Tracing women's history

In Canada, October is Women's History Month and this year's theme is inspired by the world's first International Day of the Girl, recognizing the important role Canadian girls have played as leaders and innovators throughout our history. Much of our work with history involves women and the important and active role they have played in our community.

One of the areas in which we work hard to recognize women is in our cemetery and genealogy research. Early obituaries for men often list surviving family and friends by name, but refer to his wife only as "Mrs." and the family name. Male relatives' names are given, often with other information such as career and address, but female relatives are uniformly "Miss" or "Mrs." and family name. We have even come across women's obituaries in which their given names are never mentioned.

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We recently located a marriage announcement we were looking for, complete with a description of the ceremony, wedding trip, and the couple's return to the city, but nowhere is the bride's name mentioned. Birth announcements often say "Mr. John Doe is the proud father of a son" or "Mrs.

John Doe gave birth to a son." This lack of information is frustrating in a family study where all names are crucial. We go out of our way to fill this in wherever we can in our presentations and tours.

A good resource to identify women and their community involvement is the history of groups such as the Young Women's Christian Association, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, churches, hospitals, the Local Council of Women, and the like. These are valuable sources of information and a good place to look for historical connections.

Women have always played a vital role in our local history, even though they are not always recorded as being there. Women's and girls' auxiliaries have been and still are a critical support to hospitals, raising funds for equipment and supplies; women have played both support and leadership roles in the business community from its earliest days; women have formed the backbone of health care in the roles of nurses, doctors, researchers and other professionals; and they have always been at the heart of education.

Names like Flora Ross (asylum matron), Mamie Insley (co-owner of the Colonial Hotel), Mother Joseph (architect of St. Mary's Hospital), Margaret Patchell (police matron), Agnes Hill (first female elected locally), Beth Wood (first female mayor), Ethlyn Trapp (medical research), Brownie Peebles (music), Christeen Hay (a May Queen), Alice Bodington (writer), comprise a very small sample of people from our history.

There are so many individuals to think about in our history and this is just a simple reminder that we are all included, male and female, young and old.

Take a moment during Women's History Month to think about the women in your community's and your family's story.

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