Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Canadian Women in Radical Politics and Labour, 1920-1950

Document type Thesis
Author Sangster, Joan
Degree Ph.D., History
Publisher McMaster University; Hamilton, Ont.
Date 1984
Pages vii, 521 pages


This thesis examines the role of women in Canadian socialist parties from the 1920's to the post-World War II period, by focusing on women involved in the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the primary manifestations of organized socialism during these years. Concentrating on two regions, Ontario and the West, the thesis explores three major themes: the distinct role women played within each Party, the Party's view of the woman question, and the construction of women's committees within each Party. The thesis explains why women were drawn to the socialist movement, assesses the successes and failures of each Party's program for women's equality, and suggests how and when feminist and socialist ideas intersected within the Canadian Left. The written history of the Canadian Left has largely neglected socialists' views of the woman question and women's role in the CPC and CCF. Although 'women were concentrated in less powerful positions, they did play an important, and distinctive, role in the making of Canadian socialism. Moreover, attention to women's social and economic inequality was a concern of Canadian socialists. Between 1920 and 1950, however, women's emancipation was never a priority for socialists. This thesis explains some of the reasons, both internal and external to the movement, for the secondary status of the woman question. Because the CCF and CPC emerged from different ideological traditions, their views of the woman question varied, and this thesis contrasts the two Parties' definition of women's issues and their commitment to women's emancipation. At the same time, there were some similarities between the two Parties, such as their attempts to link women's maternal and domestic roles with their political consciousness. The thesis also suggests ways on which socialists' ideas resembled the earlier ideology of womanhood and reform termed 'maternal feminism' and how their ideas, shaped by a different class perspective and social context, differed from the earlier feminists.