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Dreams of Equality

Dreams of Equality: Women on the Canadian Left, 1920-1950

Joan Sangster
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 272
  • Book Info
    Dreams of Equality
    Book Description:

    InDreams of Equality, Joan Sangster chronicles in fascinating detail the first tentative stages of a politically aware women's movement in Canada, from the time of women's suffrage to the 1950's when the CPC went into decline and the CCF began to experience the changes that would evolve into the New Democratic Party a decade later.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2349-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 2-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-5)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. 6-6)
  4. Preface
    (pp. 7-12)
  5. 1 Theory and Practice: Early Canadian Socialists Explore the Woman Question
    (pp. 13-25)

    Women who embraced the Communist Party’s revolutionary message, or who resolved to reform society through the CCF, were part of an ongoing Canadian socialist tradition that had concerned itself with the woman question as early as the turn of the century. Communists’ and CCFCRS’ understanding of women’s oppression was shaped both by these established, indigenous traditions and also by new intellectual and international currents of the I920’s and i930’s. The Communist Party followed in the path of the earlier Marxist Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) and the Social Democratic Party of Canada (SDPC), with its emphasis on class inequality, class...

  6. 2 The Communist Party Confronts the Woman Question
    (pp. 26-54)

    The initial platform proclaimed by the nascent Communist Party of Canada in 1922 made no specific mention of gender inequality or woman’s role in the revolutionary movement. Within two years, however, the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) had altered this oversight by setting up a Women’s Department and spearheading the formation of a national organization for working-class women, the Women’s Labor League (WLL). The Communist Party’s approach to the woman question was conditioned primarily by its response to the advice of the Communist International, or Comintern, and secondly, by the Party’s own analysis of the needs of working-class women. In...

  7. 3 Red Revolutionaries and Pink Tea Pacifists: Communist and Socialist Women in the Early 1930’s
    (pp. 55-90)

    With the onset of the Great Depression, the Communist Party’s ties to Russia disrupted, then altered, its work among women. After 1928, the Comintern predicted (quite correctly, as it turned out) economic doom for Western capitalism and new opportunities for Communist organizers. In the face of this economic crisis, Canadian Communists were advised to adopt a more militant, revolutionary line. For the Women’s Department, this meant new emphasis on the organization of women wage-earners and unity with working-class men in the intensifying class struggle. The Party restructured and limited the Women’s Labor Leagues, criticizing them for their reformist auxiliary work...

  8. 4 Militant Mothering: Women in the Early CCF
    (pp. 91-123)

    At the founding convention of the CCF in Regina in 1933, the women delegates were far outnumbered by the men in the conference hall.¹ Despite their small numbers, they were a determined and dedicated group, many of whom, like the men, had to improvise and economize to reach Regina that summer. Dorothy Steeves and Mildred Osterhout Fahrni, from Vancouver, shared a bumpy car ride to Regina with frequent tire blowouts. They had feared that the car would not make it through the mountains. Lorna Cotton-Thomas, an unemployed graduate of the University of Toronto, made illegal use of a friend’s CPR...

  9. 5 More Militant Mothering: Communist Women During the Popular Front
    (pp. 124-164)

    By the summer of 1935, Canadian Communists had charted a new course of action: the pink tea pacifists they had earlier opposed now became sought-after allies in the fight against fascism. Less isolated by sectarian Third Period rhetoric, Communists helped to shape a rising tide of protest against social and economic inequality. Though unemployment remained high and employers’ anti-union hostility had not abated, significant changes had occurred: the worst of the depression was over and working-class confidence, reflected in increasing union membership, was on the rise. This period of the Popular or Peoples’ Front marked a high point for Communist...

  10. 6 From Working for War to Prices and Peace: Communist Women During the 1940’s
    (pp. 165-192)

    The Communist Party entered the 1940’s as an illegal organization, but within two years it was openly tolerated by the government that had declared it illegal. By the end of the decade, it was technically legal again but still subject to anti-Communist harassment by the state. The tumultuous oscillations in the Canadian Party’s existence were the product of its loyalty to the U.S.S.R., the policies of the Canadian state, and the responses of the CPC to social and economic conditions in Canada.

    The woman question was carried along in these twists and turns in Party fortunes: from 1940 to 1941...

  11. 7 The CCF Confronts the Woman Question
    (pp. 193-223)

    During World War Two, CCF women, inspired by the image – and the reality – of Rosie the Riveter, urged their party to develop a truly comprehensive policy on women’s rights. The ensuing discussion about the woman question, though never a party priority, did stimulate the construction of new women’s committees and encouraged a debate about the two perceived reconstruction options for women: paid employment or work in the home. After the war, women’s committees increasingly stressed the latter option and, in the tradition of militant mothering, concentrated on such issues as health care, education, and, especially, rising prices. Their high hopes...

  12. 8 Conclusion: Women and the Party Question
    (pp. 224-238)

    In 1962 the NDP hired a national women’s director to design new programs to draw women into the party; making her first report, the director noted that she had begun her tenure “without records, files, precedent or pattern.”¹ Her statement revealed the doldrums that CCF women’s groups had fallen into in the late 1950’s, but it was also a sad indication of the party’s amnesia about three decades of a rich and diverse history of women’s organizations within the CCF. Just over a decade later, Canadian feminists resurrected the practice of holding large International Women’s Day celebrations and pointed to...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 239-262)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-267)
  15. Index
    (pp. 268-273)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)