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The Challenges

Finding a Provider

Illustration entitled "Women's Work," CANADIAN ILLUSTRATED NEWS. December 4, 1875. Vol. 12, No. 23, p. 360. Record 1966

"Women's Work," Canadian Illustrated News. January 4, 1875. Vol. 12, No. 23, p. 360. Record 1966

What, one might wonder, do economics have to do with romance? The short answer is "a great deal."

With rare exceptions, women in 19th-century Canada were financially dependent, first on their birth families, then on their husbands. Single women could teach school or be domestic servants, although they had to quit work if they married. Married women could run shops or small businesses or take in domestic work, like laundry. A few women inherited wealth; many more struggled to make ends meet if they failed to marry or if their husbands deserted them.


Illustration entitled She Shall Marry Timm [THE BEAUTIFUL PRISONER], CANADIAN ILLUSTRATED NEWS. December 4, 1869. Vol. 1, No. 5, p. 74. Record 827


"She Shall Marry Timm" [The Beautiful Prisoner], Canadian Illustrated News. December 4, 1869. Vol. 1, No. 5, p. 74. Record 827

Illustration entitled "Not the One She Expected," CANADIAN ILLUSTRATED NEWS. November 5, 1881. Vol. 24, No. 19, p. 296. Record 306

"Not the One She Expected," Canadian Illustrated News. November 5, 1881. Vol. 24, No. 19, p. 296. Record 306

Women's work prospects expanded somewhat as the 19th century wore on. In England, Florence Nightingale paved the way for nursing to become a real profession in which single women could be independent. Women's rights and education progressed, although their legal rights lagged far behind until the 20th century.

That meant that choosing the right husband was not just a matter of attraction. A woman needed a mate who would be hard-working and reliable because she depended on what he could provide for her. Two of the Strickland sisters, Catharine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie, both married and came to Canada with men whose ability to provide for them was less than stellar, and both suffered greatly from poverty and financial anxiety.

Illustration entitled He's Coming, CANADIAN ILLUSTRATED NEWS. March 14, 1874. Vol. 9, No. 11, p. 164. Record 1454

"He's Coming," Canadian Illustrated News. March 14, 1874. Vol. 9, No. 11, p. 164. Record 1454

Parents scrutinized their daughters' suitors not only for moral qualities but also for their ability to provide. There were frequent conflicts between love and economics. James Caldwell wrote to William Lindsay about the prospects of his daughter Mary with Lindsay's son: "[A]t his age, and in his present situation, a wife most assuredly would entail poverty & misery upon him, her, & their offspring!" Mary begged to differ. She wrote to her young Lieutenant Lindsay that she had been brought up to manage on a small budget and they could manage on his pay. (She did not, in the end, marry him.) (Noël, 20-22, 289, n. 9)

George Stephen Jones, a 19-year-old Québec City clerk, fell head-over-heels in love with "that most amiable young Lady Miss Tanswell," who at first seemed to return his affection. They visited each other and gave each other small gifts. His diary records their courtship, which at first went well (Jones, 31).

But Honorine Tanswell's parents wanted her to marry one Gingras, an older man, already established in life. Much as they liked George, he was too young and in no position to support a wife. By the end of George's diary, some six months after their romance began, the case seemed hopeless. Love did triumph in the end, however, and George and Honorine were married 10 months later (Ward, 7-14, 177).


George Stephen Jones. 1845-1846. Textual record. Library and Archives Canada. Archival reference no.: R3011-0-6-E; (MG24-I155, Vol. 1).

Noël, Françoise. Family Life and Sociability in Upper and Lower Canada, 1780-1870: A View from Diaries and Family Correspondence. Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003.

Ward, W. Peter. Courtship, Love and Marriage in Nineteenth-Century English Canada. Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990.