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Gendered Leisure



Although women's organizations had control over many recreational activities, in many cases, it was women who experienced limitations to their range of activities. Just like work in the early 20th century, leisure activities were divided along strict gender lines. Women could only be involved in those activities that were deemed respectable for a gentlewoman; otherwise she risked losing her reputation. For instance, activities like hunting, pool playing and drinking in saloons were all viewed as male activities, inappropriate for a "proper" lady. Women who spent time in the male spaces of the bar and saloon were often considered as having looser morals and were treated with suspicion for being prostitutes.  

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Heritage Trails #307  - Towns: Women's Restrooms

The women’s rest room wasn't always just toilets and sinks. In the early 1900s, farm women in town with their husbands would go to the “women’s restroom” to visit and wait for their husbands to finish their work. Women's groups pressured town councils to provide this “new service”, and after government refusal, The Council of Women raised funds to operate these facilities themselves.

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For respectable rural women who accompanied their husbands into town, the fact that they were barred from bars and saloons meant that there were no places of rest and leisure devoted to them.  Once they were finished their shopping and chores, their husbands often went to the bar or pool hall, but there was no where for them to go and if they had young children accompanying them this time was particular awkward.  Women's organizations like the Alberta Women's Institute recognized this problem and after WWI began opening restrooms in towns for women.  These restrooms contained not only a washroom, but also a waiting room and sometimes even a kitchen in which women could rest, care for their children and socialize with other women while their husbands were away at the bars or on business.


Also, as we will see in the next section, women's participation in many sports, such as boxing, wrestling and hockey, was often frowned upon as they were seen to be dangerous to femininity and reproductive health. On the other hand, some activities were considered typically female. Many of these activities were communal, such as having teas or forming sewing circles, and allowed for periods of quite talk as women were seen to have a penchant for gossip. With the growth of a consumer culture, shopping also became a leisure activity that was typically female. Advertisers helped to achieve this by targeting their campaign towards women. All these female activities were usually extensions of her traditional role in the domestic sphere.


  • Wetherell, Donald and Irene Kmet. Useful Pleasures: The Shaping of Leisure in Alberta 1896-1945. Edmonton and Regina: Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism/Canadian Plains Research Center, 1990.



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