The female immigrants worked as waitresses, domestic servants or prostitutes. However, thousands of women who migrated to British Columbia faced poverty. Thus, women who had many children could die because they were unable to support their large family. In this context, the role of an immigrant aid committee grew. It provided some help for such women (for example, daughters of such women could be hired as kitchen helpers for a minimum wage).

The women who migrated from the rural territories to the cities had logic reasons. There were some “push” and” pull factors” that motivated women to move to the Canadian cities. Pull factors were economic opportunities and prospects of a city, need for independence, achievement, attraction of wealth and status; push factors were conditioned mostly by economic necessity.

The farming live was full of challenges and exhausted labor, but the life in the city seemed hard, as well. Nevertheless, more and more women hoped to find a well-paid job and realize their prospects in the cities and industrial towns: Toronto, Monreal, Hamilton, Ontario, Quebec and others.

Although many women moved to the urban are, some women remained in the rural localities. Sometimes, their labor-intensive work brought little wage or no pay at all. Women worked at home and in fields, as well. They made and washed clothes, cooked food, gathered and grew vegetables and fruits. Those women who dedicated their life to rural work did know neither weekends nor festal days.

Successful work brought income to both their families and the country’s economy. Market-oriented women sold their products (eggs, meat, milk, butter, etc.) on markets, and earned money to produce more products that would help the families to survive.

In the context of the industrial world, spinning and weaving continued to be quite popular productive activities. It was either family tradition or possible income. However, the role of men in farming and trading grew. It means that many rural women found themselves without occupation; their work became less demanded, and women felt less appreciation.

The dower rights of aboriginal women were tenuous. When a woman’s husband died, the land could be inherited by either a son or a widow. However, the land was speculated in the industrial and the capitalist world; the positions of a dower were too weak. In 1866, there was adopted the Lower Canadian Civil Code gave dower more rights in order to preserve the inherited land.

Nevertheless, few women inherited their land, and became real landowners. Women suffered from lack of public recognition. Consequently, the women’s role was isolated. The condition of aboriginal women worsened the superior status of the western-European communities.

Gradually, a woman’s role was decreased, as there spread the idea that a husband is the only responsible family member in terms of money making. The status of a man as a family supporter overshadowed the women’s positions in society. Thus, a woman turned into a home worker who looked for children, and did domestic work. However, the life of an urban woman was different.

In cities, the families were smaller; for this reason, an urban woman had less cares. Besides, labor-saving technological advantages facilitated women’s housework (for example, in 1890s, a washing machine appeared). A woman did not need to take care of her children, because a half of a day they spent at schools. Unfortunately, not each family could afford a technical domestic device, as it was rather expensive.

In 1891, about 40 % Canadian women were involved in domestic service. Thus, the considerable portion of feminine workforce found itself in this employed area. Exactly young women became domestics, most of all.

Some white women believed that domestic service was more suitable for black domestics. This way, among some white women, racial and ethnic prejudices and stereotypes were cultivated. The unfairness toward colored feminine population grew; in its turn, it resulted on their poor financial condition.

Thus, a domestic became a live-in servant (she had a free room and board), her feminine employer – a mistress. Also, a domestic was vulnerable to be sexually exploited by mistress’s husband or son.

Sometimes, it even led to pregnancy, abortion, dismissals, voluntary redundancy and trials. That time, one could even meet a servant without pay, or a servant who had become a prostitute. The wage of a servant was not high: from $8 to $20 per month. Of course, it can hardly be called a living wage.

By 1871, about 40 % of children (mostly, they worked in mills) and women constituted the industrial workforce in Canada. Especially, the textile and cotton industries were in demand. Some textile companies could recruit experienced women from abroad, as women were most welcomed in such industries.

However, the unemployment rate among women increased, and many women left their native land, and went off in search of a good job. For example, in 1909, about 10 thousand women moved to the USA. The number of active young women increased in the following years.

Gradually, women experienced the advantages of protective legislation. In 1884, Ontario adopted the law that facilitated the life of a woman, engaged in a hard industrial manufacturing labor. The work hours were limited to 10 per day. However, there flourished immorality toward female industrial workers. Some women could be even spanked if they refused to do a certain thing.

The development of protective legislation did not exclude inequality of women. The situation worsened: more and more women earned a small wage that was less than a living wage. Numerous women had to do a hard and poorly paid job. Thus, it is not surprising that many women turned to feminists who wanted to protect their legal rights and gain the equity with men.

In XIX, women were occupied not only with domestic service, but teaching, as well. In Canada, there appeared special schools hat gave a future teacher a certificate. Nevertheless, the feminization of teaching was a challengeable process for women, as male teachers were more welcomed. Lots of female teachers became nuns as clergy opened doors to women.

In general, women made certain contribution to the development of public and religious education. Women earned less than men; in rural territory, a female teacher earned even less that urban ones. Promotions among women were rare. Consequently, the women’s struggle for recognition in society faced many obstacles on their professional way.

Also, thousands of women were involved in nursing services (especially religious nursing). The number of public health nurses, school and private-duty nurses increased. It was evident that women faced numerous barriers in their career ladder: there were few fulfilled female workers in health care industry. In addition, some women dedicated their lives to jurisdiction. More and more women became advocates.

By the middle of XX century women had realized their secondary status, and started civil rights movements. Boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, marches were only one of the forms of protests. Analyzing the women’s role in industrial capitalistic world, one can not avoid the discussion of the following phenomenon.

In XIX-XX centuries, the suffragettes’ movement proved to be the natural reaction to the gender inequality in human society. The activity of suffragettes led to the Canadian feminization. As suffragettes and feminists pursued practically the same aims, some key elements of this movement should be pointed out.

This feminine movement appeared as a reaction on such issues as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, voting rights, and sexual violence. In addition, this movement was concerned with racial and ethnic oppression of women. This way, suffragettes and feminist wanted to exclude unfair discrimination of the feminine class in political and economic life of the society.

Marching in the Canadian streets, women wanted to dispel the Victorian stereotypes about womanhood. Mostly, the movement used nonviolent methods of the struggle, and was directed to securing civil rights and expansion of social justice. Their way to civil freedom was long, and achieved its final destination only in the middle of XX century.

The Canadian women were engaged in journalism, as well. Women wanted to take an active part in the newspaper business: they became editors, redactors, writers, etc. In Canada, it was possible to buy numerous women’s magazines and journals, edited by women. For example, the published “Provincial Freeman” in the middle of XIX century publicized the condition of African Canadian women.

Performing arts were also attracted many women. Canadian women have an opportunity to show their literature, musical talents, and present their creative pieces of art in public. Cinema and theatre studios welcomed actress, and made them cinema stars. Successful women achieved high results in their career ladder in the business sphere.

In XX century, women entered business sphere, and became to show good performance on equal terms with men. Lots of people thought that business activity was not for women who could have either domestic responsibilities or an ordinary work. Nevertheless, women’s activity was evident.

Taking into consideration everything mentioned, one can make the following conclusions. The industrialized and capitalized world presented a difficult life style, full of challenges and obstacles for women. In the same time, it gave an opportunity for lots of women to perform themselves in the economic sphere of Canadian life.

The aboriginal portion of Canadian female population was exploited. They had to do a poorly-paid and hard job to survive. It made them feel pinched and discriminated members of human society. Rural and urban life presented various difficulties for women. For this reason, migration was the only possible way to find a better life for some women.

Most of all, women were engaged in productive activities, manufacturing industries, domestic service, etc. The servant-mistress relationship was a wide-spread phenomenon in Canadian life of XIX century. However, the industrial revolution introduced technical devices in women’s life, and put them on the back burner.

In XIX-XX centuries, male workers dominated practically in each sphere of human life. Nevertheless, some changes were inevitable, and women became to take an active part in different professional spheres. Gradually, women became equal members of Canadian society. The feminine movements expressed women’s desire to equity and worthful status.

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