Vantage Points Flashback - Rest Rooms Designed by Women Design (1915)
Please scroll to the bottom of this article to listen to the audio version, read by author David Neufeld.
Welcome to Vantage Points Flashback. Thank-you Municipal Councils and Manitoba Heritage.
Designed by Women
Mother threw up her hands in her kitchen. “This place must have been designed by a man!”, she'd say. Eventually, our old farm house got new cupboards, of her design! Not only were kitchens ill-designed for women. Prairie villages, were ill designed for farm women.
The settlement plan, a farm on every quarter, ensured the prairies were covered in short order, by independent farmers. In British Ontario, the source of most early settlers, and before that, in the old country, women and children had easier access to each other.
Please consider Clarice Hamilton, back in 1904. She was newly married. On a farm. With two small children. Saturdays she and her husband Thomas, would go to Melita by horse and wagon. It was their weekly shopping trip. Other than neighborhood picnics and church, she had little time, or opportunity, for visiting. Rural telephones had not arrived. She was dependent on Thomas for most everything.
Some women had relatives in town. Many did not.
The Hamiltons would park their wagon at the livery stable. Clarice took the children to get groceries. Thomas went to the blacksmith and hardware. For men only, the hotel bar was a potential distraction.
Clarice would be done early, and then wonder how to fill time, where to attend to the children. Where to meet an understanding soul for tea. Of course, the baby would cry. But breastfeeding within sight of a man? Never! Aghh. Clearly designed by men!
Fortunately, the Women's Institute arrived to improve life for rural women. WI started in English Ontario and came to Manitoba in 1910. A priority was establishing Rest Rooms for women and children. “For family and country”, their mission proclaimed.
They partnered with local societies, spreading to Pierson, Boissevain, Deloraine, Waskada, Napinka and Melita. The movement attracted community activists and caregivers like Clarice Hamilton. Through fundraising, they managed to convince municipal councils and businessmen to contribute for rent or purchasing of space.
The rooms were brightly, ingeniously furnished with cast-off tables, rockers and sofas. Alberta Palmer of Waskada said they used sugar bags, died dark brown, embroidered with yellow flowers to cover chairs. Paid Matrons, like Mrs. Chapin in Deloraine, or Eleanor Coghlan in Boissevain, offered kindness and well supplied change tables, tea and snacks.
It became known as “the most humane institution of any village”.
Rest Rooms had opposition. Churches were concerned women would support these “new societies“ rather than church budgets. They also questioned Rest Room rules against evangelizing. Women couldn't open back accounts in those days and so were vulnerable, like in one community, where a men's organization that held Rest Room funds in trust, broke that trust, scuttling the project.
Rest Rooms declined once telephones, electrification and cars became the norm. But one side-shoot of Rest Rooms continues. Public libraries.
The Women's Institute wanted to offer self-improvement reading for Rest Rooms. They partnered with Ag Extension offices to devise book sharing networks, which eventually grew to what we have today. Clearly designed by women!
Designed by Women was adapted from a story by MB Historical Society.
Please contact Turtle Mountain Souris Plains Heritage Association.
Their website is www.vantagepoints.ca
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