50 Years, 50 Books: No Bleeding Heart

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2022


As a way to celebrate our anniversary, Acquisitions Editor Randy Schmidt reached out to fifty UBC Press authors and asked them to talk about their favourite UBC Press book. This is what we heard.

Written by Veronica Strong-Boag

Book cover for No Bleeding Heart

Important books frequently do not get the attention they merit. No Bleeding Heart, the result of decades of painstaking research, a thoughtful comparative perspective on the Canadian welfare state, and commitment to accessible writing, by Patricia Rooke and Rudy Schnell, is one such overlooked gem. Charlotte Whitton (1898–1975) was an extraordinary representative of Canada’s many New Women. To name only a few of her accomplishments, she was a star pioneering co-ed at Queen’s University, a much-cited expert with the Canadian Council on Child Welfare (and its successor organizations) and the League of Nations, a journalist, radio and television commentator, a five-time mayor of Ottawa, and a Conservative candidate for public office. Faced with a world that routinely reduced women to heterosexuality, marriage, and motherhood, she deliberately constructed a homosocial life that built on intense female friendships, notably with her long-time companion, Margaret Weir, and envisioned social and political leadership for talented women like herself. The story of this ‘conservative feminist’, a portrait that Rooke and Schnell construct with subtlety, sympathy, and shrewd realism, tells at least as much about Canada as more commonly favoured biographies of male power brokers in politics, the professions, and culture. From the perspective of more progressive critics and feminist observers in her own time and later, Whitton has fairly been criticized as regularly pig-headed and reactionary. An ardent imperialist, she took for granted the superiority of a British population stripped of those deemed eugenically inferior and she had no time for Indigenous or other challengers to white supremacy. More entertainingly for this feminist veteran of more recent struggles, she routinely dispatched misogynists with wit and verve. The scarred survivor of decades that shattered the high hopes of more liberal-minded suffragists, such as Nellie L. McClung, Laura Marshall Jamieson, and Mary Ellen Spear Smith, Whitton left a complicated and chequered legacy, which Rooke and Schnell illuminate as lying close to the heart of first-generation feminism and the evolution of the Canadian state. Anyone seeking to understand either should treasure this volume.

No Bleeding Heart has other enduring value as well. Its publication in 1987 testified to the ambition of a youthful regional press that, under the direction of talented editors such as Jane Fredeman, rightly thanked by Rooke and Schnell, was already flexing its muscle on national and international stages. Without bold choices by such committed publishers, Canadian scholarship, so commonly undermined in both the past and the present by pervasive academic toadyism to American and British cultural authorities, would be immeasurably poorer. Like Susan Jackel’s A Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West, 1889–1914 (1981), and Margaret Ormsby’s A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia: The Recollections of Susan Allison (1991), No Bleeding Heart has the further virtue of signaling the gradual emergence of UBC Press as a sympathetic home for the recovery of women’s history, similarly confirmed beginning in 2019 by the multi-volumed award-winning series, Women’s Suffrage and the Struggle for Democracy. The next half-century has good foundations.”

Veronica Strong-Boag is a member of the Order of Canada, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, professor emerita at UBC, and adjunct professor at the University of Victoria. She has received the RSC’s Tyrrell Medal in Canadian History and many other awards, including the Canada Prize in the Social Sciences, the Klibansky Prize in the Humanities, and Doctor of Laws, honoris causa from Guelph University. She has served as president of the Canadian Historical Association and as BC representative on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Her latest books are The Last Suffragist Standing: The Life and Times of Laura Marshall Jamieson, 1882–1964 (UBC Press, 2018) and Liberal Labour Lady: the Times and Life of Mary Ellen Spear Smith (UBC Press, 2021).

Posted in 50Years50Books
Posted by Megan M.
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