Steamships, like sailing ships before them, were largely male workplaces. In many vessels women worked in the catering department, but only rarely were they hired elsewhere in a ship; and only in the second half of the twentieth century did women, in small numbers, become officers in Canadian merchant ships.
The transition from sail to steam actually saw a small increase in the number of women workers in shipping. In the deep-sea sailing ships of the Maritime provinces, only four out of every 1,000 crew had been women. 1 In 1938, 2 per cent of workers in Canadian deep-sea ships were women. Most women were kept apart from the male deckhands and stokehold crew, and most held the rank of 'stewardess' or 'assistant stewardess.' 2 There is little doubt that the proportion of women in the industry declined during the Second World War. 3
This male domination of the workplace was not peculiar to ships. Nor was it the result of the nature of work in steamships: although some jobs did require considerable manual strength, most jobs could be done by women, had they been given the same opportunities or the same training as were the men. In pre-industrial Canada, women worked in farming, in fishing, and in the fur trade, for instance, and