'A Splendid Army of Organized Womanhood': Gender, Communication and the National Council of Women of Canada, 1893-1918

Anne-Marie Kinahan
School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
September, 2005
 

Abstract

This dissertation provides a two-fold analysis of the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC), focusing on the first twenty-five years of the organization, a period that runs from 1893 to 1918.

The first aspect of this analysis is a discussion of the National Council as a “discursive public” in Canadian society. Drawing on contemporary feminist and political theory on civil society, I argue that the National Council attempted to provide a role for middle-class women in public life. I argue that the National Council was a place where middle-class women gathered together, created knowledge about relevant social issues and attempted to shape public debate. Arguing that the Canadian nation needed the active, thoughtful and organized participation of middle-class women, Council members discursively constructed women’s citizenship as an outgrowth of their moral responsibilities within the home.

The second aspect of this study is an analysis of Council discourses on the issues of woman suffrage, domestic science and women’s education, and the problem of “pernicious” literature. Through discussions on these issues, Council members defined the parameters of women’s participation in the public sphere. Focusing specifically on Council discourses on woman suffrage, women’s education and “pernicious” literature, I argue that Council members discursively constructed the female citizen in Canada as a moral exemplar, a unifying force for the nation, and a force of good in the world. Grounding women’s citizenship in notions of personal influence and moral suasion, I conclude that the Council postulated a form of transcendent citizenship for Canadian women.

While such discourses sought to secure political recognition for women as citizens, they nevertheless constructed their citizenship as different from men’s. Women’s citizenship was not rooted in universal notions of justice and equality, but rather in the sacred notions of virtue, morality and self-sacrifice. As such, women’s citizenship was feminized.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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