Srigley’s “Breadwinning Daughters” in Canada’s 1920s


The twentieth century economic crisis was one of the worst catastrophes in the world. Many states and corporations never emerged winners meaning that their positions in the international system were affected in one way or another. Even though the economic disaster was injurious, few Canadians were affected. The author of ‘Breadwinning Daughters’ examines that women played a major role in containing the 1930s financial situation in Canada. The writer observes that women played a big part in reproving the problem by working hard to provide for their families. The Great Depression never destabilized the Canadian society. The writer introduces his arguments by conducting a research where she interviewed several women as regards to their activities during that time. She interrogates women concerning their roles in home and workplaces, as well as other social places such as dancing halls. In this inspiring account, the writer claims that women were fully responsible for their families implying that they provided basic needs including other important services. Family economies depended squarely on women. Furthermore, women sustained the country’s economy since they could engage in small-scale businesses despite the fact that the economy was unfavorable.

The writer wants to send a message that cultural values and societal structure shapes the roles of women in any given community. Women are not free in society since they mostly rely on men for most of services. Women again are not strong economically and politically, a situation that disposes them to subordination. Breadwinning Daughters unearths previously neglected and unstudied incidents and points up how women established various ways to discuss the burdens and pleasures of the 1930s. This paper examines the major tenets of the book and evaluates their significance to the history of Women in Canada.

Synopsis of Katrina’s ideas

The writer introduces the book to readers by showing how women contributed to development in the country. Women were the major stakeholders in the labor market. This means that men were adversely affected by the crisis. The author appreciates that women were effective, contrary to popular belief that women are weak and incapable of doing some jobs. Women were found in all major sectors of the economy including government. Through their hard work, they were able to supply their families with basic needs. In other words, the writer tries to show that the great depression of 1930s affected societal structure because roles reserved for men were taken over by women. The majority of women inter-married with other foreign cultures and adopted their ways of living and languages. Women would later on utilize this aspect to interact with people of all races and cultures.

Katrina argues that women were forced to be hardworking due to some factors. Those who had married other races or foreigners were encouraged to divorce. Missionaries proposed divorce because they believed inter-cultural marriages were not blessed. Native communities could not sustain divorced women due to harsh economic times. Some were thrown out and spent their nights in the cold. This forced women to be aggressive to an extent of establishing strong economic bases. Women were against governmental act, which discriminated them from the community upon marrying a foreigner. On the other hand, men were allowed to marry foreigners. The writer demonstrates that though women were employed, their work was unofficial. This implies that they did causal work or unskilled job. Women had little education because the community favored male child as regards to academics. Before the financial crisis, women were never allowed to own property or to participate in decision making at any level, be it family, communal or governmental levels (Srigley 25).

The major economic activity undertaken by women was agriculture. Women practiced domestic farming while sourcing labor from within the family unit. This means that children, as well as women themselves were the sources of labor. Through this, women produced raw materials for light industries as well as food for their relatives. Some women specialized in crop farming while others did both crop and animal farming. During the Second World War, women were left to push the economy because men participated in war. Women took over jobs such as secretarial, typists and industrial work. It was funny because women were encouraged to work in ammunition companies. For the first time in history, women were treated with the accord they deserve and were viewed as equals in economic development. However, most women still did domestic work (Srigley 38).

During the great depression of 1930s, women never cared about cultural or traditional differences. They took responsibility by becoming front-runners in development. One of the major problems encountered by women pertained to male patriarchy. Men never appreciated women in their efforts to restore tranquility. Men always viewed women as objects who were supposed to serve them. Women had a cultural responsibility to provide men with whatever they wanted. Women had to avail themselves for sex since they had no right to oppose men’s desires and wishes. Such a rigid societal structure never encouraged women to participate in development. However, a number of women soldiered on until they achieved their goals. Lack of proper education, as well as employment derailed women’s liberation efforts. The writer observes that only men could access high paying jobs. Women received inferior treatment in government whereby they could not demand for equality.

The author concludes by noting that religion and cultural beliefs are solely to blame for tribulations faced by women. The society demands that all women should be under men. Unmarried women are treated as outcasts and are not supposed to relate normally with the rest of the society. Men confer statuses to women whereby a woman is supposed to pick a name from a man but not the other way round. A woman’s statuses changes from ‘Ms’ to ‘Mrs.’ upon marriage. This is completely unacceptable in an industrial society since everyone is to be treated equally. It then follows that gender should not be used as a yardstick for measuring individual success because achievement is intrinsic that is, it cannot be influenced by gender. Katrina demonstrates this clearly by showing how women supported the economy as well as families during the great depression of 1930s.

Evaluation of Katrina’s Ideas

It is true that women are very important in any economy, as the writer explains in her works. The writer elucidates that both sexes drive the economy hence without the other nothing important can be achieved. Women came in to fill the positions left by men who were fighting for their country during the War. However, the writer does not recognize that the wishes and interests of women are different. Not all women wanted to be in charge of their families. It is as if the writer claims that women made a declaration to take over management of societal activities. In fact, this was against the wishes of majority. The writer makes us believe that women have general aspirations in life, which is not the case. For instance, the writer claims that women wanted to be included in the country’s financial system. Indeed, they did this by playing important roles during the crisis. Women have diverse aspirations in life. Some demand for equal pay, such as white women (white feminism), others demand for provision of basic needs (black feminism) while others call for governments to recognize feminine courses (academic feminism).

From Marx’s analysis, Katrina is right because rights of women are not recognized in the society. Women can be equated to the proletariat, who manufacture goods they do not consume. Women produced goods that sustained the economy but their culture was not honored. Men are like the bourgeoisie who consume everything produced by the workers. In the labor market, the bourgeoisie pays the worker peanuts while taking a big chunk himself. Women are treated in the same way as proletariat because they produce for the market but not for themselves. It is not surprising that wealth is accumulated in the hands of the few, mostly men who come up with ways of safeguarding such wealth. The bourgeoisie ensures that the proletariat does not obtain anything in form of property.

The owners of the means of production have powers to make laws that govern the behavior of the labor force. Women rely on men to come up with policies aimed at strengthening their morale. This usually does not happen. Men in society perpetually subjugate women. Each day, the gap between the poor and rich increase meaning that women are becoming poorer as men are becoming richer. This trend is expected to go on until all women will realize their rights, unite and decide to fight the condition. From Katrina’s argument, it is evident that cooperation among women and unresponsive governments are to blame for the rising economic gap between men and women. Governments do not have measures that can strive to eradicate male chauvinism in society. Radical feminism argues that no social structure can be maintained through oppression of its majority members. Therefore, women should rise up and demand their rights through all means including violence. This implies that the social structure should be reversed. Other feminist scholars argue that the social structure should not be reversed but instead it should be modified to include the wishes of every one in society. The writer in ‘Breadwinning daughters’ does not recognize this aspect. The scholar assumes that all women are up to equality. She does not identify that conservative feminists acknowledge their inferiority and are against women’s rights.

Feminist Movements

Following up to Katrina’s claims, many organizations have emerged to challenge the current position of women. Such organizations lobby the government and other relevant bodies to enact laws that allow women to participate in societal activities. In many states, women earn the same salaries as men. In fact, women can even earn higher because payment depends on an individual’s effort and hard work. The state acts as a utility that guarantees individual fulfillment hence discrimination based on gender is unacceptable. Laws have been formulated that aim at punishing offenders such as rapists and culprits of domestic violence. Katrina’s ideas are accepted because women were giving too much to the society. They were supposed to provide for the family as well as undertake domestic chores such as cooking, washing and child rearing. This problem is still a major concern for women because they are expected to deliver at work places as well as at home. Women are viewed as property because men claim to own them. The suffering of women can be traced back to the origin of private property. Women could not accumulate much because of childbearing responsibilities, which automatically subordinated them to men.

It is during the Great Depression that women gained momentum in their fight against male patriarchy. The First World War sensitized women by letting them know that they too had rights. It was after the war that women rose to the occasion to demand for representation in the legislative council. Women also wanted fair treatment. The state scrapped most of its regulations meant to suppress women and other weaker races. Women wanted to be allowed to form unions that would represent them in cases of grievances with employers. Some women took advantage and vied for civil seats as well as seeking top positions in government and private sectors. Through economic crisis of 1930s, women’s voices were heard and actions were taken.

In religious heights, women managed to challenge the existing system by advocating for proper interpretation of the bible. The bible urged women to respect men since they were created for them. This is not the truth of the matter but a creation of men. After the crisis, women were allowed to participate in church leadership where they could be ordained as bishops. Language was also adjusted after the great depression because women requested for fairness. Consequently, Ms can refer to both married and unmarried woman in the contemporary society. The writer does not appreciate the efforts made by feminine organizations, which have done a lot to boost the morale of women in society. The organizations did a lot during the economic crisis to eliminate injustices, an aspect that Katrina does not capture in her analysis.


Katrina presents some of the most important ideas pertaining to the role of women during the Great depression of 1930s. She argues that women took centre stage in economic fonts since they were employed in most companies including ammunition industries. Katrina further argues that women faced one major problem, which is associated with gender and race. Women offered themselves for employment in various sectors. They could manufacture agricultural goods for the market as well as for their families. The writer demonstrates that gender should never be used to gauge the performance of an individual in society. She posits that without female work force, Canadian economy could have tumbled.

However, the writer fails to observe some important features that were going on at the time concerning women. For instance, she does not mention any effort of liberation. The writer does not examine in detail the relationship between men and women at work places. This is the place where women are perpetually subjugated and oppressed. Overall, her works on Breadwinning daughters offers inspirational ideas as regards to women development.

Works Cited

Srigley, Katrina. Breadwinning Daughters: Young Working Women in a Depression-Era City, 1929-1939. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2009. Print.

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