SOME OF THE WAR WORK OF CANADIAN WOMEN
AN ADDRESS BY MRS. ARTHUR VAN KOUGHNET
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto
April 26, 1917
HIS HONOUR SIR JOHN HENDRIE, LADY HENDRIE,
AND REPRESENTATIVES OF WOMEN'S WORK BEING
PRESENT AS GUESTS:
YOUR HONOUR, MR. PRESIDENT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,--I am deeply conscious of the honour you have done me today. It is a pleasure to be here and a privilege to address the Empire Club of Canada. But the subject, some of the women's work during the past two years, to my mind should have had a more able speaker than myself. It is much easier for any of us to speak of the bravery and courage of our men at the front than it is to speak of work that has been done for them here at home.
Some people have called these years women's years. And so they are for those mothers whose sons are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Allies in the conflict of nations. We know what they have borne and what their sacrifice and what their gift to the Empire has been. Therefore, in that respect, these years probably are women's years.
Throughout Canada, in August, 1914, when the call to arms was heard, men and women made answer from the Dominion which has left no doubt in the mind of the Mother Country as to our attitude to the war. It was at that time that the existing patriotic organizations set the wheels of their machinery in motion for the making of hospital supplies and making of comforts for our soldiers at the front and in the trenches. And the gigantic whirr of work has been heard ever since from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And when one speaks of work I see before me so many men who have contributed over and over again and steadily to the work which has been done in Toronto--which they know probably as well as I do myself from their womankind working so hard-therefore I won't go into a description in the way of the kind of work that has been done to produce some of the organizations. But the work was hard.
The Canadian Red Cross naturally stands first in our thoughts. Men and women together have worked for the Red Cross. And perhaps as one thinks one is almost thankful with the thought of all that has been done for our sick and wounded soldiers by that Society. It is almost life treading on sacred ground to mention the activities in connection with the Red Cross that are already so well known.
The Daughters of the Empire added thousands of members to an already efficient organization and I believe have trebled their membership since and given $2,500,000 as their money contribution.
In every province throughout the Dominion the Women's Institutes have so ably done their part, and only some of us who know the conditions in the country and the tremendous obstacles that they have to surmount, the tremendous difficulties there, perhaps can realize what their great contribution to the Empire means, and to my mind it will stand, when the war is over, perhaps second to none. Those women have worked under, as we know, dreadful conditions but their offerings week after week are simply enormous.
Then the other organizations--and I know that I shall probably leave out perhaps some of the most important and maybe some that I know better than others-but in a large gathering such as this, one is anxious really to give credit to the various organizations, that have worked together really as a large sisterhood instead of different organizations.
One has in mind the work for the sailors that is done by the National Ladies' Guild for Sailors and the work it does for British Naval men and for the Mercantile Marine, by the homes, institutes and clubs that exist in Canada both on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. And as those homes and those clubs increase in numbers the greater effort must be put forth; but it is all done generally so quietly, so unostentatiously, that one is surprised and gratified when the results are made known. Queen Mary's Guild or the Guild makes weekly shipments for the work that the Queen has so near her heart. It is a work which she has under her personal direction and supervision.
The Volunteer Hospital Supplies Association, as we know, has done a wonderful work. It came into existence for No. q. Canadian Hospital. Not only did it do the work of equipping that hospital but ever since it has gone on week after week with its enormous output. Thousands of cases have been sent by the Association to France, to the French Red Cross and also to the British Red Cross and to our own. So, that those women have done an enormous work, one that will always stand out.
The teachers--we owe thanks to the teachers of the schools for the kind of work they have done, their example to the children, because their example has been an excellent one. Not only do they instill the patriotic spirit of this great war into the children's hearts but they have given up a certain amount of their pay, if you might say it, each month, and their work has been so well done and also so wonderfully and harmoniously managed.
With the other organizations, I may say there has never been a higher, greater call, more direct call for higher service than there has been during this war and there has never been a more willing response. Great bodies of women have worked, and worked harmoniously as we all know.
When one thinks of the various organizations such as the St. John's Ambulance, from which has come the war work of the V.A.D., and I am speaking, of course, now of women's work which has been given to the Empire-there are many of course who are perhaps in volunteer organizations which I cannot mention today. But the work such as the women's emergency corps was quite wonderful. They did the first registration of women to take men's places, women's volunteer corps.
The League of Empire in its great educational work, and it has ever since been sending to the soldiers, also has been magnificent.
Then we think of the canteen workers, those women who go to the canteens, that volunteer service from early morning to late at night. They go on early shifts and late ones, and they are always there helping.
In the beginning of the war we cannot forget the women workers who helped so materially in the Exhibition Camp. There those women kept young boys, boys who had come from the country perhaps, off the street a little. These boys had just come from small places, they had just left their mothers, quite, quite young, and their amusement was provided for them, recreation and good food. I think, perhaps, the good food appeals to all of us women who realize that in these long marches those men had then, that that food meant a great deal to them.
That work of the canteen workers is going on still as we know, and women day after day-very important women-have given up their time to it, young girls who used to have, such a good time, are all hard at work in the canteens. And in connection with that there is the hostel work which is being taken up with the canteens also.
I am afraid I am making it like an annual report of work, but it is very difficult when one wants to give credit to each organization not to make it more or less stilted in style.
Then when we think of the great work for the French as well; France has thanked the women of the Secours National for the great work that has been done through that body of women not only in Toronto-when I speak of Toronto it seems to me that one is speaking for the whole of Canada, for what has been done here has been done in every province and every city and every village and every hamlet, everything that can be done for our brave men is naturally being done.
The Serbian Relief is another great organization. It is looking after all work, and on that men work as well as women. The women's organizations are so large; they have been handled so carefully. And perhaps those of us who do a great deal of shipping realize what sacrifice and work and the hardships on women it must have been ever since the war began.
I might say as one of the shippers that we look upon ourselves--looking at so many of you who have contributed to our funds and our work-we look upon ourselves as trustees, holding that work in trust for you until it reaches the soldiers for whom it is intended.
The Toronto Women's Patriotic League has been wonderfully, successful in its various departments, there has been the knitting department, the emergency workroom, employment bureau, various departments such as Belgian Relief Fund and soldiers' comforts department; all of those departments have been wonderfully successful since the beginning of the war. In connection with that work all over women's patriotic organizations seem to have sprang up almost over night. They formed themselves throughout Canada to make supplies, to pass them on in order that they could be shipped as fast as possible overseas.
One also thinks of the churches. I think that God has blessed the work in the churches. We have gone to speak for our work from church to church realizing the tremendous importance of that work. Not only the work that the churches have been doing for the soldiers, because that is simply overwhelming and enormous, but the work that they have done in bringing all classes of women together. All denominations work so happily; we all know the long table, and since I see these long ones in front of me it reminds me a little of the great tables with the women working together. There the rich and poor work; there all classes meet together. And in this work one hears continuously the whirr of the sewing machine, the clicking of the shears and click of the knitting needles and in the distance the hammering down of the cases with the finished supplies for overseas, and the great sympathy and harmony that exists between the women who work together there.
Perhaps one of the church meetings that stands out in my mind more clearly than any others was in the Parish house of the Church of England in a small place not very far from Toronto. There the President of the patriotic workers within this church was a Church of England woman. Her Vice-Presidents were Presbyterians and Methodists; her Secretary was a Roman Catholic; her Treasurer was of another Church. At one of the long tables sat the wife of the coloured minister and her dark sisters, the parishioners there, there with her. They were ready to turn their hand to anything, as the coloured minister's wife said to me, "We are only too eager to help to win this war." And so they were working. At another table were the Girl Guides; at other tables factory girls came in after a time. And I thought that small place, it was an example to us all,--all churches and all classes of women working so happily and so beautifully together.
Then there have been the other large societies, large political associations on both sides had worked hard on patriotic lines ever since the beginning of the war. We have the Wartime Thrift Committee which, if ever a thrift Committee was needed, is needed at this time. We have a member of it with us, Mrs. Warren. Perhaps we are all members of that and we realize that we should all be. That has been a work--perhaps we could not call it a work-but it is important on educational lines that seems to be at the present moment one of the highest and greatest works that we can do.
Now, the raising of funds has been of great difficulty, and it would take hours, perhaps, to speak of all the small clubs and all the small patriotic organizations that have managed to keep their funds up to the highest standard in order to send out their supplies. When large sums have been found necessary the tag days have been managed by women and carried out effectively and the funds have been carefully distributed. Women have felt it a privilege in going in with the campaign for funds, such as helping with the Patriotic Fund campaign and the British Red Cross campaign; also the one that the Patriotic Fund went in with the Canadian Red Cross. I think we all felt our privilege in doing a little part of what the men showed us they could do in such a wonderful and enormous way.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am not going to say very much more. There is so much that we can say but we realize that it is wartime, that men are busy just as we are and they must not be kept too long.
I think that the war has taught us a great many lessons. It has certainly taught us sympathy and understanding. It has brought together, as I said before, all classes of the community in our work in a way that we shall never forget. Women at the outbreak of war pledged themselves to care for every man, every Canadian who offered his services in the defence of the Empire. And I think that it has been fairly well carried out. We have cared for our men. They are cared for before they leave Canada; they are cared for in the trenches, in the present camps, in the hospitals in England. And you all know that we do our best for them when they come back to the Convalescent Hospital here. The only thing I think that we can pray and hope for is that our women may keep up their health and strength to do their part to help on the work of those soldiers who are fighting for us for the freedom of the world.
By a rising vote the thanks of the assembly was accorded to Mrs. Arthur Van Koughnet.