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Canadian Women in Print, 1750–1918


Publication Year: 2010

Canadian Women in Print, 1750—1918 is the first historical examination of women’s engagement with multiple aspects of print over some two hundred years, from the settlers who wrote diaries and letters to the New Women who argued for ballots and equal rights. Considering women’s published writing as an intervention in the public sphere of national and material print culture, this book uses approaches from book history to address the working and living conditions of women who wrote in many genres and for many reasons.

This study situates English Canadian authors within an extensive framework that includes francophone writers as well as women’s work as compositors, bookbinders, and interveners in public access to print. Literary authorship is shown to be one point on a spectrum that ranges from missionary writing, temperance advocacy, and educational texts to journalism and travel accounts by New Woman adventurers. Familiar figures such as Susanna Moodie, L.M. Montgomery, Nellie McClung, Pauline Johnson, and Sara Jeannette Duncan are contextualized by writers whose names are less well known (such as Madge Macbeth and Agnes Laut) and by many others whose writings and biographies have vanished into the recesses of history.

Readers will learn of the surprising range of writing and publishing performed by early Canadian women under various ideological, biographical, and cultural motivations and circumstances. Some expressed reluctance while others eagerly sought literary careers. Together they did much more to shape Canada’s cultural history than has heretofore been recognized.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Very few books are created by just one person, and this one owes its existence to the assistance of many. Over the years I have gratefully drawn on the research of other scholars, including Gwendolyn Davies’ groundbreaking work on Maritime women writers, Michael A. Peterman’s extensive knowledge of the Strickland family, ...

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pp. xi-xvi

Most books about the literary past focus on selected major authors and the contents of their works, examining their sources, topics, styles, influences, reception, and canonization. Some sections of Canadian Women in Print cover such ground, but in general my primary focus is the context in which writers worked, rather than detailed analysis of their words ...


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1. Women and the Broader Contexts of Print

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pp. 3-24

When we consider the relation between Canadian women and print during the years before 1918, we are most likely to think of writers, particularly those known for their poetry, fiction, travel narratives, or memoirs of pioneer life. Such women dominate subsequent chapters of this book, in which I examine various facets of the social and material construction of authorship. ...

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2. Beginnings to the 1850s

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pp. 25-44

In Canadian history, the year of Confederation—1867—is frequently identified as a significant turning point. However, when we examine the presence of women in Canada’s English-language print culture, it becomes evident that the early 1850s represent a distinct threshold. The reasons are many. Substantial growth in population during the previous three decades contributed to improvements in education, ...


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3. Strategies of Legitimation

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pp. 47-64

How and why did early Canadian women writers get their words into print? Many of their books open with prefaces that now offer us a valuable corpus of texts in which to study their justification and self-representation. My discussion of the prefaces to literary works issued by Canadian women from 1800 to 1918 inevitably focuses on books written in English, which vastly outnumbered those written in French. ...

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4. The Business of a Woman’s Life

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pp. 65-90

While it is impossible to enumerate all the Canadian women who published books before 1918, we can gather useful data from a few inclusive sources. “Canada’s Early Women Writers,” a database that now resides on the website of the Simon Fraser University library,1 contains files on several hundred women who authored an English-language book of fiction or poetry before 1918 ...

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5. Canadian Women and American Markets

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pp. 91-102

In MR. HOGARTH’S WILL (1865), the Scottish-Australian feminist novelist Catherine Helen Spence portrays the frustration of educated women who needed to support themselves. Hoping to find work with a bookseller or publisher in Edinburgh, Jane Melville is shown “eight or ten nice-looking girls ... busily engaged in stitching together pamphlets and sheets to be ready for the bookbinder.” ...


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6. Periodicals and Journalism

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pp. 105-124

In a larger sense, the title of this section, “Breaking New Ground,” applies to this entire book, for the story of women’s expansion into the masculine world of print is also a narrative of their increasing presence in the public sphere, a domain essentially defined and documented by print until the emergence of broadcasting and film after the First World War. In Canada as in Britain and the US, ...

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7. Stretching the Range: Secular Non-fiction

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pp. 125-138

While generalizations about early Canadian writing abound, there are few enumerative studies based on quantitative data, in large part because the bibliographic record remains uncertain. Given the mobility of Canadian writers and their propensity for foreign publication, it has always been difficult to define who counts as a Canadian author and what counts as a Canadian book. ...

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8. From Religion to Reform

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pp. 139-158

After 1875, the yearbooks, reports, newsletters, and periodicals generated by Canada’s expanding religious print culture documented a steady stream of activities led and recorded by women. While women’s growing comfort with public print is frequently associated with feminist advancement, the establishment of women’s organizations with ...

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9. The New Woman

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pp. 159-176

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the rise of the New Woman1 marked the arrival of one of the most complex and transgressive characters to inhabit the Anglo-American cultural arena. Middle-class and assertive, she challenged marriage and conventional domesticity while claiming the right to higher education, the ballot, unescorted travel, sexual freedom, and a professional career. ...

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10. Addressing the Margins of Race

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pp. 177-192

In contrast to their outspoken concern about the welfare of women and children, and their interest in improving the working and living conditions of workers and immigrants, Canada’s late nineteenth-century social reformers did not often deplore discrimination against non-Whites, whether Indigenous, Black, or “Oriental.” ...

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Conclusion: Observations on the Canon

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pp. 193-198

As women writers became increasingly prominent toward the end of the nineteenth century, they received frequent coverage in general and literary magazines: sometimes in inclusive articles about Canadian authors, and sometimes in articles dedicated solely to female writers. Most widely read was Thomas O’Hagan’s “Some Canadian Women Writers,” an inventory that was published three times, ...


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pp. 199-236

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 237-262


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pp. 263-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781554582396
E-ISBN-10: 1554582393
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554582204
Print-ISBN-10: 1554582202

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2010