Feminism in Canadian Teaching during the Nineteenth Century

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The word feminism can be defined as "a philosophy advocating rights and opportunities for women which are equal to those that exist for men." Feminism has always been a part of history in Canada; it has meant different things to different people at different times. During the nineteenth century, women struggled to be recognizably equal to men; however this struggle led back to the main issue of gender. Gender is fundamental to the ways we interact with each other, to the ways our public and private lives are organized. Its importance is evident almost everywhere we look; from the wages men and women make, to the structuring of friendships, and the organization of domestic tasks. In the 1880s, gender labeling began when one was born and continued throughout life. "Boys were stereotyped in more powerful and active roles, where as little girls in elementary school played with dolls while their brothers played baseball; mothers wore aprons and baked cookies, while fathers drove off to work; adult women were princesses and witches, while men were doctors and farmers." This gender labeling carried over into the labour industry, where women were treated unequally due to their sex. Teaching was one career where feminism was greatly present. During the 1880s when the first generation of women graduated from college, two-thirds of all those who sought employment became teachers. In the past women were constantly faced with gender beliefs in which they were separate and inferior to the male gender. Society saw women as naturally fitted to traits such as the care and teaching of children, leading to the idea of "separate spheres." The result of this ideology was the image of female teachers not being considered professional. Through examining historical documents, women's struggle for equal rights and recognition in the school system will be made clear.

The idea of separate spheres sprung about during the nineteenth century, separating men and women into two domains in life. Traditionally the male would lead the public sphere and women, the private sphere. It was thought that men were better suited for the hard life of a worker; they played a big role in the political and economical part of society. On the other hand, a women's natural role was to take care of things at home such as household chores, cooking, taking care and educating the children, and assisting in the family business, whatever it may be. Women were expected to get married, start a family, and provide for them. Therefore, if a woman happened to have a career, it was for a very brief time in her life before she was married or sometimes as a widow. When interviewed, Alice Cleary-Walsh described leaving her short teaching career of five years for marriage. "I only taught for five years when I met a man named Louis, we wanted to start a family so I quit because teaching and family life were both full-time jobs, it would be unfair to attempt both." Marriage was universally seen as the destiny of all women, 90% or more of women could expect to marry and neither teaching nor other employments would deflect a woman from her "true career." Teaching was not to compete with marriage; bans against retaining women as teachers if they married became commonplace in the later nineteenth century. A marriage bar for women teachers in 1881 showed that 35.3% of male teachers were married but only 4.3% of female teachers were married. Despite the rules and injustices of the occupation, many women, for reasons of their own, sought work as teachers.

Women were teachers long before the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, during the late nineteenth century, teaching and women teachers were shifting from the private household to the public institutions. Society believed women were suited for teaching due to their nurturing and kind personalities, making it easier for them to care for and teach the young children in comparison to men. According to Prentice and Theobald, "The...
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