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January 28, 2011

Some Feminist Footnotes

The Wheels of Conscience 

Last week, through the efforts of the Canadian Jewish Congress a unique memorial was unveiled in Halifax at Pier 21. It will recognize Canada’s complicity in turning away 907 Jewish ship passengers in 1939 sending many to their death. It will also be a forward looking educational event for visitors. 

In 1939 Prime Minister King said “None is too many” and went down along with many others, including other countries, as a racist . 

The beautiful new sculpture called the Wheels of Conscience by David Libeskind symbolizes the event, apologizes and promises to never let it happen again. 

New Book on Charlotte Whitton 

One of Canada’s best known feminists and leaders had an excellent book on her life called No Bleeding Heart written in 1987. When Whitton died in 1975 she put a huge collection of her memorabilia in the archives for 30 years. Dave Millington has produced a second book Charlotte: The Last Suffragette which updates her life. (see cover-that is a toy pistol) 

New book on conservative feminist – Charlotte Whitton 2010

On the positive side Whitton had some remarkable successes as a social worker, author, and politician. She had  some great success in early social work development and walked away from it for a decade. She then ran for mayor of Ottawa and won 5 times except once when she ran for a progressive conservative seat and lost. She was named Canada’s Woman of the year 6 times. 

In 1943 during a fallow period she wrote a remarkable history of the Gilles Lumber Company. I cherish a copy and have referenced it many times. It’s called a Hundred Years A’ Fellin’.

One of the big questions about her life was her 30 year live in relationship with Margaret Grier who died in 1947 after 30 years together. In those days these relationships were called Boston Marriages where same sex couples supposedly cohabitated but did not consummate the relationship. There are arguments on both sides but it really doesn’t matter in retrospect. Whitton never married. 

Whitton on the negative side had some bizarre opinions as a conservative feminist. She was very supportive of the refusal of the Jews in 1939 as mentioned above. There was a fight to reject her for a recent Ottawa memorial because of her position. She was also resistant to other European groups including Home Children and fought against English child immigrants who she said weakened Canada’s future.She was also against married women working, abortion, divorce, etc. 

As the first woman mayor of a large Canadian city she paved the way along with others for leadership by women. Women are currently mayors of Sudbury and S.S. Marie to mention a couple. Internationally, for example, women head Germany, Australia, Brazil, and Argentina. 

The books are an interesting read on the era on a remarkably capable & complex woman.

Chinese Checkmate 

Much can be said about the repression of Chinese women today but one recent event symbolizes their coming of age. The NY Times reports that a mild-mannered teenage girl Hou Yifan is the new World Chess Champion at age 16. She is the youngest person male or female to do so. 

She is not the first Chinese champion but she is superior to the others. For a sexist nation this is remarkable. We will undoubtedly see other Chinese women achievements in the years ahead.

Feminist History Society

There is a new group of second wave (1960+) feminists who have a  new Feminist History Society that will publish a variety of books over the next few years. For further information Google feministhistories.ca 

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