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Breadwinning Daughters

Breadwinning Daughters: Young Working Women in a Depression-Era City, 1929-1939

  • Book Info
    Breadwinning Daughters
    Book Description:

    Katrina Srigley argues that young women were central to the labour market and family economies of Depression-era Toronto.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8525-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    It was 1932, one of the worst years of the Great Depression, when fifteen-year-old Norma Vineham pushed open the front door of her Toronto home, stepped onto the porch, and paused. It was a beautiful spring morning, yet the normally buoyant young woman was weighted down with anxiety and regret. For the first time since she started school, she would not walk to her nearby high school but take a streetcar across the city to her new job at Dominion Silk Mills, a textile factory in downtown Toronto. The preceding year had been exceedingly difficult for Norma and her family:...

  5. Chapter 1 Young Working Women in a Depression-Era World
    (pp. 17-36)

    As the streetcar rumbled across the city to Dominion Silk Mills, Norma Vineham bravely faced her first day of work. When her father’s small business faltered in the early thirties he put ‘every bit of insurance money’ that the family had into it, but this strategy proved futile in the face of the Great Depression. By 1932, savings were depleted, including money set aside for schooling. As the labour market offered few options for Vineham’s father, she and her sisters became the sole wage earners in the household. Someone had to put food on the table, and the family’s best...

  6. Chapter 2 Breadwinning Girls and Substitute Mothers: Negotiating Family Responsibilities
    (pp. 37-56)

    When Norma Vineham and her sisters headed out to work each morning, they left behind their unemployed father, an ailing mother, and three brothers who were still in school. The sisters became the primary breadwinners while their father took over daily domestic tasks, upsetting the traditional arrangement of their household. ‘When Grace and I and Isabelle started to work,’ recalled Vineham, ‘Dad would have the dinner ready … It was much the same most of the time, soup and stew, plain food, but again as I say we didn’t go hungry.’¹ The Vinehams’ situation was not at all unusual in...

  7. Chapter 3 Young Women’s Job Options in an Urban Labour Market in the 1930s
    (pp. 57-82)

    On workday mornings in the 1930s, young wage-earning women from across Toronto left their homes and headed to work as domestics, teachers, clerical staff, and garment workers. Some of these women found their employment fun and exciting, remaining in their jobs for years; others found such responsibilities burdensome. Over the course of their wage-earning lives, many of them moved between jobs, leaving for promotion, in protest, for marriage, or for better work conditions. Norma Vineham began working in the factory at Dominion Silk Mills but was soon able to find a job in the company office as a file clerk....

  8. Chapter 4 Where Is a Woman Safe? City Spaces, Workplaces, and Households
    (pp. 83-98)

    When Marion Forsythe moved to the city to take an office job she knew that she needed to be careful about where and with whom she spent her time. The run-down areas of the city, any corners darkened by poverty or immigrants or nightfall, were to be avoided. It would also not be good to ‘run around’ with a crowd that was believed to indulge in the ‘evil’ delights of the city: alcohol, drugs, or prostitution. These proscriptions for danger were mobilized as cautionary tales for young Canadian women like Forsythe who, unlike the immoral young women cast as spectres...

  9. Chapter 5 The Rough ’n’ Ready Spinsters’ Club: Working Women’s Leisure and Respectability
    (pp. 99-126)

    Though public space was a source of danger for young working women, and the Great Depression placed serious limitations on their free time and available money, they also found the time and space to have fun, consort with boys, and still be respectable and safe in urban centres during the 1930s. Norma Vineham had fond memories of her free time, much of which she spent with her older sister and closest friends. The girls called themselves the ‘Rough ’n’ Ready Spinsters’ Club.’ Their adventures together began at Sunday school under the tutelage of the ‘precise and proper spinster lady, Miss...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 127-132)

    With the onset of the Second World War, Canada’s economy roared into action and prosperity returned to many of Toronto’s families. Men, previously unemployed, suddenly had an abundant number of choices for work and obligations to serve in the war effort. This shift did not push young women out of the workforce; instead it expanded their job opportunities in unprecedented ways, especially in non-feminized industrial sectors. The war also ended Claire Clarke’s ‘ten dark years.’ By 1939, Clarke was fed up with persistent rejection and underemployment. She ‘went right to the top. I can’t believe I did that,’ said Clarke...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 133-170)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-206)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-208)