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Earning Respect

Earning Respect: The Lives of Working Women in Small Town Ontario, 1920-1960

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 334
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  • Book Info
    Earning Respect
    Book Description:

    Earning Respect examines the lives of white and blue-collar women workers in Peterborough during this period and notes the emerging changes in their work lives, as working daughters gradually became working mothers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6485-2
    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-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: Placing the Story of Women’s Work in Context
    (pp. 3-14)

    This study of working women in Peterborough, a small manufacturing city in the heart of old Ontario, examines both the continuities and the changes in the lives of white- and blue-collar women workers from the 1920s to the 1960s. Structured chronologically, but also with reference to women’s life course, the book concentrates on six issues: the social construction of women’s identity as wage workers; their experiences of occupational segregation and work culture; their accommodation and resistance to wage work; their responses to economic, family, and social crises; and, finally, the gradual evolution of the female labour force from ‘working daughter...

  6. 1 Peterborough: The ‘Working Man’s City’
    (pp. 15-24)

    By the mid-twentieth century, two epithets were used to describe Peterborough. On the one hand, its business and civic boosters termed it the ‘Electric City’ in homage to its abundant source of water-power and to one of its major manufacturing enterprises, Canadian General Electric (CGE). Less prevalent, but still revealing, was its characterization as ‘the working man’s city.’¹ During a bitter 1937 textile strike, it was ironically a prominent female CCFer who publicly condemned the absentee owner’s exploitation of male breadwinners and called for the resurrection of Peterborough’s long-standing good reputation as ‘a working man’s city.’²

    Both these representations reveal...

  7. 2 Schooling Girls for Women’s Work
    (pp. 25-49)

    In the 1930s, when she was only thirteen, Lilly went out to work at the Bonnerworth woollen mill. She secured the job through her aunt, who ‘spoke for her’ and was able to keep an eye on her at work. Lilly turned over most of her pay to her mother for board, and she happily discovered that once she began work she had fewer chores at home, a recognition that she was exhausted from her nine-hour workday. Indeed, she remembers simply dozing off at the supper table: ‘I came home so tired I would just be able to eat my...

  8. 3 Packing Muffets for a Living: Working Out the Gendered Division of Labour
    (pp. 50-82)

    Harriet was a teenager when she began her white-collar job in the office at the Westclox factory just before the Second World War. She had moved into a boarding house in Peterborough from her family home in the village of Lakefield, and she began her first day by typing letters. By the lunch hour she was literally in tears. Anxious to prove her worth, she had become too nervous to do her job: ‘I was petrified, just coming out of school. I remember they asked me to type something and I couldn’t get the paper in the typewriter. I was...

  9. 4 Women’s Work Culture, Women’s Identities
    (pp. 83-109)

    In 1948, Marj and Jean, both of whom worked at General Electric (GE), were married on the same weekend in June. On their last day at the factory before the ceremony, their fellow employees stopped work to hold a short celebration. They made speeches and presented the brides-to-be with identical presents – woollen blankets – as they sat on a raised, decorated rolling platform, on which they were then displayed, along with their gifts, to their department. A photographer from the GE paper, theWorks News, came to take a picture, which was published with the arresting headline. ‘Two Porcelain...

  10. 5 Maintaining Respectability, Coping with Crises
    (pp. 110-138)

    ‘There was an idea of toughness about women [factory workers] … If you were a good, Christian living person, they thought you shouldn’t be there … that work was for the rough and ready types, the uneducated … But I didn’t let it bother me.Iwas brought up to be honest, to do an honest day’s work, so I shouldn’t have to worry about what others thought.’¹

    In this reflection, Brenda, a blue-collar employee who began work in the 1940s, set out her view of the social definitions of the respectable and the rough worker. She also quite consciously...

  11. 6 Accommodation at Work
    (pp. 139-165)

    The above observations of two former textile workers indicate how women could articulate, in the same sentence, both a criticism of the conditions of their employment and also some acceptance of the rules of the game, as defined by their employers. They capture the way in which we weave together within one fabric our accommodation and resistance to the conditions of our work. There may be situations that spark a more ‘pure’ response to work; a strike, for instance, crystallizes and sharpens resistance. Yet in the day-to-day functioning of the workplace, both resistance and accommodation are usually present, sometimes intertwined...

  12. 7 Resistance and Unionization
    (pp. 166-220)

    Harriet was an extremely efficient and valued white-collar worker at Westclox, but after seven years on the same job, and knowing that there were ‘no promotions’ for women, she was becoming bored. Her solution, she remembered, was to leave her job just after the war and to travel, taking the risk that she would find similar work when she returned. Kitty, on the other hand, who worked at General Electric at precisely the same time, responded to dissatisfaction with her conditions of work by becoming active in the newly organized United Electrical Workers Union.

    Kitty’s dissatisfaction found an immediate avenue...

  13. 8 Doing Two Jobs: The Wage-Earning Mother in the Postwar Years
    (pp. 221-247)

    Doreen had begun work as a domestic in the early 1930s. She quit when she married and had children, but was forced to look for work after her husband lost his job at the Auburn mill and was blacklisted in 1938. When the war started, she secured a well-paying job in the buffing and lacquer department at Westclox, but she felt she should leave after the war to return to domestic life. Later, after the birth of another child, she found that the family needed her wages again, so she took a waitressing job in a downtown restaurant, with hours...

  14. Conclusion: From Working Daughter to Working Mother
    (pp. 248-256)

    This woman’s recollection indicates the way in which mothers’ understanding and advice about wage work, both intended and unintended, were perceived by their daughters. While a daughter might eschew her mother’s counsel, she was often affected, subtly or profoundly, by her example. This woman’s memory also points to a repeated pattern evinced by these interviews and over this time period: daughters born after the Second World War have been more likely to take lifelong wage work as a norm, thereby reflecting the expansion of the labour force from working daughter to working mother.

    The decision of daughters about when to...

  15. Appendix A: Note on the Oral History Sources
    (pp. 257-258)
  16. Appendix B: Tables
    (pp. 259-262)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 263-308)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 309-329)
  19. Picture Credits
    (pp. 330-330)
  20. Index
    (pp. 331-333)