Toronto's Girl Problem: The Perils and Pleasures of the City, 1880-1930 / Edition 2

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Overview

With the turn of the century came increased industrialization and urbanization, and in Toronto one of the most visible results of this modernization was the influx of young, single women to the city. They came seeking work, independence, and excitement, but they were not to realize these goals without contention.

Carolyn Strange examines the rise of the Toronto 'working girl,' the various agencies that 'discovered' her, the nature of 'the girl problem' from the point of view of moral overseers, the various strategies devised to solve this 'problem,' and lastly, the young women's responses to moral regulation. The 'working girl' seemed a problem to reformers, evangelists, social investigators, police, the courts, and journalists - men, mostly, who saw women's debasement as certain and appointed themselves as protectors of morality. They portrayed single women as victims of potential economic and sexual exploitation and urban immorality. Such characterization drew attention away from the greater problems these women faced: poverty, unemployment, poor housing and nutrition, and low wages.

In the course of her investigation, Strange suggests fresh approaches to working-class and urban history. Her sources include the census, court papers, newspaper accounts, philanthropic society reports, and royal commissions, but Strange also employs less conventional sources, such as photographs and popular songs. She approaches the topic from a feminist viewpoint that is equally sensitive to the class and racial dimensions of the 'girl problem,' and compares her findings with the emergence of the working woman in contemporary United States and Great Britain.

The overriding observation is that Torontonians projected their fears and hopes about urban industrialization onto the figure of the working girl. Young women were regulated from factories and offices, to streetcars and dancehalls, in an effort to control the deleterious effects of industrial capitalism. By the First World War however, their value as contributors to the expanding economy began to outweigh fear of their moral endangerment. As Torontonians grew accustomed to life in the industrial metropolis, the 'working girl' came to be seen as a valuable resource.

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Editorial Reviews

The Journal of American History - Elaine S. Abelson

'Its importance lies in the clarity of its thesis: Urbanization, far more than mere population concentration and economic reorganization, is a profound cultural transformation.'

Environment and Planning A - S. Warren

'Toronto's Girl Problem is a valuable addition to any urban studies bookshelf, as well as an irresistible delight to read.'

Journal of Social History - Wendy Mitchinson

'The tension Strange delineates between the image of innocent womanhood and fallen womanhood is fascinating for what it really says about the beliefs of the time. What emerges is a society that has difficulty believing in innocence. Innocence and independence are mutually exclusive. Pleasure-seeking and innocence are mutually exclusive.'

Canadian Journal of Urban Research - Katherine M.J. McKenna

'Carolyn Strange is to be commended for opening up a whole new vista of the history of Canadian women in urban contexts, in a scholarly yet highly readable and enjoyable manner.'

Booknews
Strange (criminology, U. of Toronto) examines the nature of the "girl problem" from the point of view of moral overseers, strategies devised to solve the problem, and young women's responses to moral regulation, and suggests fresh approaches to working-class and urban history. She describes the problems urban women faced, such as poverty, low wages, unemployment, and poor housing, drawing on sources such as the census, court papers, and philanthropic society reports. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802072030
  • Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
  • Publication date: 5/25/1995
  • Series: Studies in Gender and History Series
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 5.97 (w) x 8.99 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Strange is a senior fellow in the Research School of Humanities at the Australian National University.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 Introduction 3
2 City Work, Moral Dilemmas 21
3 Ruined Girls and Fallen Women 53
4 The Social Evil in the Queen City 89
5 Good Times and Bad Girls 116
6 Temptations, Crimes, and Follies 144
7 Citizens, Workers, and Mothers of the Race 175
8 Conclusion 209
App. Single Women and Toronto's Industrial Development, 1880-1930 217
App. Sex, Crime, and Policing, 1880-1930 222
Notes 225
Bibliography 263
Picture Credits 288
Index 289
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