Pick One Intelligent Girl: Employability, Domesticity, and the Gendering of Canada's Welfare State, 1939–1947.


302 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9421-6
DDC 331.40971'09044




Reviewed by Terry A. Crowley

Terry A. Crowley is a professor of history at the University of Guelph,
and the author of Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality.


People are intrigued by sharp disjunctions when the pace of change quickens dramatically and the possibilities for righting what ails society appear greater. The two world wars during the 20th century certainly afforded a great variety of possibilities for significant departures and as result they have been written about more extensively than any other period. The years from 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945 witnessed tumultuous events that included a massive movement of women into the workforce and armed services in the Allied countries.


Every time Albert Speer—Hitler’s minister of industry and munitions—saw a copy of Look or Life magazines showing women in industrial plants during the war he grew red with envy: no similar development occurred in Germany and inferior slave labour had to suffice. In Canada the number of women working grew from 600,000 in 1939 to 1,400,000 by 1945. It is fair to say that the wars against Japan, Germany, and the Axis powers could no more have been won without the female labour force than without the military prowess of Russia or the industrial strength of the United States.


York University history professor Jennifer Stephen’s study of government policies towards women war workers began as a doctoral dissertation, but appears now as well-written book. Since gender considerations and state formation in Canada are her principal concerns, the author pays particular attention to the growing influence of psychologists and other specialists in the management provided by the National Selective Service Women’s Division. Stephen argues convincingly that the industrial and domestic strategies adopted during the war modified relations of work and changed the functioning of the state, even though women were expected to vacate paid employment for returning veterans and seek the greater comforts afforded by family and home.


Sometimes in history the most momentous changes appear on closer inspection to be of less immediate consequence, but their importance can still be established through a long-term perspective that in this instance would link the war and the advent of Canada’s welfare state and women’s liberation during the 1960s.


Stephen, Jennifer A., “Pick One Intelligent Girl: Employability, Domesticity, and the Gendering of Canada's Welfare State, 1939–1947.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/32654.