During the 1930s, the Great Depression affected many states leading to major changes in most sectors of their economy. One of the countries that became a victim of the Great Depression was Canada. Owing to this, the issue has attracted the attention of many researchers. The aim of this review is to examine the work of one such researcher, Katrina Srigley, in her book, Breadwinning Daughters: Young Women working in a Depression- era City, 1929-1939 (2010). The Great Depression era affected the live patterns of young women in Canada. They experienced a great shift while trying to adapt to the economic changes brought about by the depression. Her book explores the impact that the Great Depression had on young women within Canada. This paper gives a summary and evaluation of the book besides its relevance to the course.
In her book, Breadwinning Daughters: Young Women Working in a Depression- era City, 1929-1939 (2010), Srigley argues that the Great Depression led to economic concerns not only to the government but also to the entire Canadian population. She points out that many researchers have focused their studies on the male population leaving out their female counterparts. In an attempt to seal the gap that these researchers have created in the Canadian history, Srigley focuses on the lives of young women during the Great Depression era. The book presents the findings of the research she carried out during a period of three years. She employed more than eighty interviews with women who had experienced the hardships of the Great Depression in their youth. She focused on their lives at work places, homes as well as in various places within Toronto. The book closely examines the impact that the Great Depression era had on the young women during the 1930s.
The lives of Canadian women underwent a great change in the Canadian history during the 1930s. The author notes that they had to look for jobs to help them in not only attaining their basic needs but also those of their immediate family members. The male members of their family, who were traditionally responsible for meeting their family needs, were no longer able to fulfill their responsibility due to their lack of employment. Many young women moved into the urban cities where they secured jobs earning minimum wages. The sole purpose for entering the labor force was to give financial support to their families thus the name ‘Breadwinning Daughters’. Srigley also brings to her audience’s attention that young women could not afford jobs with the same stature as their male counterparts. They could not access jobs with many privileges but only got jobs with low wages with little or no power and privileges. The author argues that within the Canadian labor market in the 1930s women had a limited choice on the nature of the job they would take. Most of the women ended up in clerical or personal service jobs irrespective of their academic qualifications.
Srigley outlines some of the challenges that Canadian young women had to face during the Great Depression era. One of them was racial discrimination. In her book, she records the encounter of one black woman who despite having achieved one of the best grades in college could not secure a job because of her race. Though eager and desperate for a job to support her family, she remained jobless for many years but endured it all. Another challenge that most young women faced was discrimination based on social class. The book records that young women from poor families were always discriminated especially those who depended on the government relief supplies. One of Srigley’s interviewees pointed out that the sight of the government’s relief supply lorry within their home compound would make her friends to look down upon her even in school. The author gives an example of the mode of dressing that was appropriate for making public appearances by giving the description as well as the photos of one of her interviewee. The young women in the urban centers were insecure to some extent. The author reports the murder of one such woman that made the rest of the women to live in constant fear of a similar happening. In her research, the author found out that employers gave young women the jobs that the men were not willing to take-gender based discrimination.
The book also presents the price that the young women had to pay to maintain their jobs. For instance, most of them had delayed marriages while others had to forego marriage to continue supporting their families. The author also notes that young women had to truncate their education to secure as well as maintain their jobs. The author explains that truncation of their education increased their vulnerability to jobs with low wages that had no privileges. In her research, Srigley found out that during the 1930s careers such as nursing, teaching and clerical works did not allow women to get married. As a result, most young women chose their career over family life although it was a major source of stress to them. The author attributes the reduction of population in Canada during that time to the fact that fewer women chose to get married. For the women who chose other careers, they did not attract much attention if they did not present a significant threat to domesticity. Most of the women that Srigley interviewed admitted that truncation of their education as well as foregoing marriage were the most difficult choices they had ever made.
The idea of employment for young women also opened them to a world that they would not have experienced. The author notes that to most of them, their stay in Toronto opened the doors to a new form of independence that they would have never experienced. For the first time in their life, they were able to make decisions without the influence of their parents or even close relatives. They could go to places that they would not have accessed before such as public recreational centers and clubs. The author found out that most of them obtained a lot of satisfaction and joy from the support that they offered to their families. The author reports that one of her interviewees’ decision to get married leaving her parents to languish in poverty made her to live with much guilt throughout her married life.
The book provides significant information about the lives of a major part of the Canadian population during the Great Depression era. It highlights the plight of women in a male dominated society during one of the hardest times in the history of Canada. The author’s use of interviews in data collection makes her piece of work outstanding. It gave her the privilege of obtaining first hand information from the people who had a personal experience of the hardships that women faced during that period. Based on their experiences, the author brings out the major challenges that they went through such as racial and gender-based discrimination. Her findings are in line with the other research works that have shown that racial discrimination was rampant in the Canadian society during the 1930s. Additionally, young women would not have evaded gender-based discrimination because employment of women was a new phenomenon in the Canadian labor force thus naturally had to face some objection from members of the society. The choice of Toronto as the centre for the research was a good idea since it was one of the most affected places in Canada during that time thus giving a good representation of other similar places. Other cities that portrayed a similar trend during the Great depression era are Hamilton, Tilbury, Ontario and Windsor (Wallace 112). The book gives a general representation of the Canadian young women who were victims of the Great Depression.
The author provides a detailed account of the major changes that occurred during the 1930s in Canada. For instance, one can attribute the rapid growth of urban population to the migration of young women to the cities while searching for jobs. The author also highlights the possible decrease of Canadian population towards the end of the 1930s. We can attribute the decrease to the inability of women to get married due to their jobs thus a low rate of establishing families within the Canadian population. The author put into consideration the possible techniques that can enhance her audience’s understanding of her text. Besides giving her text a systematic approach, she uses photos in her work to enable the reader to have the broader picture of her work. However, she did not exploit all the possible reasons that made most young women to truncate their education. Research has shown that, due to the hard economic times in Canada, most parents could no longer afford to support their children’s education thus terminating their education. In such cases, the need for a job was not the major cause of truncating their education. Moreover, the book does not address the movement of many urban dwellers from the cities to the rural areas in the mid 1930s and the place of young women during that movement.
The book is very significant in understanding Canadian business and labor history. It provides important information on one of the hardest moments in the history of the Canadian economy that caused the loss of the nation’s economic power during the 1930s. The author presents one of the acts that helped in reviving Canadian economy from the impact of the Great Depression in the 1930s-employment of young women. According to Canadian culture, women were supposed to take domestic duties. The author argues that the efforts of young women in earning wages, though new to the society, were instrumental in reviving the nation’s economy.
It also provides important information that enhances ones understanding of the economic relationship of different aspects in a nation. For instance, the acceptability of women in the Canadian labor force and the struggle that came with it. The Canadian young women underwent many challenges before the society accepted and appreciated their contribution to the entire society. They had to truncate their education and face the hostilities in a male dominated society. The book shows that once given the opportunity, women are able to prove to the rest of their society that they are able to contribute significantly to the economy of the nation.
The book presents the major socioeconomic changes that occurred in Toronto during the Great Depression era-in the 1930s. The author’s findings explain the increase in the number of employed women in Toronto as well as the increase in urban population. She points out that though employment of women was important to the economy of the society, it deprived them some privileges such as pursuing their education for better careers as well as family life-marriage. However, it does not elucidate all the economic aspects during the great depression era. It is a rich source of information about the plight of women in the Canadian Society during the great depression era is concerned.
Wallace, Iain. A Geography of Canadian Economy. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.