Category Archives: feminism

But What About Jane?

My grade two class at Sir John Franklin School with our teacher Miss Ushey on the far right. I am standing in the back row on the far left, next to our principal Hannah Fisher.

When I was in grade two I attended Sir John Franklin School in Winnipeg. It was torn down in 1991 but I have distinct memories of my time there, my friends at the school, and my teacher Miss Ushey.

Standing outside Sir John Franklin School with my younger sister Kaaren

Since I have used Sir John Franklin School as a setting in my upcoming novel Sixties Girl, I started researching the explorer Sir John Franklin for whom the school was named when it opened its doors in 1921.

Sir John Franklin- Wikipedia image

I wondered why you would name a school after a man who essentially failed at the most important mission he was asked to carry out – to find the Northwest Passage. He never did. All the men on his expedition died and the two ships he commanded for the trip both sank.

So why did he attain a heroic place in history that led educational authorities in Winnipeg to name a school after him? Good question.

Lady Jane Griffin Franklin

Well, it turns out that the reputation and legacy of Sir John Franklin were protected and fiercely defended by his wife Jane, who some of her biographers insist, singlehandedly turned her husband from a failure into one of England’s noblest heroes.

Painting of the doomed Franklin expedition by William Thomas Smith

Jane was a world traveller herself and used her money and influence and writing skills to make her husband and his doomed mission legendary…. even though John Franklin was anything but a dashing hero. According to one biographer Sir John was old and unfit and a bit of a thorn in the side of naval authorities when he set sail in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage and subsequently perished.

Jane financed five different missions to find her lost husband and these voyages made such a major contribution to the mapping of the Arctic that Jane was awarded a special medal by the Royal Geographical Society.

John Rae speaking with the Inuit in the Boothia Peninsula -artwork from the Hudsons Bay Company History Foundation

In 1854 explorer Dr John Rae, who was on one of the missions to look for the lost Franklin expedition found evidence the crew members had resorted to cannabilism before they died. He learned a great deal about the expedition from his contacts with local Inuit people.

Lady Jane Franklin worked tirelessly to shift the narrative so that this story was discredited. She enlisted the help of author Charles Dickens to have Dr Rae’s reputation sullied and have him ostracized from society.

Dr. Simon May examines the bones of Franklin expedition sailors which prove the crew resorted to cannabalismphoto from the CBC

Later evidence proved Rae was right about the Franklin crew’s cannibalism and also proved that Franklin and his crew had died because they were too arrogant to ask for help or communicate with the Inuit people who might have helped save their lives once their ships were stranded.

Jane would however brook no criticism of her husband. She was a lively and interesting writer who lionized Sir John in her work, naming him the discoverer of the Northwest Passage even though many explorers had found it before and it wouldn’t be till 1906 that Roald Amundsen would actually sail the entire passage.

Sir John Franklin memorial in Westminster Abbey by artist Matthew Noble- photo by Laurence Cook

Jane paid for a memorial for her husband in Westminster Abbey and a statue of him in Waterloo Place in London and it was due to her influence and lobbying that the Queen knighted her husband shortly after she married him.

Lady Franklin Rock in the Fraser River- photo by Barry Sale

While Sir John Franklin has been lauded in song and story in Canada and his name is affixed to all kinds of buildings and geographical locations, interestingly a small island in British Columbia’s Fraser River is named after Jane Franklin and commemorates her stay in the nearby community of Yale in 1861 when at age 68 she was on one of her many life-long travel adventures.

Jane actually logged many more travel miles in her lifetime than her husband ever did and wrote about them in 200 interesting travel journals and 2000 letters to friends and family.

Greta Scacchi plays Jane Franklin in a television series about the Franklin expedition called The Terror

Researching this post led me to discover all kinds of interesting things about Jane Franklin too numerous to share here. I’d like to read some of the books and novels that have been written about her.

In 2020 the Canada Mint released a special silver coin designed by Matt Bowen to honour Sir John Franklin.

Jane Franklin was definitely a formidable female force. Her husband can thank her for the fact that many people nearly a 180 years after he died still recognize his name.

Perhaps the school I attended in grade two in Winnipeg should have been named after Jane Franklin instead of her husband.

Other posts…………

Attending a School Named For An Explorer

My Photos Find New Homes

The House on Beaverbrook Street

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Cora Hind- The Wheat Oracle Who Wore Pants

In a new exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called Headlines: The Art of the News there is a photographic portrait of Ella Cora Hind. Later she dropped the Ella from her name and came to be known as Cora Hind. When I toured the Headlines exhibit with curator Riva Symko she told us Cora had been an agricultural reporter known for her uncanny way of correctly predicting wheat prices.

Cora often dressed in men’s pants, something quite shocking for a woman at the time, and tramped through Manitoba grain fields to collect information to write her agricultural stories for the paper.

Cora was born in 1861 in Ontario. Both her parents had died by the time she was five and so she and her two brothers went to live with their grandfather who taught Cora all about farming. Cora wanted to become a teacher but she failed the algebra part of her qualification exam. So together with her Aunt Alice, she decided to move to Winnipeg in 1882 where they’d heard there might be employment opportunities.

This photo of William Luxton who refused to hire Cora is in the Headlines exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Cora had always dreamed of becoming a journalist so when she arrived in Winnipeg she went to see William Luxton the editor of the Manitoba Free Press. He was a friend of one of Cora’s uncles and so welcomed her warmly to his office, but was shocked when she said she wanted to write for the paper. Luxton told Cora women didn’t write for newspapers. Being a reporter was rough work often involving interviewing less than-savoury people. It wasn’t for a woman.

This old typewriter is part of the Headlines exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. When the Free Press editor wouldn’t hire her Cora learned to type and got another job.

Cora wasn’t deterred. She heard about a new office machine called a typewriter. She rented one, learned to type and got herself a job working for the lawyer Hugh John McDonald. But she was still interested in farming and grain growing and in 1898 started making crop predictions. Farmers came to trust her expertise and knowledge and she would submit articles about farming to the newspaper under the name E. Hind.

This portrait of John Dafoe who hired Cora as a reporter is also in the Headlines exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

In 1901 the brand new editor of the Winnipeg Free Press John Dafoe hired her as an agricultural reporter.

Cora would go on to earn an international reputation as an agricultural journalist and her predictions about harvest yields soon were the accepted source for establishing the price of Canadian wheat. She became known as kind of an ‘oracle of wheat’ for her accurate crop predictions.

She was also famous for the way she strode through grain fields in riding breeches, high leather boots and a Stetson hat. She went across Canada inspecting farms. In 1924 she travelled more than 10,000 kilometres checking out crops.

Cora played an important role in getting the vote for women in Manitoba

Cora founded the Winnipeg branch of the Canadian Women’s Press Club and helped form the Political Equality League with other Winnipeg suffragettes campaigning for women to get the right to vote in Manitoba which they did in 1916.

This photo shows the vest made by a Cree woman from Norway House for Cora. The vest is in the collection of the Manitoba Museum and Cora is wearing it in the portrait on display in the Headlines exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In an exhibition at the museum showcasing the vest visitors were reminded that while Cora helped win the vote for Manitoba women in 1916 Indigenous women would not be allowed to vote until 1952. – photo by Lyle Dick

Cora Hind was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Manitoba in 1935.

This sculpture of Cora Hind by Miguel Joyal is included in the Winnipeg Citizens Walk of Fame in Assiniboine Park

When Cora died in 1942 they halted trading at the Winnipeg Grain Exchange for two minutes in her memory.

Other posts……..

What a Woman!

Finding Nellie’s House

Grain is King

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Filed under feminism, History, manitoba, Winnipeg, winnipeg art gallery

Three Determined Women

Learning about the history of a woman’s right to vote in Quebec City

They worked for more than 20 years to earn the right to vote!!  When I visited Quebec City I learned about an amazing trio who dedicated themselves to securing the right to vote for Quebec women.  Canadian women earned the right to vote federally in 1918 but it wasn’t till 22 years later that women in Quebec attained the right to vote in provincial elections. Equal voting privileges for women became a reality because of the dedication of Thérèse Casgrain, Idola St. Jean and Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie.

Thérèse Casgrain led the League for Women’s Rights and hosted a Radio Canada program for women called Fémina. Idola St. Jean was a McGill professor who led the Canadian Alliance for Women’s Vote in Quebec. She wrote a bilingual column for the Montreal Herald. In 1933 she founded the magazine La Sphère féminine. Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie was on the Provincial Committee for Women’s Suffrage. She organized female workers and fought for the right for women to attend university. She wrote a book about women and the law.

These determined women and their organizations faced all kinds of adversaries. The clergy, politicians, journalists, and even most women in Quebec did not think women should be full-fledged citizens with the same legal rights as men. They believed a woman’s place was in the home raising a future generation of French- Canadians.

A statue on the grounds of the Quebec Legislature honors these determined women.  They repeatedly organized marches in Quebec City to gain recognition for their cause. They sent King George V a petition signed by 10,000 Quebec women. Each year they managed to find a politician willing to sponsor a bill in the Quebec legislature granting women the right to vote. It took the introduction of fourteen such bills before one was successfully passed on April 18, 1940.

These three Quebec women fought long and hard for the right to vote. At a time when many states in our neighboring country are passing laws that will make it harder for some people to exercise their right to vote, we need to remember that within some of our own provinces here in Canada it wasn’t that long ago that the right to vote excluded half the population. Thérèse Casgrain, Idola St. Jean, and Marie Lacoste Gérin-Lajoie remind us to appreciate our right to vote and never take it for granted.

Other posts……….

The Canadian Woman Who Painted the United Nations

The Great Canadian Nanaimo Bar

James Bond Is From Winnipeg

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Utterly Charming

Ladies in Black is a pure treat of a movie, completely engaging but not escapist fare by any means. I just watched it on Netflix and it truly took me into another world for a blissful couple of hours. Set in Sydney Australia in 1959 the show follows a group of women who work in the dress department of a huge store called Goode’s.

Rachael Taylor as Fay, Angourie Rice as Lisa, Julia Ormand as Magda and Alison McGirr as Patty

Each woman has her own story to tell and each provides a lovely arc of its own as its intertwines with the other stories. We meet Fay who is looking for a prince of a guy and can’t find him. There is Lisa, the young high school student who longs for a life different than the one of her good-hearted working-class parents. Her eyes are opened to a whole new world of culture and style by Magda a recent immigrant from Slovenia with a deadly fashion sense who sells the high- end dresses in the department. Finally there is Patty who is struggling to figure out why her young husband is so cold and distant .

The sets and costumes are spot on and the film transports you back fifty years with aplomb and perfection. Ladies in Black accurately depicts the attitudes towards women and sex and immigrants that were just beginning to change in the 60s.

I also really loved the film because it was shot in and around the Sydney area where we visited once for a couple of weeks. One scene takes place at Manley Beach where we rented a picturesque cottage and another in the Blue Mountains where we stayed at a cosy bed and breakfast.

If you are looking for a delightful evening of viewing I can highly recommend Ladies in Black. (No relation whatsoever to Men in Black) If you care about such things the film got an 88% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes site. I totally agreed with Australian film critic David Stratton who said about Ladies in Black “It brims with subtext and nuance and at the same time succeeds in being thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.”

I found Ladies in Black utterly charming and can highly recommend it.

Other posts……….

Poverty Porn

Winnipeg’s Palace Theatre

A Good Night At the Movies

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Filed under feminism, Movies

The Female Lead

I started following a group called The Female Lead on Twitter and I am so inspired by their regular posts that highlight what a different world we might have if women had been given equal rights throughout history and if women, instead of primarily men, were leading the world at this critical juncture.  Some of the posts are quotes from women that help us see things in new ways. 

Jacinda Arden the prime minister of New Zealand is being praised for her leadership during the current pandemic

I really rebel against this idea that politics has to be a place full of ego where you’re constantly focused on scoring hits against each one another. Yes, we need a robust democracy, but you can be strong, and you can be kind.

Jacinda Ardern

Michelle Obama photo by Gage Skidmore from Wikimedia Commons

Strong men, strong men, men who are truly role models, don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful

Michelle Obama

Ruth Bader Ginsberg- American Supreme Court Justice- photo public domain

When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’s been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.

-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

17-year-old climate and indigenous rights activist Helena Gualinga holding the red sign in the photo. She lives in Ecuador.

A strong woman stands up for herself.  A stronger woman stands up for everybody else.  

-Anonymous

Vera Rubin- Photo from the Smithsonian Institute

There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.

-Vera Rubin the astronomer who discovered dark matter. She spent her life advocating for women in science and was known for mentoring aspiring female astronomers.

I raise up my voice not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of the human population is held back.

Malala Yousafzai

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

The idea that a woman can be as powerful as a man is something that our society can’t deal with. But I am as powerful as a man and it drives them crazy.
The Female Lead doesn’t just have quotes, however.  Sometimes they feature fabulous cartoons like this one by Lunar Baboon. 

The Female Lead has also introduced me to lots of women I didn’t know about who have done and are doing incredible things. Like…………

Dr Gladys West- photo in the public domain

Dr Gladys West one of the lead inventors of GPS Technology. She is known for her contributions towards the mathematical modelling of the shape of the earth and……….

Althea Gibson – photo public domain

Althea Neale Gibson who in 1956 became the first Black person to win a Grand Slam tennis title! 

I am finding that right now I need to make sure my Twitter feed and my other sources of social media are filled with positive, inspiring messages that give me hope.  The Female Lead fills the bill nicely.  My only criticism of the site is that I wish I’d see more Canadian women on its feed.  Maybe I need to send them some suggestions or maybe I need to start a Female Lead twitter page focused on Canadian women myself. 

Other posts……….

Where Does She Get Her Energy?

A Book To Make You Feel Insanely Hopeful

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