Montreal and Toronto Women in the Great Depression

Montreal and Toronto Women in the Great Depression
Montreal and Toronto Women       in the Great Depression

Montreal and Toronto Women in the Great Depression

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Montreal and Toronto Women in the Great Depression,

The 1930s were a decade of considerable difficulty for many families in Canada as a result of widespread unemployment, under-employment and low wages. There is a growing literature that examines the particular ways in which women experienced the Great Depression differently than men. You are asked to compare two books that explore the ways women in two major Canadian cities were affected and responded to this decade of hardship. In 1999 Denyse Baillargeon published Making Do, an English translation of her study examining the role housewives in Montreal played in family strategies of economic survival. In 2010 Katrina Srigley published Bread winning Daughters, which examines the paid work and family dynamics of young working women in Toronto during the Great Depression. Each of these books contributes to our understanding of the lives of women in Canada during that difficult decade.

Your assignment is to write a comparative essay based only on these two books that discusses the following:
1. the impact of unemployment on women in urban families
2. women’s coping strategies
3. gender dynamics within these families
4. the kinds of primary sources each author used to research her topic and how you think these sources may have influenced the historian’s interpretation.
5. a comparison of the relative merits of oral histories as a window onto the lives of women
6. a comparison of the perspective each book offers us on women and their work during the Great Depression
7. whether you preferred one book over the other, and if so, why.


Montreal and Toronto Women in the Great Depression

‘Breadwinning daughters’ is a literature done by Katrina Srigley and addresses oral histories of Toronto women in depression during the year 1930. Srigley contacts an oral interview on 80 women who express their sense of loss and regret on the depression period. The women struggle, efforts and strength in Toronto is expressed in this book throughout, an aspect which compares to Montreal women struggle as expressed by Denyse Baillargeon in ‘Making Do’. Even though both Montreal and Toronto women efforts expressed in the books show strength and dedication, each book has different assertions on what end of depression reflected to their live. For instance, Baillargeon affirmed that working Montreal women lost their job when they got married, while Srigley affirmed that women got liberation after child birth, while others lost their focus completely. However, both books come to one conclusion that, gender itself during the depression period was typically less important compared to race, ethnicity, or even the individual living standards.

The impact of unemployment on both Montreal and Toronto women in urban families was almost similar. In Montreal, Baillargeon confirmed that only few women were employed in heavy industry, railways or construction. Most of the women in Montreal were household workers, while others were employed in restaurants and family businesses like shops. For the employed women in factories, their duties were specifically clothing, food and catering duties. Only a few educated women found their way into companies were they worked as secretaries, as others secured teaching as the alternative professional option. Notably, Baillargeon made a conclusion that women were expected to give up their job immediately they got married. In comparison to Srigley work on Toronto women, similar unemployment impacts were evident during the depression period. Similar to Montreal women, depression ended the Toronto women dream of getting good employment in addition to childbearing which terminated their post secondary education. Different from Baillargeon expression of Montreal women, Srigley revealed a more prominent future for the Montreal women, who presumed education after childbearing.

The coping strategies by both Toronto and Montreal women were similar. The writers in both books express women as being compatible and accepting any job available in order to cope with the depression period. For instance, Srigley noted that Toronto women were focused to perform any world job irrespective of the type, an aspect which led to most women leaving their education system to work in efforts to cope to the depression period. Similarly, Baillargeon noted that Montreal women performed any available job, with only a few educated women working as secretaries and teachers. Baillargeon specified that most women were either household workers, employed as waiters in restaurants, or maybe employed at a private business or shop. Additionally, women who worked in factories only performed duties related to clothing and food. In Toronto and Montreal, women performed any available job as coping strategies during the depression period.

The gender dynamics within both literatures considers women as the sole center of labor and family economies. For instance, Srigley argued that young women in Toronto were perceived as the centre for labor and the overall family breadwinning, an aspect which he elaborates as forming women cultural and economic backgrounds in shaping they coping ways to the depression period. Similar concepts are evident in Baillargeon literature where he argued that Montreal women updated the strategies their mothers used when they were growing up in poor families. This concept indicates that the role of women in economic and labor was an adapted strategy for children to learn from parents. Baillargeon added that purchase of cheap foods, sewing and patching cloths as well as postponing expensive essentials were the common economic strategies adapted by the Montreal women, which replicates similar centrality of women in labor and breadwinning during the depression period.

Notably, both Baillargeon and Srigley utilized oral histories in their interviews to come up with a conscience assertion of the women position in labor and economics during the depression period. Srigley performed his interview on Toronto women during his research. He used more than 80 interviews with women who specifically lived and worked in Toronto during the depression period of the 1930s. Baillargeon on the other hand utilized similar ground to come up with his assertion on women labor and economics. However, Baillargeon made a smaller number of interviews by interviewing only 30 Montreal women. He however used similar grounds of ensuring that the women he interviewed lived and worked in Montreal during the depression period of 1930s. These concepts ensured a more perfect research method such that the information collected was more reliable for the general assertion that, women played the labor and economics role during the depression period.

With respect to both authors’ concepts in their research presentation, a common assertion can be attained on women responsibility during the depression period. However, Srigley book which interviewed 80 Toronto women can be more reliable for a general assertion, compared to Baillargeon book which interviewed only 30 Montreal women. This follows the statistical reliability on diverse data collection for a general assertion. Therefore, the percentage error in Srigley data would be low compared to Baillargeon data hence making his assertions more reliable.


Baillargeon, D. (1999). Making Do. Women, Family and Home in Montreal during the Great Depression. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Srigley, K. (2010). Breadwinning Daughters: single working women in a Depression-era city, 1929-1939. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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