A Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West, 1880-1914


The plight of educated single women without means was a major social issue in Britain at the turn of the century. Since there were a million more women than men, the future of a genteel spinster was far from secure. Marriage was a financial matter -- a business essential to her economic and social status, and the penalties for 'failure in business' were severe. Emigration to the colonies offered a way out, and no place advertised more energetically for these 'redundant' women than the Canadian West. This collection of articles and extracts from books and periodicals describes in detail the opportunities in Western Canada for British women emigrants. By 1900 there was a great demand both for wives and for workers in a variety of occupations. 'Women Wanted' was the message conveyed by Canadian officials, journalists, and public-spirited women who travelled across Canada and reported on their findings. Emigration societies, training schools, welcoming hostels, and immigration authorities all assisted in the transfer to Canada of the adventurous gentlewomen who responded to the challenge. Life in the newly settled West was seldom easy for them. To some it was a life of unaccustomed drudgery, loneliness, and prejudice. But others rejoiced in the wild prairie spaces and discovered a new sense of independence and self-worth. Moira O'Neill writes: 'I like both the work and the play here, the time out of doors and the time for coming home. I like the summer and the winter, the monotony and the change. Besides I like a flannel shirt and liberty.'

Additional information

Includes content by:
  • Jessie M. Saxby
  • Elizabeth Lewthwaite
  • Marion Cran
  • Georgina Binnie-clark
  • Ella Sykes
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Vancouver
Publication year:
  • 1982


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