Friday 8 March 2019

A Woman's Role in 1930s Toronto

For well over a century, March 8th has been celebrated as International Women's Day. Since 1911, this day has brought attention to women's struggle for equality and celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Each year, IWD selects a year-long campaign theme that highlights how we can continue to strive for complete equality amongst men and women. With 2019's theme being Balance for Better, the campaign focuses on achieving a more gender-balanced world. This includes a gender-balanced workplace, a gender-balance in wealth, and a gender-balanced government.

Campers at Marygrove Camp for Girls in Penetanguishene, Ontario.
Photograph taken by Rev. John J. Kelly

Msgr. Jean Marie Castex of St. Ann's Parish established the camp exclusively for underprivileged girls. Over the years it developed into one of the best-equipped, best-run camps in the province.

Rev. John J. Kelly Fonds
PH 73/51P

To appreciate how far we've come, let's jump back 80-90 years. With the stock market crash in 1929, the 1930s were marked with great economic struggle. The Toronto Civic Unemployment Office and Central Bureau for Unemployment Relief was created in 1930, and in 1932 the Public Welfare Department began finding jobs for the unemployed through relief work. By 1933, the unemployment rate for Torontonians reached 30%. Within the Archdiocese, the Catholic Adjustment Bureau was created specifically for unemployed Catholics, with Rev. Michael John McGrath leading as its Director.

Rev. Michael John McGrath

Photograph Collection
PH 24MC/32P

At the same time, the 1930s brought better employment opportunities for women in female-dominated occupations and many women became the primary breadwinners for their families. In her book, Breadwinning Daughters: Young Working Women in a Depression-Era City, 1929-1939, Katrina Srigley examines how young women were central to the labour market and family economies in Toronto during this time.

This shift in gender roles challenged the stereotypes of men being the sole providers and women remaining home to care for the children. While many women enjoyed this independence and economic responsibility, it left many men feeling ashamed for not being able to provide for their families. In the context of the time, this shift was quite jarring for society.

As a response, Rev. Michael John McGrath anonymously wrote to the editor of the Globe and Mail proposing a solution:

A letter of the Rev. Michael J. McGrath (signed "student") to the Globe and Mail suggesting that married female wage-earners resign their jobs in favour of unemployed men who have families to support.

June 16, 1939

James C. Cardinal McGuigan Fonds
MG SO06.126

It was news to me that many states in the U.S. enacted legislation during the 1930s that removed married women from competitive gainful employment.

Now, let's jump to today. International Women's Day gives us a chance to celebrate women and our changing attitudes about their role in the world. IWD is celebrated at the Vatican and marked with a number of events sponsored by various groups looking to bring women's voices to the forefront. Last year, the Vatican called for more gender equality in the Church, specifically at the Vatican level. Pope Francis has spoken out against the continuing marginalization of women, and recognizes that a more gender-balanced world is a better world overall.

From the women at the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, we wish you a Happy International Women's Day!

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