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Rose Henderson: A Woman for the People (review)
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In Rose Henderson : A Woman For the People, Peter Campbell examines the life, politics, and activism of Rose Henderson (1871–1937). Henderson was a prominent advocate for the rights of women, children, and workers, and a woman of whom Campbell himself admits, “the vast majority of Canadians have never heard.” (3) Indeed, Campbell’s desire to reclaim Henderson’s life and legacy from the proverbial dustbin of history fundamentally shapes his study. As he states in the introduction, “The task at hand is to demonstrate that there was something compelling about Henderson, to convincingly argue that she is worth remembering after all this time.” (3) To achieve his goal, Campbell sets out to recount Henderson’s life in a way that allows her “to speak to us in our own day and age, to bring meaning to our lives across the intervening decades since her death.” (3) In the process, Campbell not only details Henderson’s life of public activism but also sheds light on many facets of Canadian history, including feminism, the left, labour and the working class, francophone and anglophone Montreal, and Depression-era Toronto. By examining the particulars of Henderson’s life in relation to such broad historical moments and movements, Rose Henderson highlights the connections, tensions, and contradictions of everyday activist life, and thus makes an important contribution to the historiography on feminism, labour, and the left in Canada.

Campbell divides his study of Henderson into nine chapters, bookended by an introduction and conclusion. He begins by situating his work in relation to previous histories of feminism and socialism in Canada, arguing that Henderson’s life does not fit easily into the existing historiography, divided as the latter often is into movement-specific studies. In contrast, Campbell argues that Henderson can only be fully understood by linking what he considers to be the disconnected historiographies of Canadian feminism and labour and the left. Specifically, drawing on Barbara Taylor’s argument that until 1845 utopian thinkers in England viewed feminism and socialism as fundamentally connected, Campbell’s thesis is that Henderson’s “life of social activism was a powerful evocation of the ‘ideological tie’ between the liberation of women and the liberation of the working class.” (5)

The book examines this central theme in relation to Henderson’s public activism in Quebec and Ontario. Chapters 1 through 4 discuss Henderson’s early life and activities in Montreal in the first two decades of the 20th century. Campbell explains how Henderson quickly became known as a prominent activist for the rights of women, children, and workers, through her work as a volunteer with the Children’s Aid Society and as a paid probation officer with the Juvenile Court. Campbell maintains that it is difficult to categorize Henderson’s politics in this period as exclusively feminist or socialist, as she consistently linked women’s and children’s issues to a broader critique of capitalism. Chapters 5 and 6 examine Henderson’s life in the interwar period, including her activities outside Canada and her participation in the peace movement. Campbell argues that during this period, Henderson’s activism was shaped by the notion that “war was capitalism’s evil off-spring and the inevitable outcome of a male-dominated world. Peace would come when the immorality of militarism was replaced by the morality of international motherhood.” (128) Chapters 7 through 9 look at Henderson’s life in Depression-era Toronto and her involvement in leftist politics and the municipal school system.

Henderson moved to Toronto in the late 1920s and soon became known as “a lecturer on women, children, drama, and the peace movement, and … as a Quaker.” (152) However, Campbell explains that by the mid-1930s, “Henderson’s life of public activism increasingly centred on the Toronto public school system and the lives of disadvantaged children in it,” work that put her into contact with a variety of prominent leftist organizations, most notably the Community Party and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. (187) Though her life as a middle-class educational reformer seems a far cry from her early days as a passionate lecturer on the evils of capitalism, Campbell contends that Henderson nevertheless “left an...

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