Monday, February 23, 2009


I was a child of the sixties—the time of demonstrating for women’s equality, the time of bra burning. I myself never demonstrated for my rights. I was focussed on growing into a bra. I suppose I was a bit of a princess, albeit a modern princess. For I was planning to marry a prince charming and also have a career.
In my princess phase I had little appreciation of the difficult sacrifices these combined ambitions had brought upon other women. I had never heard of Mary Percy, an English woman who wanted to be a lawyer and then, because women were not allowed to be lawyers in the England of the 1920’s, settled for being a doctor instead. At the end of her training she responded to a newspaper ad inviting female doctors to serve remote places in northern Alberta. Women were being recruited partly because of a shortage of male doctors, and partly because of other staff shortages. A female doctor, it was said, would not require a housekeeper. And so Mary came to Alberta, to Battle River Prairie north of Peace River, a place with no bridge across the river and no roads suitable for cars. She doctored at thirty above and forty below and sometimes she rode her horse as much as 40 miles a day in service of her patients. For this she earned $165 a month, until she married Frank Jackson and moved further north to keg River. There was no doctor at Keg River. There also was no motivation to pay Mary to be a doctor, since she now had a husband to support her. So she and Frank built a hospital and turned to service clubs. Mary was paid in butter and eggs and sometimes with a little money. This went on for 38 years until the Alberta government adopted Alberta Health Care for all Albertans. I had never heard of Mary.
Nor had I heard of Alice Walker, who trained to be an ordained minister in the united Church of Canada. But when she married the Reverend Hogman, hoping to continue her career, the church ruled that married women could not work as ordained ministers. Even when the rule was finally changed she found it hard to get employment. Churches expected free service from the minister’s wife. Finally she got a job at a northerly charge where it was hard to find a minister. Later, near the end of her career, she and her prince charming were able to find a charge that would hire and pay both of them.
Women were facing significant barriers, but I was oblivious to all of this at the time when I was not demonstrating. I like to think that if I had known what was happening to the likes of Mary and Alice I’d have started several small fires with my training bras. I was born lucky, I’d say, lucky to be born at a time when it was going to be possible to have both a prince charming and a career.

1 comment:

The Hope Lady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.