Analysis of Women Teachers in Canada, 1881-1901 and I Am Here to Help If You Need Me’: British Columbia’s Rural Teachers’ Welfare Officer, 1928-1934
By Philip Godin
These two articles are similar in nature, though cover very different aspects in a common historical premise, women in teaching roles. Sager uses an extremely detailed investigative method to uncover the vast reasons that potentially could impact the nature of teaching as a female dominated profession during the last half of the nineteenth century. He primarily focuses on the impact that the exceptional salary in comparison to other positions traditionally offered to women during this period impacted households in a beneficial way. Wilson’s work, in comparison, offers a look at the teaching conditions, primarily in the form of interpersonal relations, through the journals of an officer appointed to aid in these matters and extrapolates that the rural difficulties faced by women in these positions were often strenuous or even dangerous. Sager’s use of census data, government records, and other bureaucratic information is substantively different than Wilson’s use of personal correspondence, and journal entries. I found sager to be a much dryer read in comparison to Wilson, mostly for empathetic reasons.
Sager’s work provides us with important information regarding the economic impact that teaching as a mandatory profession had on the industrial burgeoning happing in what were rural occupations. The fact that it provided a substantive income in comparison to other mainly female occupations was interesting in the idea of heavier cost comparisons for large farmsteads and the aid it provided families that could spare female children to the profession. Also, the potential for independent females to be able to provide for themselves individually. When contrasted with Wilson’s work though we see that this income came at a cost. Most positions were not city positions and the ability for the women to socialize was severely restricted. In some cases, the hardships were even too much for the individual to endure. There was also little in the way of support networks for those who opted for this profession and the bar against marriage ultimately left them isolated, though there were exceptions to this.
Sager’s cold calculations are a necessary part of the historian’s job. Data, though is just that data. Though he did include some interpersonalization with the reader though the inclusion of the McQueen dialogues in his paper, it was ultimately a very hard read. It would be useful for an individual to comb for necessary facts to support an argument, but not palatable to the average reader. Wilson’s use of empathy in his article through the personal history of an individual directly involved with the strife of the subjects being examined is much more readable to the average person and is written in such a way that provides a running narrative for the reader to follow. Though I know the necessity of works like Sager’s, I feel they are important resources for fellow historians, I believe that works like Wilson’s are far more apt to allow for common individuals to take interest in the history presented. This leads me to the importance of the writer to know the audience he intends to engage with his piece.