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What is ‘women’s work’ in 1945?

The Story

Are working women losing their femininity? Should married women be allowed to hold jobs -- even if they put returning soldiers out of work? Should they receive equal pay? These are some of the burning issues put to a "barrack room bull session" between four servicewomen and one "mere male." The panel discussion is recorded for CBC Radio aboard HMCS Stadacona, docked in Halifax as the war winds down. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Servicemen's Forum
Broadcast Date: March 22, 1945
Guest(s): Barbara Ellis, Alison Lindsey, Helen Merrell, Alex Phillips, Roy Robertson
Moderator: Donald C. McDonald
Duration: 12:40
Photo: National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / National Archives of Canada

Did You know?

• You can hear the full broadcast of this item in our additional clips.
• All three women's Armed Forces divisions were disbanded in 1946. The regular forces did not begin to recruit women again until 1951, during the Korean War.
• In 1989 a Canadian human rights tribunal removed restrictions barring women from any job in the Armed Forces, except serving on submarines (that restriction was removed in 2001).

• Equality in military recruiting became a government priority in the 1980s. In 2001 women made up 11.4 per cent of the regular force (compared to under five per cent during the war) and 18.6 percent of the reserves.
• In "combat arms" fields like infantry, artillery and armour, women make up only 1.9 per cent of Canada's forces. (Source: Committee on Women in NATO Forces.)

• In the past decade there has been some progress in the proportion of women reaching senior ranks (major and above.) In 1998 the RCAF appointed its first female squadron commander. In 2002 there were two women in the General Officer ranks.
• In 1997 General Maurice Baril, Chief of Defence Staff, wrote: "He who does not understand or fully support the right of women to serve equally with men in today's Army has no place in the Army's chain of command."

• After the Second World War ended, incentives for women workers were withdrawn and women were encouraged to leave the civilian workforce. But many stayed on to work in the growing service industry. Due in part to the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s, women's wages began to rise and more and more women entered the workforce. By 1994 women made up 43 per cent of the workforce.

• When news of the allied victory in Europe reached Halifax on May 7, 1945 - a few weeks after this broadcast - HMCS Stadacona became the starting point for riots that lasted two days. Since there were no taverns, and liquor stores were closed, Navy canteens like Stadacona's offered the first celebratory drinks for 2,000 sailors. When the beer ran out sailors commandeered streetcars, looted stores and led a mob of thousands to Keith's Brewery, which they emptied.

• Later in the Servicemen's Forum discussion, talk turns to education for women, full employment and the possibility of introducing a family allowance.


On Every Front: Canadian Women in the Second World War more