British Journal of Canadian Studies

Lives of their own, a place of their own? The living arrangements of ‘business girls’ in early twentieth-century Canadian cities

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2016), 29, (2), 225–248.

Abstract

The rise of living alone since the 1960s and women’s diversifying employment opportunities are signifiers of an accelerated individualisation of lives, with marked repercussions for urban housing markets. Yet early twentieth-century youth married later than baby boomers, and metropolitan urbanisation, combined with cultural and technological modernisation post-First World War, helped entrench single women in white-collar employment and legitimise them as urban consumers. In this article, we exploit microdata census samples for urban Canada, 1921–51, to document the living arrangements of young (15–29) single women clerical workers in these tumultuous decades of urban modernity. To what extent did they achieve residential independence by leaving their parents’ home to head their own household or share with a peer, inhabit the grey zones of boarding and lodging, or remain ‘dutiful daughters’ living at home? Comparisons with other occupations and print media coverage of the business girl’s aspirations and dilemmas assist us in interpretation.

La montée de la vie en solo depuis les années 1960 et la diversification des possibilités d’emploi pour les femmes sont les signifiants d’une individualisation accélérée des vies, avec des répercussions marquées sur les marchés immobiliers urbains. Cependant, les jeunes du début du vingtième siècle se mariaient plus tardivement que les baby boomers; et l’urbanisation métropolitaine, combinée à la modernisation culturelle et technologique qui a suivi la première guerre mondiale ont favorisé le retranchement des femmes célibataires dans des postes d’employées de bureau et leur légitimation en tant que consommatrices. Dans cet article, nous exploitons des échantillons de micro données de recensement pour le Canada urbain de la période 1921–51 pour documenter les modes de vie des femmes célibataires jeunes employées de bureau (15–29 ans) durant ces décennies tumultueuses de modernité urbaine. Dans quelle mesure sont-elles parvenues à atteindre l’indépendance résidentielle en quittant le domicile parental pour être à la tête de leur propre ménage, partager avec une camarade, habiter les zones grises de la location et de la pension ou à rester des ‘filles respectueuses’ vivant à la maison? La comparaison avec d’autres occupations professionnelles et les couvertures médiatiques des aspirations et dilemmes de l’employée de bureau nous aideront dans notre interprétation.

This article was published open access under a CC BY license

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Author details

Rose, Damaris

Dillon, Lisa

Caron, Marianne