Rose Fine-Meyer Transcript

I want to thank the CHA and the Canadian History Society for inviting me to be part of this panel today and I'm very honored to be here to be part of the illustrious group of scholars that have been speaking today. And I also want to add that I want to congratulate all the award winners.

So we're waiting, yes, good, excellent, and it looks like an easy one to push so hopefully this will go smoothly.

I'd like to talk to you today about my work in history/social studies education explores the relationships between curricula, teacher pedagogical practice, and place-based learning. As a curriculum developer and a scholar of curriculum, my scholarship is deeply informed by my practice, in particular the work that I've done to ground history education and community based knowledges and understandings.

My investigations, and we've talked about this a bit today, tend to be rooted in oral histories, exploring the ways in which educators, community members, reformers, and activists, and others have an impact on what takes place in classrooms, in schools, and many of course are women.

And I was invited this year to be a guest editor of the journal, Ontario History, on just that theme about women in education in Ontario, and it resulted in a collection of articles based on oral history sources that reveal the ways meaningful change came into educational institutions as a result of the work of women.

The articles explore, for example, the work of three Six Nations women teachers, Emily General, Julia Jamieson, and Susan Hardie who lived and worked to the Six Nations Grand River. Or Ruth Home, for instance, a leader in museum education at the ROM. Or Matila Martin, an Anishinabe teacher-learner at the Day School, Ojibway First Nation Reserve.

These women all developed a variety of creative initiatives. They did broad community outreach and their positive, or progressive ideas altered education in the province, something that could be used certainly in classrooms. In fact the stories of women's lived experiences in Canada, I'm arguing can be found right in the communities in which they were actively engaged and in which they lived.

In this image here we look at Elizabeth Simcoe, whose wonderful sketches and diaries provide us with a wealth of knowledge about early Canada in the 1790s and the community in which her and her family lived.

Or this one of the Haida women, the Haida women whose community stories are told through their weaving.

So women have historically taken a leadership role in a wide range of organizations, developing diverse networks, helping support families and communities, they have lobbied governments and institutions to press for reforms. And you know that this was certainly true in terms of women's activism in obtaining the vote and pressing for the right to hold seats in the Senate, that was we talked about today, or in demanding equal rights or access to education, ownership of property, opening women's shelters, community centres, or a wide range of community needs. Women's networking in fact has been key to making societal change.

Dr. Emily Stowe's Toronto's Women Literary Club, which became the Toronto's Women's Suffrage Association in 1883, for example, focused on obtaining the franchise but also on improved education opportunities for women. And in my work to explore women's history in history curricula I found that the inclusion of women in schools can be directly linked to the work of women.

Women's history resources in classrooms beginning in the 1970s, some of the stories emerged here, were the direct product of networking between women's history scholars, women's organizations, feminist publishers, and individual women.

Feminists of social history scholarship throughout the 70s and 80s, key scholars that we all know like Alison Prentice, Veronica Strong-Boag, Joan Sangster, and on the stage Ruby Heap, and Jean Barman, to only name a few who gave voice to particular women's lived experience and then exposed women's absence in history courses and schools.

Teachers interested including women in their history courses actively networked outside their schools, seeking out these supplementary resources, and how they did it, many of them did it by joining women's organizations such as the Federation of Women's Teachers (FWTAO) or the Ontario Women's History Network who organized conferences to promote teaching and research in Canadian women's history.

And if you're interested in knowing their history, I explore it in a chapter that I wrote in a book "Feminist History in Canada" by UBC Press. OWHN continues today as an organization, several of us here are members of OWHN, and they still hold annual conferences that bring together scholars and educators.

These are posters that they help support, that go to schools across the country. My doctoral research looked at how social movement widespread activism during the 1970s spilled into a range of educational circles and influenced history teachers in altering their curricula to include women.

Here is a picture of Vancouver's publication "The Pedestal" that was published by women, about women and it went across the country, it wasn't just local to BC. Women's organizations in fact developed and broadened networks and created and published resources and lobbied governments. But what Wendy Robbins notes, is while the women's liberation was in movement was international, its organizational forms were typically small and local.

I drew on a wide range of resources, many of them are in the WERC Collection, W-E-R-C, at OISE,  there's hundreds of them, to look at the multi-layer relationship between parents, governments, and teachers. The fundamental work to include women in history curriculum then relied on these grassroots networks, women that are writing about these things and publishing them.

And this is a wonderful publication if you can get ahold of it. As you can see it was called "She Named it Canada." And written in 1971, it can be used in classrooms today, it's just so brilliant, it talks about the history of Canada through the lens of women.

And we had this in the broad public sphere too. Contributions by parents, activism, publishers, reformers, there's this grassroots activism to get women's narratives, so the community bottom-up initiatives, that by the way can be a powerful force in making curriculum change.

Unfortunately, there still remains in place today a lack of women's lived experiences and narratives within history courses in schools. As a professor at the University of Toronto, I'm in the schools seeing what's happening on a regular basis, and I'm shocked at how women's narratives are seem to be still missing.

And I suggest that history teachers apply pedagogical practices that reach out then to local communities, where women's voices are strong and bring forth those diverse perspectives to their historical examinations. Lots of them here, I had trouble choosing which ones.

I think a focus on the diversity of women's perspectives is crucial. So teachers I'm suggesting can do this two ways.

First, taking a non-traditional perspective, one not explored in the resources they have in their classroom. Explore missing woman's narratives, a voice that's not present, an untold story. And we've looked at some of them today, certainly about women's suffrage that didn't extend to First Nations women until 1960s.

Second, teachers can bring in local narratives as a lens to these national stories. And bringing in local women's stories allow for broader narratives to examine the leadership that women have had in their communities. For example, Anne Maria Jackson's brave escape through the "underground railroad" and the life that she built after that in the City of Toronto. Or Rosemary Brown, the first black woman in Canadian history to be a member of the Canadian Parliament, she dedicated a significant community work to promote equity.

Teachers can give voices to those omitted from the dominant narratives, as we've discussed today, the voices of Indigenous women or immigrant women and certainly the many women who have challenged the status quo. And I'm arguing that by including historical narratives that honour diverse women, teachers then are also honouring the diversity of the students in their classroom.

So I can't not do this talk without talking about my latest research that explores the ways the texts present the First World War, and, of course, those of us in Ontario know that the grade 10 mandatory history course begins with a study of the First World War. We know that they briefly acknowledge the work of Canadian women as nurses.

At one time, of course, women were the sidebars where there was just a little picture or a few comments on them, so now they take up, say a whole page; however, which is progress. (Audience laughter.) However, I argue that they remain outside the dominant story.

Most history texts recognize, for instance, women's factory munitions work, but they provide a limited discussion about what those working conditions really were. Over 40,000 women working in factories, what was that like? Homefront chapters in books contain references to women as "cogs" in the Great War. One book calling them "citizen soldiers" a quote briefly filling the gaps due to the absence of men.

Texts frame the experiences of women within supportive roles, fulfilling the duties of good citizenship, they're good mothers, and they benefited from war participation. Texts acknowledge the farm women. "They did work long hours, but they were needed to fill and replace the workers who were fighting overseas." But that doesn't allow for their own lived experiences, but you can turn to many scholars to find them. For instance, Margaret Kechnie who writes about the "farmettes." That they were making less than four dollars a week and that they had to pay for room and board, so basically they're not making anything and they're working long hours, their conditions were extremely difficult.

So that provides an opportunity for teachers to explore those particular narratives, beginning with the examples provided by women's history scholars, where they can go online to document these narratives, examining local archives to find the experiences of women in their community.

For instance, every community had girls that were involved with programs in the schools; the Girl's Cadets, the Junior Red Cross Clubs, community fundraising, victory gardening, which ways in which girls and women played a leadership role. And counter narratives are always missing from text, but it's also a place where we find women's voices.

Peace activists, Indigenous women, religious groups, farmers all argued against the First World War. Agnes Macphail, social advocate and politician, she strongly pressed the government for peace. A scholar, Lorna McLean for instance, has written about Julia Grace Wales, who served as a delegate at the International Congress of Women peace conference in the Hague in 1915, so she crossed the ocean at a very, you know, dangerous time, where her plan to stop the war was adapted as a resolution.

Or, after the war, the members of the International Women's League of Peace and Freedom undertook a survey of history textbooks in Canada. They wanted to assess support for militarism. They were hoping that we might remove the glorification of war. So these stories provide alternatives to the narratives that I would say of military heroism and they provide another lens into women's lived experiences.

Finally textbooks that include more than a single experience, sentence about women make the error of uniting women's experiences into a single voice. Always when we include women, well they all thought the same way. It's an assumption of women experiences that are the same is wrong.

In Canada some women were sent to internment camps for having affiliations with the enemy. Labeled as "alien enemies" they were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in government work camps. There were almost 9,000 prisoners and many women and children were included, and as I've noted earlier, women worked long hours on the farms and in factories taking care of extended families.

And, of course, the narratives that you know as nurses in field hospitals, and others maintained humanitarian work with organizations such as the Red Cross. So these women would have had a widely different experience.

Their placement as a unified voice supports the state narratives that we like to put in schools about a united country, but it also limits the individual and diverse voices of women.

So, conclusion. Bold steps are needed to reframe the categories and dominant narratives employed in our history studies, including the study of war, to explore more deeply the diversity in voices.

Teachers today can access hundreds of websites where there are wonderful primary and secondary sources that incorporate the narratives of women, including this one Her Stories Cafe, which I created as a grassroots women's history talk series that I initiated and we've created some online curriculum resources.

But I'm thinking perhaps students might develop their own Canadian women's history series that provides a forum for women from their community and explore those issues of equity, gender, race, and class, and specific to place, and fluid, and across subjects.

And just like the Canadian women in our collective past, educators today must recognize that incorporating the experiences of women in history classes, rests on their work. They need to seek out individuals in their communities. Scholars and educators have for decades been developing history resources and materials that focus and provide the narratives of Canadian women and they're available if you look for them.

And as well educators can bring more women's narratives into the classroom by developing partnerships. Develop partnerships with different communities, bringing in an elder, getting students to think about the inherent gender bias in their history sources, engaging students in research in local archives and historic houses and museums, engaging in oral histories by documenting the history of local women or perhaps creating a documentary about local women leaders or perhaps engaged in a walking tour that incorporates the diverse stories and multiple perspectives of women in their own communities.

So we know the fifty percent of the population is women. Let's seek out ways to give a voice to their lived experiences through fifty percent of the Canadian history curriculum.

Thank you.

(Audience applause)