Working Girls in the West
Representations of Wage-Earning Women
As the twentieth century got under way in Canada, young women who entered the paid workforce became the focus of intense public debate. Young wage-earning women – “working girls” – embodied all that was unnerving and unnatural about modern times: the disintegration of the family, the independence of women, and the unwholesomeness of city life. These anxieties were amplified in the West. Long after eastern Canada was considered settled and urbanized, the West continued to be represented as a frontier where the idea of the region as a society in the making added resonance to the idea of the working girl as social pioneer.
Using an innovative interpretive approach that centres on literary representation, Lindsey McMaster takes a fresh look at the working heroine of western Canadian literature alongside social documents and newspaper accounts of her real-life counterparts. Working Girls in the West heightens our understanding of a figure that fired the imagination of writers and observers at the turn of the last century.
Using an innovative mixture of literary and historical technique, McMaster's book successfully straddles the genres of literature, history, and gender studies to present an engaging look at young women in western Canada during the turbulent years of its explosive population growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Lindsey McMaster has made imaginative and innovative use of sources that include novels, magazines, the popular press, prescriptive literature, government policy, and court decisions in developing a compelling argument. She has situated her study within a broader context of Canadian and American research, both complementing it and adding a new dimension to it.
This path-breaking study carves out new scholarly ground in its thematic and theoretical approach, filling an important gap in the literature on representations of women in Canada.
1 Working Women in the West at the Turn of the Century
2 The Urban Working Girl in Turn-of-the-Century Canadian Literature
3 White Slaves, Prostitutes, and Delinquents
4 Girls on Strike
5 White Working Girls and the Mixed-Race Workplace
Conclusion: Just Girls
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