The Struggle for Social Justice in British Columbia
328 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Jan 1992
Release Date:01 Oct 2007

The Struggle for Social Justice in British Columbia

Helena Gutteridge, the Unknown Reformer

UBC Press

Helena Gutteridge was a socialist and feminist whose vision helped to shape social reform legislation in British Columbia in the first decades of the twentieth century, and also one of the first women there to hold high political office.

She was born in England in 1879. A militant suffragist, tutored by the Pankhursts, she learned the politics of confrontation early. Emigrating to Vancouver in 1911, she found the suffrage movement there too polite and organized the B.C. Woman's Suffrage League to help working women fight for the vote. And she kept on organizing. As a journeyman tailor she was a power in her union local, and as the only woman on the Vancouver Trades and Labor Council -- their 'rebel girl' -- she championed the rights of workers and organized women to fight for themselves. In the 1930s, as a member of the feisty new political movement, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, she joined in the struggles of the unemployed for work and wages. Then, in 1937, as the first woman ever elected to Vancouver City Council, she led the fight for low-income housing.

As was typical for women of her class and time, Helena did not keep personal records, nor did organizational records exist to any extent. Irene Howard made it her task, over a period of years, to search out and assemble details of Helena's life and career, and to interview old comrades who knew Helena and the turbulent times in which she lived. Herself a miner's daughter, the author brings to her subject an affectionate regard and sympathy qualified by the larger view of the scholar and researcher. The result is a lively biography, shot through with humour and pathos, that pays homage to Helena Gutteridge and to many of the people who have been inspired by a cause and who have taught us about the politics of caring.


  • 1992, Winner - University of British Columbia Medal for Canadian Biography, UBC
  • 1993, Short-listed - Vancouver Book Award, City of Vancouver
Irene Howard's biography of Gutteridge is an important step toward changing history's prejudices. It is also an inspiration to women and men who hunger for justice. Trish Webb, The Guardian
For historians of women and labour in Canada or, for that matter, for most Canadian historians, the name of Helena Gutteridge resonates. She was, it is generally known, a left-wing advocate of female suffrage and of better conditions of paid labour who ended up a municipal politician.  There common knowledge stops ... Irene Howard overcomes the paucity of primary sources in ingenious fashion by always placing Helena Gutteridge in the context of her times ... Howard writes such evocative prose, the reader is carried along from chapter to chapter ... a thoughtful portrayal and analysis of social and political life in Vancouver during the first half of this century. Jean Barman, University of British Columbia
An important contribution to the flourishing field of women's history ... the gains of women and the gradual erasure of historic discrimination did not just happen ... freedom came about after a struggle. It was won. And in British Columbia, Gutteridge played a critical role in this fight. Jeremy Mouat, Athabasca University
Irene Howard writes about the social history of Vancouver and has contributed articles to many journals and collections, among them Vancouver Past. She is the author of a book about the early Swedish community in Vancouver and of the local bestseller, Bowen Island, 1872-1972.




1. Chelsea Childhood of Nell Gutteridge

2. The Emergence of Helena

3. Fighting for the Cause

4. Dealing with Tricky Dicky: The Vote and Premier McBride

5. The Cause Victorious: September 1916

6. Hours and Wages

7. Back to the Land

8. Rededication: The Vision of the Co-operative Commonwealth

9. 'A Faithful Alderman'

10. Helena at Lemon Creek

11. 'The Holy Fire': Still Burning




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