Women in The Victorian Era - Women Subjects of The British Empire - Canada

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Canada

The upper classes of Canada were almost without exception of British origin during the Victorian era. At the beginning of the Victorian era, British North America included several separate colonies that joined together as a Confederation in 1867 to create Canada. Military and government officials and their families came to British North America from England or Scotland, and less often were of Protestant Irish origin. Most business interests were controlled by Canadians who were of British stock. English-speaking minorities who immigrated to Canada struggled for economic and government influence, including large numbers of Roman Catholic Irish and later Ukrainians, Poles, and other European immigrants. French-Canadians remained largely culturally isolated from English-speaking Canadians (a situation later described in Two Solitudes (novel) by Hugh MacLennan). Visible minority groups, such as indigenous First Nations and Chinese labourers, were marginalised and suffered profound discrimination. Women's status was thus heavily dependent upon their ethnic identity as well as their place within the dominant British class structure.

English-speaking Canadian women were pioneers in the early Victorian years. Canada's best-known English authors of the pre-Confederation era were perhaps Catharine Parr Traill and her sister Susanna Moodie, middle-class English settlers who published memoirs of their demanding lives as pioneers. Traill published The Backwoods of Canada (1836) and Canadian Crusoes (1852), and Moodie published Roughing it in the Bush (1852) and Life in the Clearings (1853). Their memoirs recount the harshness of life as women settlers, but were nonetheless popular.

Upper-class Canadian women emulated British culture and imported as much of it as possible across the Atlantic. Books, magazines, popular music, and theatre productions were all imported to meet women's consumer demand.

Upper-class women supported philanthropic causes similar to the educational and nursing charities championed by upper-class women in England. The Victorian Order of Nurses, still in existence, was founded in 1897 as a gift to Queen Victoria to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee. The Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, founded in 1900, supports educational bursaries and book awards to promote Canadian patriotism, but also to support knowledge of the British Empire. Both organisations had Queen Victoria as their official patron. One of the patrons of Halifax's Victoria School of Art and Design (founded in 1887 and later named the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) was Anna Leonowens. Women began making headway in their struggle to gain access to higher education: in 1875, the first woman university graduate in Canada was Grace Annie Lockhart (Mount Allison University). In 1880, Emily Stowe became the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada.

Women's legal rights made slow progress throughout the 19th century. In 1859, Upper Canada passed a law allowing married women to own property. In 1885, Alberta passed a law allowing unmarried women who owned property gained the right to vote and hold office in school matters.

Women's suffrage would not be achieved until the World War I period. Suffrage activism began during the later decades of the Victorian era. In 1883, the Toronto Women's Literary and Social Progress Club met and established the Canadian Women's Suffrage Association.

Read more about this topic:  Women In The Victorian Era, Women Subjects of The British Empire

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