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Respectable Citizens

Respectable Citizens: Gender, Family, and Unemployment in Ontario's Great Depression

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 304
  • Book Info
    Respectable Citizens
    Book Description:

    Respectable Citizensis an examination of the material difficulties and survival strategies of families facing poverty and unemployment, and an analysis of how collective action and protest redefined the meanings of welfare and citizenship in the 1930s.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9741-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    Almost everyone has a story to tell about the Great Depression. When conversing with family friends or grandparents of acquaintances or travelling within Canada, the remark that I was writing about families in the Great Depression elicited memories of unemployment and stories about relief, welfare, and thrift. People’s memories, however, are not direct linkages to the past but are framed by experiences and tempered by time and age, and by sadness or pride. Recollections, for example, that times were simpler or easier, communities friendlier, neighbours more cooperative, and individuals more independent, should be understood as the contemporary interpretation of events...

  5. 1 ‘Giving All the Good in Me to Save My Children’: Domestic Labour, Motherhood, and ‘Making Do’ in Ontario Families
    (pp. 23-56)

    The family economy is crucial to understanding the impact of the Great Depression on women and the family. In the 1930s, as in previous decades, women’s contribution to the family economy, in the form of both paid and unpaid labour, was central to the survival of families. Women’s labour helped to pay rent, mortgages, or taxes, stretched limited budgets, created nourishing and filling meals, made over second-hand clothes, and preserved food for leaner times. To support their husbands and children, women worked informally or at odd jobs, took in boarders, or found work in the labour force despite the cultural...

  6. 2 ‘If He Is a Man He Becomes Desperate’: Unemployed Husbands, Fathers, and Workers
    (pp. 57-83)

    It is images of men and of male unemployment that often frame the popular imagination of the ‘dirty thirties’: men standing in relief lines or in soup kitchens, men protesting on the streets, and men ‘riding the rods’ in search of work. But although such images symbolize the general hardship of the era, they hide and subsume gender conflicts, the crucial role of women’s domestic labour, and how the changing definitions of manhood shaped the experiences of men over time.¹ Beyond ‘reclaiming’ a consciously gendered male history, the study of masculinity reveals how ideas about masculinity are deeply embedded in...

  7. 3 The Obligations of Family: Parents, Children’s Labour, and Youth Culture
    (pp. 84-115)

    The Great Depression was characterized by tension and conflict over the economic and moral role of children within families, the relationship between children and parents, and between families and welfare officials. Captured partly by family court records, these conflicts emerged in the lived reality of the lives of working-class and unemployed families. As Neil Sutherland points out, working-class and most middle-class children in the Depression were still expected to contribute to the family economy by earning extra money or by helping with household labour. Even though the expectation of full-time schooling for young children had taken hold by the 1920s,...

  8. 4 ‘A Family’s Self-Respect and Morale’: Negotiating Respectability and Conflict in Home and Family
    (pp. 116-148)

    ‘Home’ was, and is, a physical space and material entity, and a symbolic shelter that was rooted in community and family relationships. In the Great Depression, home was also a physical shelter under attack, as rural and urban families struggled to make rent, mortgage, or property tax payments in order to prevent eviction and foreclosure. One’s home was a physical emblem of respectability, a material structure that reflected one’s status in the community. The home was a physical place where women worked, budgeted, and worried; where families fought and compromised; where husband and wives lived out duties, expectations, and obligations....

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 5 Militant Mothers and Loving Fathers: Gender, Family, and Ethnicity in Protest
    (pp. 149-183)

    On 9 October 1933 Mr Thomas Frith of Pembroke, Ontario, wrote his fourth of six letters to Ontario Premier George Henry. Unemployed and supporting a family, he unsuccessfully petitioned Henry for a job:‘I am getting fed up with everything. It looks strange to me that men that never did anything for the government can be holding down permanent jobs and the likes of me face poverty … I would just like too [sic] know how you would like it yourself if you fought 3½ years for your government … do you think you would be getting a fair deal if...

  11. Conclusion: Survival, Citizenship and State
    (pp. 184-188)

    Despite the revival of popular and academic literature on the Great Depression that began in the 1970s, historical study of this era has remained fragmented and incomplete. The period from 1929 to 1939, though historically connected to post–First World War political developments such as wartime government and bureaucratic state expansion, and to post–Second World War welfare state development, still remains in the consciousness of its survivors as an era of its own, an era marked by deprivation, uncertainty, and struggle. By drawing together a number of fields, including the history of social welfare policy, women’s history, and labour...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-248)
  13. References
    (pp. 249-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-280)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-282)