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The Changing Role of Women in Montgomery's Times

graphic of a gramaphone and oval from cover of red scrapbookMontgomery saw the coming of the telephone, inexpensive Victrolas, wireless radios, cars, airplanes, motorized tractors, silent films and talking movies, cartridge film cameras, color pictures, home movie cameras, votes for (most) women, aspirin; she saw hemlines go way up and come back down; she saw education extended to more people for longer; she lived through the First World War and the beginning of the Second. Her views--about culture and about women--changed with those of her times. Her own portraits of women grew sharper in some details--even Anne and Emily are worlds apart in their ambitions and in their resentment over the customary dismissal of women who write.

Some middle-class women were embarking on careers and living independent lives at the turn of the century, and working-class women had been working outside the home for decades, but the widely accepted ideal for privileged women in the early 1900's was still what we call Victorian. "The Angel in the House" was the phrase used to describe this idealized woman's role and sphere. There was common talk of separate spheres for men and women--men for the outside world; women for the hearth.

The First World War changed everything for women--bringing work outside the home and some public acknowledgment of the value of women's work, the vote (for some white women), and new experiences and freedoms. Some of these new freedoms may have been short-lived indeed, but many changes were permanent.

newspaper clipping Topics Worth While In her time, Montgomery lived the conventional contradictions of privileged women. She said that women should be in the home--and meant it--but she pursued a successful writing career. As late as 1910, two years after the amazingly successful publication of Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery did not hanker after the vote or think she needed to fight for women's rights. She told a news reporter in Boston, "I would have no use for suffrage myself. I have no aspirations to be a politician. I believe a woman's place is in the home."

newspaper clipping A Place for WarA few short years later, in 1915, Montgomery had reconsidered the importance of the vote for women. War had changed her view. In praising the work of women in the war effort, she told a reporter: "But I do hope that it will in some measure open the eyes of humanity to the truth that the women who bear and train the nation's sons should have some voice in the political issues that may send those sons to die on the battlefields."

Montgomery may have been brought up in a Victorian household where women were expected to be pure and demure, but she was also brought up in the atmosphere of Scottish Presbyterianism, where education in general was prized and education for women was encouraged. She talked of her grandmother as having supported her studies and she learned about story telling and clan history from her grandfather but more especially from his sister, her great aunt, Mary Lawson.

Despite the conventional role she played as minister's wife and devoted mother, Montgomery's life was not typical for her times. She was an internationally successful author and she was increasingly sought after to make public readings and to make public statements about Canadian Literature. Unlike many women of her time, Montgomery kept control of her own money rather than simply turning it over to her husband. They shared household expenses, but any extras or luxuries--such as a car and private school for the boys--were paid for by her. Her financial success had given her the money to pay for their honeymoon in Scotland and England and had enabled her to furnish as she wished the manses in Leaskdale and Norval. It allowed her to buy a house when they retired and to pay for the boys' studies in law and medicine. And her money--despite major setbacks through the depression--enabled her to help relatives through loans and gifts.

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