Wednesday Women’s Work – Annie Sophia Lloyd, Tailoress

According to the 1891 Census, seventeen year old Annie Sophia Lloyd was living in Bentinck, Ontario with her aunt and uncle, Jane (Devlin) and Simon Young. Annie was around the age where if a girl was a spinster and there was someone else keeping house, she could take appropriate work until she married. Simon was listed as a tailor-cutter, and Annie as a tailoress. At around 50 years old, after working as a tailor for at least 20 years, Simon’s eyes were surely becoming weak from concentrating on tiny stitches day after day and he needed an extra pair of hands to help him with his business.

I wonder why and how Annie ended up living with the Youngs. I have a strong feeling that Jane was my third-great grandmother Mary Devlin Lloyd’s sister. Simon and Jane had only one child, their adopted daughter Margaret. Mary had at least eleven children and five or six of them would have been living at home in the late 1880s, so maybe Jane wrote to her to see if she could spare someone interested in learning a trade.

Annie would be home in Mulmur by 1892, and die of heart failure caused by rheumatism.


Wednesday Women’s Work – The Square Deal Shop, Whitby, Ontario

Mary Helen Steffler was about 18 when she took her first job, shop clerk at The Square Deal Shop in Whitby, Ontario. The Square Deal was also run by a woman – Mrs. Campo.

I had no idea Canada Dry was such an old brand.

(Mary Helen was my second cousin, three times removed. We both share Thomas Moran and Mary Meagher as ancestors. The photo is from the image archives at the Whitby Public Library.)

Wednesday Women’s Work – Postmasters in Saskatchewan

Every time I use search engines to look for the Hassan family in Saskatchewan, I get a ton of hits because of the town of Hassan (which has nothing to do with that family). This is one of the Hassan (town) tidbits I picked up while searching Our Roots.

From the book “People Places: Saskatchewan and It’s Names” by Bill Barry:

HASSAN (a name of biblical origin) post office near Sturgis had just two postmasters during its thirty-five years, but both of them served twice. Sarah Dorothy Seddon was in charge from 1932-41 and again in 1944-45; Constance Ellen Shauer held the post office in 1941-44, and again from 1945 until it closed in 1967.

Like Hassan, PLAIN VIEW (north of Melville) was an all-female office. Julia Strevell selected the name after her home in Plain View, Nebraska, and served for the office’s first two years (1904-06). Elizabeth Pekar sorted the mail for almost forty years, and her daughter-in-law Nellie Pekar took over and served until the office closed in 1969. That represents sixty-five years without a male postmaster — a genuine oddity.

Also consider that according to the 1906 census, Julia and Elizabeth were married women when they worked in the post office. Women working after marriage was not common in the early 1900s but it happened more than we think. They didn’t just go to work in large cities, but in frontier farm areas too. The men were needed to work the land, and old restrictions loosened in new places.

Wednesday Women’s Work – Hazel Webb Dunn, Hairdresser

Hazel Lenora Mae Webb Dunn was the wife of my great great grandmother Cassie Dunn’s little brother, Emmanuel (also called Manuel). She was born in 1909 and grew up in High Bluff, Manitoba. In her late teens, she went to Winnipeg to become a hairdresser.

The 1920s must have been an exciting time to be getting into hairdressing, because of the bob. When bobbed hair first became popular, there was nowhere for women to get their hair cut. The salons at the time provided services like marcel waves and styling, but since women generally didn’t cut their hair there was no call for someone to do it. Then the bob hit the scene and women showed up in droves to barber shops. At first the men didn’t know what to make of it. Some were uncomfortable sharing a masculine domain with girls. As these things usually go, money won out and a lot of barbers were happy to cut hair for women. Then the salons realized they’d like to make a buck, and trained women to cut hair, too.

There was new technology, too. Hairstylists were competing to create a method of permanently curling hair.

Eugene Suter curling a woman's hair

(Photo of Eugene Suter, using a heated curler machine designed by Isidoro Calvete. Courtesy of Isidoro’s son, Louis, from the wikipedia article on perms.)

This is an early 1920s permanent wave machine, designed by Isidoro Calvete. I can’t imagine the patience it would have taken to be the hairstylist winding the hair on the curlers while making sure that each cord stayed untangled, or to be the woman sitting there with all of this equipment on her head, worrying about urban legends that a friend of a cousin got electrocuted by one.

In 1929, Hazel moved to Manitou, where she opened her own business. I wonder if it was a hair salon and if it was, how many permanent wave machines she had to set up.

Hazel passed away on July 24, 2005. Her obituary can be read here, on the Passages Manitoba site.

Wednesday Women’s Work – Emily Lander, Saskatchewan’s First Telephone Operator

(Photo of Emily Lander courtesy of SaskTel)

While writing about City Battery and Irvin Hassan, I became curious about the history of the telephone in Saskatchewan. SaskTel, the province’s phone company has a timeline on their website and one of the points that piqued my interest was Emily Lander, Saskatchewan’s first telephone operator.

Emily was born in England in 1870. She and her sister Lucy lived in Regina with their older sister Edith and Edith’s husband William, a butcher. In 1887, Peter Lamont opened the first telephone exchange in Saskatchewan at his bookstore, and that was the year Emily became an operator.

Early switchboard operators had been mostly teenage boys because boys had worked in telegraph offices, and in large cities the job could be physically demanding. In some phone exchanges, workers had to climb ladders to reach the jacks at the top of the switchboard. But teenage boys did what teenagers do, and played pranks and were rude to callers. The Boston Phone Company was the first to hire a woman switchboard operator, Emma Nutt*, in 1878. By the time Emily became an operator, most operators were women. Customers liked that women had softer voices and were more polite than the boys had been. Of course, phone companies liked that they could get better work and pay them less than they had paid the boys.

In my online searching, I couldn’t find anything else about Emily Lander. I guess she did what most women who “disappear” from the record do, which was get married. I like to think that she lived into old age when she could just dial the phone without having to ask the operator to make the connection, and smiled at the wonder of it all.

*Tomorrow is Emma M. Nutt Day!

Wednesday Women’s Work: Lucy Hudson Hassan and her girls

After James Hassan died and his family no longer had his income from his employment as a farm instructor, what did his widow Lucy Hudson Hassan do?

According to the 1916 census, Lucy moved the family to Regina and she took in roomers.

Unfortunately, this digitized image is too blurry at the end to see what the enumerator took down as Lucy’s occupation, but a few of the others are pretty clear:

Lucy’s job begins with an H. Perhaps it is Housekeeper?

Ellen was a stenographer. Correspondence courses in shorthand were popular in the early twentieth century, and Ellen may have taught herself during her time on the reserve.

It looks like Elvira and Irwin both worked in stores. Elvira’s occupation is illegible to me, and Irvin was a shipping clerk.

Rounding out the house with the roomers, Phyllis was a student, and I can’t make out what Peter was (English teacher? Engine something?)

Wednesday Women’s Work: Eugenie Dery, Bookkeeper

In 1891, 24-year-old Eugenie Dery was living in Montreal, working to support her widowed mother and her younger sister. When I saw her occupation – librarie teneur de livres – I immediately thought “Librarian!”

How hard was it to be a woman librarian in the 1890s?

Surprisingly, there were less barriers than I expected. Librarianship was seen as a suitable job for college educated women. They had the skill to do the work, and were hired due to the sexist beliefs of the day that they wouldn’t cause trouble and would be subordinate to (male) professors. Of course, they also broke into a new field for the reason that many women did: They were cheaper to hire than men. McGill University in Montreal conferred its first degrees to female graduates in 1888, and before that women had been admitted to women’s colleges. An educated woman could be working in an academic library.

Eugenie was not a librarian. Librarie is a bookseller, and teneur de livres is a bookkeeper. In the 1892-1893 Montreal Lovell’s Directory, Eugenie is listed as working for Dery & Co., a fancy goods store, so we can assume that she handled the financial aspects of a bookstore. While not common, a spinster handling administrative work for what seems like a family business would not have been unusual. On her burial record in 1905, she is still a teneur de livres. The witnesses who signed are Flavier Joseph Granger, a bookseller and Jean Baptiste Dery, a trader.

Eugenie died on the twelfth of November 1905, and is buried in Notre-Dame-Des-Neiges cemetery in Montreal.