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Rising Workforce


By the mid-20th century, the environment for women in the workforce began to change. Firstly, the Great Depression during the 1930s caused difficult financial times for many families on the Prairie's. Many women were forced to seek wage labour in order to help their families survive. At first many women were hired since companies could pay them much lower wages than they did men. However, a backlash against women soon set in as they were criticized for taking jobs from unemployed men. Secondly, during the world wars, especially WWII, women received the opportunity to enter professions normally held by men. Since many men went off to war to fight on the European fronts, women were needed to fill their old positions and new positions in factories devoted to the production of war materials. When the wars ended women were encouraged to return to their homes and vacate the positions for the returning men, which many did. However, women had received a taste for the independence and greater responsibility that being in the paid workforce afforded and increasingly, this would motivate them to enter it. 

Women working at Clark's factory, Edmonton.  Glenbow ArchivesFinally, industrialization and urbanization did much to encourage women's entrance into the workforce. With the discovery of oil in 1947, the oil and gas industry increasingly came to replace farming as the backbone of the Alberta economy. The population gradually shifted from rural to urban areas and government built up a greater social infrastructure to meet to the demands of a larger and more centralized population. This industrialization and urbanization of Albertan society afforded more employment opportunities to women. Women increasingly received training for and entered male-dominated jobs, such as factory work, medicine and engineering. Also, traditional female-dominated jobs, such as nursing and teaching, expanded and new jobs, like telephone operators and welfare workers, were added. Women's rights in the workforce also expanded; their rate of pay became more equal to men's and their opportunities for advancement and promotion increased. However, the rise of women in the work force was not entirely beneficial to all. Some found they were expected to perform double duty - that is, spend all day working outside the home earning a wage and spend their nights performing the housework. Therefore, although their involvement in the public sphere increased, the expectations on them in the private sphere did not necessarily decrease.



  • Gagnon, Anne.  " 'Our parents did not raise us to be independent:' The Work and Schooling of Young Franco-Albertan Women, 1890-1940."  Prairie Forum 1994 19(2):169-185.

  • Jackel, Susan.  A Flannel Shirt and Liberty.  Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1982.

  • Silverman, Elaine Leslau.  The Last Best West.  Montreal Eden Press, 1984.

  • Wetherell, Donald and Irene Kmet.  Useful Pleasures.  Lindsay: John Deyell Company, 1990.



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