“Beware men, because the women of this campus are on their way up…”: International Women's Year (1975) at Mount Allison University
by Lauren Sheffield
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By the 1970s, “Second Wave” feminism was beginning to have an effect on the lives of Canadian women. In 1972 the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) was founded in order to ensure that the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (RCSW) were implemented. Soon after NAC was founded, other important government-related feminist groups came into being, such as the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women and Status of Women Canada, both in 1973. (1) In addition to these groups, the prevalence of Second Wave feminism is evidenced by the fact that John Munro, the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, declared in 1974 that Canada would support the United Nations' declaration of International Women's Year. This designation would be used to honour and celebrate the “promotion of equality for women in all aspects of life”. (2) In order to fulfill this goal, the federal government designed a substantial program for implementation in 1975 which was expected to trickle-down to all of the provinces and many women's organizations. For example, in New Brunswick, a Council on the Status of Women was created after an ad-hoc committee on the status of women presented new legislation to the Premier, Richard Hatfield. (3)
An exploration of primary media from Mount Allison University in this period revealed little explicit mention of International Women's Year (IWY) at Mount Allison University and within the local community. However, other primary documents disclose evidence of discussion locally, nationally and internationally regarding International Women's Year that would have influenced the members of campus as well as the broader Sackville community. These sources that indicate events on campus during 1975 have connections with the national women's movement in that the growing discourse around women's issues as a relevant and current topic. This paper will examine International Women's Year (IWY) events held on the Mount Allison campus, and contextualize them within the local and national settings, arguing that International Women's Year not only helped to profile the women's movement on campus, but also fore grounded key feminist issues of the “Second Wave”.
Research Methods- Primary and Secondary Document Analysis
Drawing from a variety of primary documents in both the local and national contexts, this exploratory essay aims to provide a brief sketch of the events of International Women's Year in Canada and on the Mount Allison University campus. Primarily, it employed archival research methods, analyzing several areas of primary documentation available in the Mount Allison archives. In order to get a general sense of the social and political climate on campus, this project examined various University promotional materials as well as the Report of the President's Committee on the Status of Women along with relevant issues of The Record and The Allisonian. To provide a media context on these events and issues within the University community as well as within the Sackville community, The Argosy and The Sackville Tribune-Post were both utilized. However, in order to situate IWY experiences at Mount Allison within the national context, this project examined both primary and secondary sources relevant to the topic. (4)
The National Context of International Women's Year
In March of 1974, the Canadian government had decided that a national program to celebrate International Women's Year would be implemented across Canada. Among the main goals of such a program, was the creation of “legislative measures to amend certain Acts to provide for equality of status for men and women”. (5) Three key components of this proposed federal plan included the founding of International Women's Year Secretariat, installation of federal government funding and encouragement for all federal departments and agencies to look inwards at their own training and career opportunities for women employees. (6)
Although the International Women's Year Secretariat was a short-term organization that disbanded at the end of 1975, it was responsible throughout IWY for “communicating with all Canadians on the status of women in Canada, broadening the base of support and understanding for quality of Canadian women in all facets of society and to encourage attitudinal change." (7) To this end, the International Women's Year Secretariat, developed a variety of programs including, a national attitudinal survey, an advertising campaign, a variety of programs developed for every province and territory, a film on the history of the women's movement in Canada, a monthly bilingual newsletter and Action ‘75+, a one day conference designed to ensure action beyond International Women's Year. (8) In addition, the Women's Program, administered by the Department of the Secretary of State, had a budget of $2.5 million and was created to encourage the participation of Canadian women's groups in promoting understanding of, and action on, women's issues. (9) This program funded cultural activities including, “Interchange'75”, and various other initiatives to promote greater understanding of women's issues as well as of the situation of different groups of women. (10)
In Nova Scotia, as Janet Guildford points out, the provincial government also took concerted action for International Women's Year. During 1975, a Nova Scotia Task Force on the Status of Women was created to address the provincial implications for the federal recommendations from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. In the same year, the Nova Scotia government appointed eighteen women to be the Nova Scotia IWY Steering Committee. (11) Clearly, feminist discourse surrounding International Women's Year, and the province's positive proactive response to this designation attributed to this success. Following the submission of the Task Force's report in 1976 the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women was created. (12) Hence the development of women's programs and funding initiatives became an important part of the recognition of International Women's Year.
Local Context: Assessing the Social Climate in Sackville, New Brunswick
Throughout 1975, some local media attention profiled women's activities in Sackville and the surrounding area, especially in the local newspaper, the Sackville Tribune Post. However, upon closer analysis, such articles seemed void of the feminist themes of equality related to International Women's Year. Rather, most devoted attention largely to the work of groups such as the Women's Missionaries and Women's Civic Council. (13) Although these local women's groups were no doubt significant for their contributions to the community, local media seemed to celebrate women's traditional gender roles while ignoring women's rights or women's movement activism. The few Tribune articles profiling women did so mostly in relation to the University. Usually, headlines such as “Woman Will Manage Centre ” and “Ladies Enjoy Christmas Party” reflected the somewhat limited scope of feminist discourse and projected a conservative tone within local media around International Women's Year. (14)
However, one exception in local reporting around women's issues may be found in the article entitled “Woman Member of Police Force Pleased with Town." (15) Here, the Tribune carefully notes that the first woman ever employed on the town's squad will be given the same duties as any other male members of the force. Given the fact that she was the only woman on the force she most likely faced discrimination in an all male work place. Afterall, only one year before, the RCMP had hired its first female member in Canada, and the gender integration of Canadian police forces was a new concept. (16) To some extent, media reporting on the hiring of a woman in the Sackville police force can be seen as evidence of the impact of the Canadian women's movement , and especially the liberal feminist influence on the town of Sackville.
In addition to select articles in 1975, the Sackville Tribune Post also provides a wealth of advertisements for analysis of gender and women's issues. Failing any mention of equality of the sexes, the ads appealed largely to traditional homemakers and domestic ideologies around women's role, with lines such as “A Break for the Breadwinner! Big Servings of Savings on Father's Favorite Foods." (17) Another ad campaign run around Mother's Day, 1975 by Johnstone's Foodmaster “celebrates” mothers and honours the work they do for their families:
"…the top award goes to YOU, Mother “for your distinguished service and untiring devotion to your lovely family,” for the wonderful job of anticipating and coordinating your family's needs- for those taste tempting meals you plan 3 times a day." (18)
Clearly aimed at conservative gender ideologies, these ads “celebrat[ed]” women for their maternal and feminine qualities and for their domestic roles in maintaining their homes and serving their families. Furthermore, they suggest that true fulfillment for the women of the Sackville may be found in saving money on the favorite foods of her husband, and other joys that the grocery store may provide her. At a time when the social climate seemed so traditional and conservative, one might be led to assume that International Women's Year had passed Sackville by. However, according to archival and oral history research conducted by another author in this collection, the Mount Allison University campus was one of several hot beds of feminist activism within Sackville during the 1970s. (19)
International Women's Year at Mount Allison University
While there seemed to be little formal recognition of International Women's Year in 1975 in the local Sackville media, primary records reveal quite another story about the Mount Allison campus activities International Women's Year. A few key publications on campus during International Women's Year indicate that both liberal and radical feminism were ‘alive and well' at Mount Allison.
In order to provide a better understanding of distinct feminist ideologies affecting the women's movement as well as feminist advocates on the Mount Allison campus at the time, these terms deserve further elaboration. Liberal feminism has been defined as a feminism that features ideals inspired by concepts of democracy and individual rights and freedoms, arguing that “equality can be achieved through inclusion within existing political/decision-making structures in society." (20) Radical feminism on the other hand derives from the idea that women represent the “other”, as separate from the male norm. This ideology features an analysis of gender relations that sees the “oppression of women by men as the root cause of all oppressions." (21) The major focus of this feminism is issues of the body and reproductive freedom of women. (22)
Feminist activism and influence on campus is apparent when an examination of specific archival documents is undertaken. First, it should be noted that the majority of the changes that were occurring on campus h ad a ‘liberal' feminist angle as reflected in such documents as the Report of the President's Committee on the Status of Women and student responses in The Allisonian yearbook aimed at changing policy and addressing equity in gender relations. Simultaneously, however, there is also evidence of radical feminism on campus. As early as 1970, there was dialogue surrounding issues of women's bodies and reproductive rights as the student newspaper, The Argosy, printed various stories about birth control, abortion and women's status throughout the decade. An examination of campus publications during this time reveals that these distinct feminist discourses of national and international women's movements were influencing Sackville in broad and varied ways.
Celebrating International Women's Year at Mount Allison: Fall Convocation. 1975
The Mount Allison Fall Convocation specifically referenced International Women's Year in its program and was meant to “honour women and thus celebrate International Women's Year as well as the centennial of the granting of the first degree to a woman in the British Empire." (23) The program for the weekend Convocation was to include various seminars such as “Creative Maritime Women, 1975-1975” and “Education of Women, the next 100 Years." (24) Although the transcripts from, or reactions to, these two seminars could not be located in the research for this paper, such records would potentially provide valuable insights with regard to local views on women's issues. In commemoration of International Women's Year at Mount Allison, there was also the inauguration of the “Women's Centennial Scholarship”. This $1000 scholarship was to be funded by gifts from alumni, and would be granted to deserving women in the incoming class. (25)
Institutionalizing International Women's Year at Mount Allison University: The President's Committee on the Status of Women
Galvanized by International Woman's Year, the aforementioned events reflected the growing influence of women's issues within the university. However, second wave feminism was having an impact on campus even before International Women's Year. Beyond the Fall Convocation program and the Women's Centennial Scholarship, Mount Allison undertook an important mission for all women of the university, students, faculty, and staff. This was the President's Committee on the Status of Women established primarily to investigate the experiences of women at Mount Allison and make recommendations on how to make these experiences more egalitarian and positive.
Founded in the fall of 1974 by Dr. Cragg, current President of Mount Allison University, it was not created as a “grievance committee,” but rather to “review the status of women” at Mount Allison, and to make “such recommendations as may seem desirable to ensure so far as possible that all women members of the University are accorded fair treatment, free of discriminations. (26) A university report at this time exploring the broader perspective of the development of a university, also included the findings of the Committee and their recommendations covering all areas of University life, from academics to athletics, residence life and legal responsibilities. The Committee seems, however, to have been forged only temporarily, given that their activities were discussed in the past-tense in the Preamble of their report. Yet t here seems to have been hope on campus that an initiative such as this would continue or be taken up by another group. As student Andrea Batten commented in her article “Womens [sic] Committee Will Report Soon”: “Hopefully some type of on-going concern will remain in existence until the role of women on campus is both clearly defined and equally respected." (27) Perhaps members of the 1974 committee later became involved in the President's Advisory Committee on Women's Issues (PACWI), which was established in 1988 on campus under President Donald Wells.
In 1975, The President's committee on the Status of Women concluded that during the years leading up to the report, there was little to no concern for the experience of women on campus. By contrast, however, there was a significant concern for students rights as demonstrated by boycotts and protests on National Student's Day. Although students' rights activists sought democracy, there was little inclusion of female student interests in their long list of resolutions. One reason that furnished this lack of feminist influence on campus was that Mount Allison seems to have only felt “ripples” of the “revolutions of various kinds” that were sweeping the continent. (28)
Although, clearly, the feminist influence on campus facilitated the very establishment of this committee the conservative environs of Mount Allison was indicated by the Committee's comments on how their work was being received. At the time, the Committee noted that the “Campus reaction to the Committee has varied from suspicion to rather skeptical tolerance." (29) Although the Committee notes that some female members of the community became more aware of their status as women on campus through the work of the Committee, many remained “largely indifferent to the question." (30) A large degree of indifference may also be reflected in the fact that there were not many activities or events that were explicitly in recognition of International Women's Year on Mount Allison's campus.
The Report of the President's Committee on the Status of Women in 1975 took a liberal feminist approach to women's issues within the university. Committee members drafting this report clearly felt that by making recommendations for changes to certain parts of existing University policy, they would be able to improve the situation of women across the entire Mount Allison community, be it staff, faculty or students. Through improving conditions for female students in terms of athletics and residence life, and by removing sexist inequalities for faculty and staff, the committee believed that equality could be achieved on campus. Such liberal feminist approaches focused on changing the existing system, and the institutional barriers of sexist discrimination.
Viewing International Women's Year on Campus Through the Argosy and the Allisonian
Throughout 1975, various articles were published in The Argosy regarding women's issues for International Women's Year. Nearly half of these articles, however, were from Canadian University Press, and not actually written by anyone on campus. In addition, most of these articles were written on general women's issues, with only three of the seventeen having specifically to do with International Women's Year. Of the pieces that do pertain to International Women's Year, one is an advertisement, for the “Why Not!” campaign of that year. (31) One article published in the February 10 edition of The Argosy discusses the fact that federal minister Marc Lalonde made the announcement to move the $500,000 originally earmarked for regional and national conferences into more “flexible programs." (32) According to the article, this came as a relief to members of women's groups who had already recognized the issues and areas of need. With the diversion in funds, it was hoped that this money could be put toward implementation of much needed programs for the identified issues. (33) The Argosy's inclusion of articles on women's issues seems to indicate a degree of engagement on campus with the national and international theme of International Women's Year
Another important source for revealing the activities at Mount Allison during International Women's Year is the University yearbook, The Allisonian. Although there is no extensive focus on women in the 1975 yearbook, there are two full page features devoted to International Women's Year. Noting previous restrictions, they point out that women at Mount Allison had come a long way and contemporary conditions on campus now portray a progressive university. One feature goes as far as to say that, “The influence of the Women's Liberation Movement at Mt. A thru [sic] the years is phenomenal." (34) The author of this article declares:
"A 1975 look at Mt. A. shows it as one of the most liberated colleges in the Maritimes. With all of the women's residences having open rooms to varying degrees and the establishment of two co-ed dorms, Mt. A's 699 female students have a reasonably unrestricted life." (35)
The author's use of the word “reasonably,” seems to reflect a sense that the lives of women at Mount Allison may have continued to be restricted by various gender inequalities.
The final lines of both features on International Women's Year seem to be shaped by a liberal feminist stance perspective, with one encouraging women to “stand up and be counted,” and the other warning men of the changes to come:
The future — well naturally the women are striving towards equal admission standards as well as residence living conditions. Beware men, because the women of this campus are on their way up, and nothing's going to stop them. Up with equality! Up with women." (36)
Clearly these yearbook articles reveal that the women of the campus are struggling with equality issues in seeking admissions and residence conditions for women on par with those of men. Hence their dedication to the women's movement at Mount Allison is also evident in their willingness to continue to fight for “equal admission standards as well as residence living conditions." (37)
When surveying some local media and the material surrounding the International Women 's Year on campus and in the community in 1975, it first seemed as though there was a lack of activism and participation in International Women's Year on campus –especially by stark contrast to other larger locations. However, archival documents such as the President's Committee on the Status of Women as well as student sources revealed a degree of support for the theme and issues of International Women's Year. There is also some indication of the influence of radical feminist ideology on campus discourse also. The willingness of The Argosy to tackle issues concerning women's reproductive rights and women's bodies, as early as 1970, demonstrates that a variety of ‘Second Wave' feminist perspectives shaped the women's movement at Mount Allison during the 1970s. In conclusion, Canadian recognition of International Women's Year and the growing national women's movement furnished important contexts for the development of feminist initiatives on campus in this period.
1. Marie Hammond-Callaghan. “Second Wave Feminism - A Chronology.” “HIST 4951A Course Material.” (Sackville: Mount Allison University, 2007).
2. Marc Lalonde (Minister Responsible for the Status of Women). Status of Women. (Ottawa: Information Canada, 1975): 7.
3. International Women’s Year Secretariat. “Across the Country.” International Women’s Year Secretariat Newsletter Bulletin. Vol. 2, No. 3. (April 1975): 3.
4. For primary sources, I consulted Government of Canada publications on the events and programs surrounding International Women’s Year; and to provide background information on the Canadian women’s movement in this period, my secondary sources included the following: Alison Prentice et al. Canadian Women: A History. 2nd ed. (Scarborough, ON: Thomson Nelson, 1996); Judy Rebick, Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution, (Penguin Canada, 2005); Janet Guildford’s scholarship on the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women in Mothers of the Municipality: Women, Work and Social Policy in Post-1945 Halifax. Eds. Judith Fingard and Janet Guildford (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005) 281-304.
5. Marc Lalonde, 7.
6. Ibid., 7-8.
7. Ibid, 8.
8. Ibid., 8-9.
9. Ibid., 9.
10. These programs included cultural activities to promote women in the arts, as a pilot program for young women designed to communicate the changing role of women in Canada, programs for native women, among others. “Interchange ‘75” was a Forum for Action on Women’s Issues. It was comprised of a series of seminars and designed to encourage policy changes in regards to municipal concerns about women.
11. Janet Guildford. “A Fragile Independence: The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women,” in Mothers of the Municipality: Women, Work and Social Policy in Post-1945 Halifax. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), 283.
13. Sackville Tribune Post. Various articles. (1975).
14. Ibid. “Woman Will Manage Centre”, July 9, 1975; Sackville Tribune Post. “Ladies Enjoy Christmas Party”, December 24, 1975.
15. Ibid. “Woman Member of Police Force Pleased with Town”, June 18, 1975.
17. Sackville Tribune Post. Johnstone’s Foodmaster advertisement. June 11, 1975
18. Ibid., May 7, 1975.
19. Dusty Johnstone. “Not Bound In White Vellum: The Canadian Federation of
University Women – Sackville Branch, 1968-1978,” in ‘We were here’:
Exploratory Essays in Women’s History at Mount Allison University. MtAU,
Sackville: University Bookstore, 2006.
23. “Mount Allison Reunion to Mark 100th Anniversary of Women in University”. Mount Allison Record. January 1975: 32.
24. “Fall Homecoming Tentative Program”. Mount Allison Record. July 1975: inside front cover.
25. “Women’s Centennial Scholarship and Commemorative Medallion”. Mount Allison Record. July 1975: inside back cover.
26. "Status of Women at Mount Allison University. (Sackville: Mount Allison University, 1975), preamble.
27. Batten, Andrea. “Womens [sic] Committee Will Report Soon.” The Argosy. April 1, 1975, p. 8.
28. President’s Committee on the Status of Women, 7.
29. President’s Committee on the Status of Women, preamble.
31. The “Why Not” campaign was a liberal feminist initiative of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. They chose this slogan to imply the question, “Why not a woman?” in terms of women being in certain positions of employment or social roles. One source noted dissent among feminists over this campaign, especially the radical feminists in Halifax who viewed the campaign as too passive and weak. The women of Reel Life- the Women’s Media Collective especially opposed this, mounting a minor protest at a reception launching the IWY in Halifax. This demonstrates the various tensions erupting within the women’s movement, and in Nova Scotia specifically. Email Communication between Dr. Hammond Callaghan and Pat Kipping, 2007.
32. “Women’s Year Conferences Cancelled.” The Argosy. February 10, 1975.
33. “Women’s Year Loses in Canada.” The Argosy. February 17, 1975.
35. The Allisonian. (Sackville: Mount Allison University, 1975), 116.
36. Ibid., 96, 116.
37. Ibid., 116
Adamson, Nancy, Linda Briskin, and Margaret McPhail. Feminist Organizing for Change: The Contemporary Women's Movement in Canada. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988).
Backhouse, Constance and David Flaherty (eds) Challenging Times: The Women's Movement in Canada and the United States, McGill-Queens University Press, 1993.
Batten, Andrea. “Womens [sic] Committee Will Report Soon.” The Argosy. April 1, 1975, p. 8.
Canadian University Press. “Women's Year Conferences Cancelled.” The Argosy. February 10, 1975.
Canadian University Press. “Women's Year Loses in Canada.” The Argosy. February 17, 1975.
FitzGerald, Maureen. et al. Still Ain't Satisfied: Canadian Feminism Today, Toronto: Women's Press, 1982.
Guildford, Janet. “A Fragile Independence: The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.” Mothers of the Municipality: Women, Work and Social Policy in Post-1945 Halifax. Eds. Judith Fingard and Janet Guildford, 281-304, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Hammond-Callaghan, Marie. “Second Wave Feminism - A Chronology.” “HIST 4951A Course Material.” Sackville: Mount Allison University, 2007.
International Women's Year Secretariat. “Across the Country.” International Women's Year Secretariat Newsletter Bulletin. Vol. 2, No. 3. (1975): 1-4.
Johnstone's Foodmaster. Advertisement. Sackville Tribune Post. June 11, 1975, p. 4.
Johnstone's Foodmaster. Advertisement. Sackville Tribune Post. May 7, 1975, p. 10.
“Ladies Enjoy Christmas Party.” Sackville Tribune Post. December 24, 1975, p. 3.
Lalonde, Marc. (Minister Responsible for the Status of Women). Status of Women.
Ottawa: Information Canada, 1975.
Mount Allison University. The Allisonian. Sackville: Mount Allison University, 1975.
Mount Allison University. “Fall Homecoming Tentative Program.” Mount Allison Record. July 1975: inside front cover.
Mount Allison University. “Mount Allison Reunion to Mark 100th Anniversary of Women in University.” Mount Allison Record. January 1975: 32.
Mount Allison University. Status of Women at Mount Allison University. Sackville: Mount Allison University, 1975.
Mount Allison University. “Women's Centennial Scholarship and Commemorative Medallion.” Mount Allison Record. July 1975: inside back cover.
Pierson, Ruth Roach and Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Canadian Women's Issues: Volume II: Bold Visions: Twenty-Five Years of Women's Activism in English Canada, Lorimer, 1995.
Prentice, Allison. et al. Canadian Women: A History. 2nd ed. Scarborough, ON: Thomson Nelson, 1996.
Rebick, Judy. Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution, Penguin Canada, 2005
“Woman Member of Police Force Pleased with Town.” Sackville Tribune Post. June 18, 1975, p. 1.
“Woman Will Manage Centre.” Sackville Tribune Post. July 9, 1975, 12.